This post is entirely about the pork harvest this week, and the photos may come across as unsettling or graphic to some, but we also harvested many vegetables, and did our first all local shopping trip of the year, so head over to those posts if this is not your cup of tea.
The 5th of January dawned at 28° and flurries. Ideal for butchering pigs? Not even, but that was the task. It was time yet again to be first hand harvesters of our own meat. On the menu for the next few months for us and our good friends were two Kune Kune boars, and two suckling pigs.
I begrudgingly trudged out to the area we set up the butchering station in and laid several bundles of hay down, in hopes of keeping at least some of the mud from consuming me from my feet up. The fog hung heavy, obstructing the road and dampening my hair into a fizzy mess, but also shielding us. The only suitable area on the homestead for hanging pigs up while we work on them is a very large maple in plain view of anyone passing by, which presents it's own challenges.
The suckling pigs were first. We began sharpening the knives, scrapers, and getting the water boiling for the scald. Until we can find a large metal barrel to prepare the water in, we are restricted to several huge stock pots and a turkey fryer for our scald water. It's not the worst, but I also get more excited over roadside barrels that have been discarded than I should, as I eagerly check them for holes. There are always holes.
With the butcher-scape prepared, we poured milk in a dish to distract the hogs, took aim, and proceeded with the butchering. I won't go into details on this post, but will do a tutorial post in the future. After they were bled out, we proceeded to the scald and scrape, gutting, and cleaning of the carcasses. One of the suckling pigs was destined to sausage for our friend, and the other would be roasted whole, and served with home grown vegetables.
There was cheerful banter between the three of us as we diligently worked, detailing each pig with respect and reverence. There's deep comradery that comes with hard work, especially that which puts food on the table. You can tell a lot about someone when they're willing to be arms deep in their food, willing to face hard facts about where it comes from. In a sense, it's like breaking bread, but there's a lot more work involved. Either way, you come out knowing each other better.
Dave and I are very fortunate to have friends who want to learn this way of life, and who want to actively participate in the know-your-food beliefs that we cultivate. It's reassuring when you aren't the only ones in your friend group willing to do the dirty work of putting meat on the table- literally.
With each bullet, cut, scald, and scrape the process streamlined itself. The natural progression of who was best at what roll was established and we each had our own part to play, moving as one cohesive unit. Hours passed that felt like minutes, as they often do when you're working with purpose.
Winter darkness crept up around us, cold settled in our bones, and we concluded work for the day, allowing the meat to rest on ice overnight. The butchering process stretched on for two days, not including packaging, seasoning, or curing, and concluded with a deep sense of pride and a need for sleep. The following morning, we set up our butcher table and equipment again, and got to work processing and packaging the cuts.
First up, it was time to remove the skin from the heads. This is a HUGE missed opportunity when these just get thrown out with the guts. Hog jowls, cured like bacon, make guanciale. Guanciale is fairly expensive, and aptly so, because it's absolutely delicious. I suppose the reason this cut gets tossed in America is because it's still hugely unpopular to face the fact that your meat comes with a face, and working on it for an extended period of time to reveal the rather unsightly skinless pig face, is at most unpleasant. With a little bit of tasting and introductory to the value of this cut, I'm hoping to make some believers.
Before we could get to work on the curing, we had to work on carving the primal cuts into smaller, more practical units. Several nights we spent cutting, detailing, and packaging. Each piece went to the freezer so nothing was wasted while we worked on other cuts.
As we sorted through each cut, scraps and trimmings were set aside for sausage making. Dave vacuum sealed the cuts, while I wrote out the weights and labels. We gathered all of the sausage meat up and added our seasoning, running it through the grinder twice, and neatly packing it into one pound portions.
Later, lard was rendered down in a few pots, strained, and cooled, before we canned it into quart jars.
As we loaded the freezer with all of our hard work, the pride was palpable. We were spending our days doing exactly what we'd always dreamt of doing: producing. Before the final cut was even packaged, we were already discussing the next hog harvest. How we wanted to invite our friends for an old fashioned hog roast, and share this joy, this hard work.
We often get the remark that people couldn't raise, kill, or see something they planned on eating. While I understand the sentiment, my response is always the same: eat more vegetables, and support your local farmers.