We are getting better at finishing pigs here on applewood farm.
Our first go-round was on November 5th of last year and we made the grievous error of choosing to finish all three pigs in one day. It was a physically and emotionally draining experience fraught with inexperience and, ultimately, exhaustion. The second “pig day” was on June 30th. This was a decidedly more pleasant experience for everyone involved.
The improvements started back when we acquired our piglets. By getting piglets that were a few weeks apart in age, we ensured that they would not reach kill weight simultaneously.
The living situation for the pigs was also very different from last year. Since we had no intention of over-wintering pigs last year, their abode was a Gilligan’s Island-style hut fashioned out of timber and straw. There was no door and it was a trick to maneuver around one pig to get to another.
Late this winter, we had the good fortune of being able to reclaim a good amount of barn wood and metal sheet roofing from a friend’s fallen shed. A huge storm had knocked the shed right over and we were invited to come take away whatever we could carry.
Turns out, we could carry quite a lot. We were able not only to build the pig shed, but the goat house as well, with metal roofing left over to help keep the bunny dry.
We built a structure that the pigs could use to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter. With a sliding barn door attached, the pigs could be sequestered if need be. This feature comes in very handy on pig day. All we have to do is get the “remaining” pigs into the shed with some food, and we are able to get on with the business of transforming pig to pork without totally freaking the survivors out.
Doing the deed has gone substantially more smoothly and peacefully the past two times. Finishing only one pig is key, as is ensuring that each person involved is comfortable with the job s/he is given to do. Dave and I tend to take on the killing, bloodletting, and holding of the pig, but this last time, our friend Sam helped by making the crucial cut in the throat to allow the pig to bleed out successfully.
Sam was visiting from Brooklyn, as was our friend Tess. Both are key players at applewood restaurant. Sam is the Executive Chef and Tess is the General Manager. Tess had been present at the last pig day, but this was Sam’s first go-round. As a chef, he was intrigued by the process and wanted to really get involved from beginning to end. Being handy with a knife didn’t hurt any, and Dave walked him through the evisceration process. The pig was scalded, scraped, gutted, butchered, and put on ice within two hours time. It was a new personal record.
Then we all went for a swim in the neighbor’s pond to celebrate.
Up until now, our fire pit has been used for festive evening bonfires, roasting marshmallows, and getting rid of unwanted scrap wood (sometimes all at once). This evening, Dave and Sam thought it would make the perfect spot for roasting a pork leg. Since we don’t have a spit and couldn’t find anyone that had one we could borrow, they MacGyvered the situation and fashioned a spit out of stuff that was lying around.
They grabbed two lengths of timber that were awaiting chopping in the wood pile and righted them in the pit. They used huge rocks to support them, so that they didn’t have to sink them down into the ground. Since one piece was decidedly shorter than the other, they just piled some rocks atop the shorter one until the heights were close enough to even. A metal garden tamper played the part of the spit and was balanced across both pieces of timber. The pork leg was hung from the tamper with baling wire.
While this whole thing sounds incredibly hobo, it was actually quite beautiful.
It took about four hours on the spit to cook through, but it was absolutely worth the wait. Not only was the meat juicy and delicious and the cracklins crispy and perfect, there was something intensely reverential about sharing this meal in this way. After having worked together to calmly and humanely end this pig’s life, we were united in honoring it in its death. This day, and this meal, were the embodiment of what we’re doing here on applewood farm. We believe totally in raising our animals in a loving and joyous environment and then celebrating them once they have made the transition to food.
If you are going to eat meat, you should know where it came from. You should know what it ate. You should know how it died. Too many people will put simply anything into their mouths without a second thought. We are trying, in our own small way, to turn that around–to pause, to think, and to be grateful.
I never truly appreciated my food (and the sacrifice) until I started working at a farm and raising animals for meat. People often ask me how I do it, but honestly I feel much better eating meat I personally raised than anonymous industrial meat. Gratitude is truly the best way to describe it.
Does your pork ever make it onto applewood’s menu? I’ll be in Park Slope this weekend and plan to come to brunch if I have time on Sunday. Hand’s down my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood…and the city for that matter!
Laura, that was a really great post! I’ll have to thank Maggie. I’ve helped dress a couple of deer, and slaughtered a chicken and a rabbit myself (I know, kid stuff) so I can identify with the work. Next year if you need help I’d be happy to lend a hand!