Ohiofarmgirl's Adventures in The Good Land is largely a fish out of water tale about how I eventually found my footing on a small farm in an Amish town. We are a mostly organic, somewhat self sufficient, sustainable farm in Ohio. There's action and adventure and I'll always tell you the truth about farming.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year! With bacon.. of course

Happy New Year everyone!  Behold.... the bacon....

Technically this is a smoked pancetta... such as it is.  Last nite I smoked the bacon that I started curing back here.  It was magnificent. I used the instructions from Ruhlmans book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and also followed along with my friend David the Gastronomic Gardener and voila - bacon!  Don't think you can make bacon? Yes you can!

I don't have pix of the smoking mostly because I got started after it got dark. How hard is it to smoke your own bacon? Not at all. The hardest part is making the fire. I tell you the truth I cannot start a charcoal fire with a bag of Kingsford and a gallon of lighter fluid. Don't ask me how I know this. So I gave up on that malarkey and started the fire how my people have been doing it since the elder days. With wood. Easy peasy.

I come from a long and glorious line of pyromaniacs so while I couldn't get the charcoal even if the main development guy from Kingsford was holding my hand... I got a decent fire started with wet kindling and a single match. I let the fire burn down to coals while we did chores. Then I tossed on some mesquite chips, some trimmings from the pear tree, and some kinda other hardwood we had laying around... and commenced to smokin'.

Pretty much the smoking part involved me sitting on the couch and watching a movie. From time to time I got up and added more wood chips and trimmings to keep the smoke and the fire barely going. After several hours (maybe four?) the internal temp of the bacon reached about 150*. Then it came out of the smoker and went into the fridge.  And I went to bed.

This morning I had bacon-y goodness and a stellar cup of coffee. I'll be slicing up the bacon - and keeping some of it in chunks for cooking - and then putting it into the freezer. How easy was that?

I've got some other pieces curing in the fridge downstairs and one pancetta hanging in the basement. Next week I'll try smoking it during the day so you can all see. In the meantime, see ya next year!

Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winners and Losers

As we close down 2011 I've been thinking about the projects that worked....and the things that didn't. It helps me do better planning when I have a clear vision of the winners and losers.  You can read about projects that made a difference in years past, here and also here.

The chickens are always winners...That's little Neo with Red, our roo

The big winners this year are....

1. The pigs. Wow. You can't imagine the quality and quantity of our harvest. Not only that, we had a great set up this year. And we had them on such great pasture that our feed costs were really low.  Especially since we had Sunny providing all that milk for most of the summer.

2. Sunny. That was one ugly goat but man.. she ruled. Not only did she do great with our goats and their babies.. but holy cow she could milk. Sunny really put it in the bucket and we were so grateful we had her on loan. Unfortunately her herdmaster moved away and so did his herd - so we won't be getting her again.

3. Fencing. We were able to complete our "all sides" fencing project and it really made a difference. It helped keep the pigs in, it kept the predators out (no losses), and we were able to let the dogs run loose to patrol...which also kept the predators out.

4. Making our own laundry soap. This deserves its own post.. but I gotta tell ya, this is our most cost-saving project to date. Thank to my friend SD for teaching me how to save about a million bucks!

5. Trenching. This project made the most sense  for our house improvement and it totally worked. Unfortunately the weather was against us and the last really dry period we had was when we did the trenching. So we still have more work to do.

Which brings us to the losers....

1. The weather. I didn't just imagine it, 2011 was actually the rainiest year on record for Ohio. We passed the record mark last week. Wow what a rain. The animals suffered, we suffered, the garden was not great....and oh the mud. The good news is that it allowed us to work on projects like the fencing. The bad news was that it totally sucked.

2. Trying to move Nibbles and Dahlia into a new yard down by the pond. They hated it. We hated it. All the goats did was stand there and scream. The good news was that the fencing we did for the goats ended up being prefect for the pigz... so we just turned the pigz out into that new yard when then had "hogged down" their existing yard. The bad news was that Nibbles screamed all day, every day that she was down there. I'm not sure the pigz minded but it drove me nuts.

3. Keeping Dahlia. I had a Scarlett O'hara moment  this summer and determined that I would never, ever keep another doeling. Her momma, Debbie, refused to wean her so I spent a lot of this summer trying to keep them separated. And to be honest, I don't love Dahlia. However, I think she is bred and she is sure to be a prize milker. So she stays. For now. The good news is that she most likely will milk like a demon. The bad news is that if she doesn't she'll be staked out by the road with a "free to a bad home" sign.

4. The stupid green bean bugs that wiped out most of my hill o' beans. Stupid fuzzy buggers.... I was able to get most of the beans but several rows were completely demolished. The good news was that I ended up with a pretty good story - thanks to FJ for egging me on. The bad news was.... I lost a lot of beans. But we were able to buy replacements from an Amish neighbor at a great price.

5. Too Short. I just ain't goat pimpin' again. No way. That reminds me, one of these days I gotta tell you about gettin' rid of that guy.

So that's the wrap up. We are starting to plan for next year and most likely it will involve even more fencing, better turkey management, more effective gardening, more dinner chicks, and selling the goat babies as soon as they are ready. And yes of course there will be more pigz. Speaking of... I think I need to get me a slice of ham.

Happy Thursday everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dog sloth

Our number one dog, Titan, has been hanging out in the living room.  He's had enough of the puppy shenanigans so he got a reverse time out and some peace and quiet.

I love this picture of Titan snuggling with Wolfie the dog toy.

We also want to reinforce Dog#1's status as the number one dog. We do this by giving him special privileges - like spending extra time and being close to us. Remember there is no "fair" in the dog world - only the hierarchy that they need and understand. Dog1 is dog number one and there is no further discussion. This helps organize and manage our "pack."

Titan really likes to sleep on a dog bed. Kai The Destroyer systematically disemboweled all of the dog beds so we put a new bed in the living room for Ti and let him sleep there. The rest of the no-good-nicks are sleeping on easy-to-wash blankets. Or in ridiculous ways.....

Zander and Lucky tend to sprawl all over the floor. 
We've been trying to make sure that the pup gets plenty of rest. But sometimes he's like a little kid who plays so much he gets over tired.  Then he sleeps so hard he wakes up and is still delirious. Its very cute.
At this writing Titan is sleeping at my feet and is chasing something in his sleep. It doesn't matter how big they get, sleep-running dogs are the best. I hope he catches whatever he's chasing. Shh.. I don't want to wake him up. 
Happy Wednesday everyone! Are you all enjoying your week off?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Oh my sweet buns!

*OFG rethinks punctuation....*  I mean......Oh my! Sweet buns!

Would you get a load of these sweet rolls? Are you licking your screen? Yeah.. they are as good as they look. I made these cinnamon rolls on Christmas Eve. They are terrific.

Unfortunately, I can't give you the recipe. Can you believe it?  Here's the problem. The recipe is my mom's secret recipe and she refused to give it to anyone except us kids. After she died the extended family tried to get us to give out the secret. And we didn't. Actually my sister didn't and I was threatened with real death if I uttered a peep about it (maybe they should have asked me first). So I can only show you these luscious treats.

However, if anyone has an older version of The Joy of Cooking you can probably find a similar recipe there. And if you wanted to check here this recipe is kinda close. And Ree's process here gives a good step by step. Aside from that I can say no more.

Except that I made a caramel glaze for the bottom. And I used our leaf lard instead of any kind of shortening or butter for the dough. And I used a big handful of pecans. And my two favorite farm boys in the whole world mixed up the cinnamon-sugar for the filling. Now I say now more.

Other than... you can probably guess what I've been having for breakfast all week. That and birthday cake.

Thanks to everyone for their fun birthday wishes yesterday! I did have a bacon filled, meat-tastic day!

Happy Tuesday everyone!  Now remember, I told you nothing about how to make these rolls, right?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The accessability of bacon: An Interview with The Gastronomic Gardener

Happy Christmas everyone!

I was trying to think what I could give everyone for Christmas, what would be the best present?... And then, of course, I thought, "Bacon!"  But instead of handing out bags of meat I thought it would be more useful to give everyone some encouragement about 'how to' make your own bacon. Something along the lines of, "Give a guy a pork belly, you'll feed him for breakfast. But teach a guy the know-how, he'll eat well all his life."

Don't think you can do it? Sure you can! You've heard from me how easy it is to make your own food so I thought I'd introduce you to a regular guy who's great at makin' bacon. My friend David over at the Gastronomic Gardener is a regular guy who is making and serving up some tasty home cured meats, including bacon. I asked David for his take on the fine art of charcuterie and he's got some great info to share.

OFG: So, David from The Gastronomic Gardener, you're a regular guy living in the suburbs and you make your own bacon. What gives? Isn't bacon an industrial process? Or don't you need to be on a farm?
Hi OFG, yes, I am a suburbanite, with a full time corporate job, and
I make my own bacon. By make, I mean cure and smoke. Some day I hope to grow my own hogs as you do OFG, but until then, I’ll do what I can to "practice."

Most folks go and pick up bacon at the store, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I find it immensely satisfying to be involved with my food production to the greatest extent that I am able. Just as I take pleasure and pride in the first ripe tomato in the garden, or opening a jar of pickles in the dead of winter from cucumbers I grew and canned, I am glad to take as much responsibility as possible in what I eat or feed my family.

The best friend to make if you want to make your own bacon is your local butcher. They are super helpful and you should see how excited they get when they find out you’re making your own bacon! While I go to a specific butcher shop, most supermarkets will be able to get you pork belly – the prime ingredient for making bacon. You may have to special order it, but they can get it. Other than the pork belly – you’ll need some curing salt - or sodium nitrite, (aka pink salt). Your butcher should have this as well, if not I’ve found it at the outdoor sporting good stores near the jerky and sausage making supplies. The rest of the things are common in the kitchen – large zip-close bags, kosher salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns. Nothing extraordinary or mystical. It’s surprising to me how accessible making your own bacon really is. You don’t need a smoker but it does add an extra flavor element to the bacon that I really love.
OFG: What experience did you have before you first made your own bacon? And what inspired you?
I like to eat consider myself pretty handy in the kitchen and always enjoy new things, so I suppose I don’t intimidate easily in that regard. However, making you own bacon is so simple. If you can make a box cake mix, you can do this. I’ve been making fresh sausages for a couple years now – bratwurst, merguez, kielbasa and in my search for more information I can across Ruhlman and Polcyn’s book Charcuterie. It’s such a wealth of information, the recipes and how-tos – especially in the beginning of the book make it all very do-able.

OFG: Aside from the logistics, what did you learn about about "making your own food"?
The quality of almost anything you make at home is far superior to the product you can purchase at the big box store. When you are making your own, you know you and your loved ones will be eating it. If you think for a moment the few major food producers have much more than profit on their mind, then I think you are deluding yourself.
And the proof is in the pan. Home cured bacon doesn’t shrink nearly as much as mass produced bacon. And the flavor? There is no comparison!

OFG: What does your family/friends think?
They love it! Being the first one up and starting the coffee and the bacon sizzling in the skillet, they don’t need an alarm clock, they get up pretty quickly! Seriously though, I’ve given the gift of bacon to a few people and even given some away for a small "donation." One guy ate three lbs between Friday and Sunday. When he got back to work on Monday – he said "No matter how much I beg and plead, please don’t bring me any more!" That’s pretty strong testimony! I always tell them how easy it is to make and offer to walk them through it. That offer stands.
OFG: What is your best advice for someone who is hesitant to do this?
First don’t be afraid. Go talk to your local butcher and find the availability and price of skin on pork belly. If it is within your means, pick up some pink salt, and give it a try. You will not be sorry, and if you are like me, you may never buy prepackaged bacon again!

Thanks, David, all great info and wow!  The tutorials you have on your blog are fantastic.  I'm sending a friend of mine right over to check it out.

So, what do you think, folks? Are you ready to jump in with both feet? If you're ready to try making your own bacon-y goodness at home I hope you'll get some confidence, and know how, from David and give it a try. Most of the free world is off work next week, so if you are a bacon lover and are home, why not call up your butcher and ask for a pork belly... then get to makin' bacon at home. Your friends and family will love you for it - its the gift that keeps on giving!

Happy Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Part Four. The Battle

The scene: On the high hill overlooking the valley

Light snow fell on a brilliant morning. OFG's battle line stretched wide on the high hill. The war engines were being rolled into place as the archers were being moved into position. Col Ti avoided her hard eyes and stood just behind OFG, at her side.

He had received a brutal dressing down for his part in the fight with her guest the previous night. Many of his men had been sent to the brig for the brawl, including Lucky who turned out to be the worst of the lot. Lucky's conduct had been so unbecoming that he would be confined for several weeks. Col Ti winced at the embarrassment he'd caused his liege, but smiled quietly to himself thinking of a few blows he'd justly delivered to Bourbon of the Red.

“How's that jaw, Colonel?” Asked OFG flatly

Col Ti cleared his throat and stood taller to attention wondering how she knew what he was thinking. “Fine, Sir.”

The field was rippling with activity. Messengers rode from all directions providing updates and delivering orders. The enemy could be heard moving in the distance. Several cohorts had been sent to flush out the enemy from deep within the forest.

Bourbon of the Red and his men were in formation on the right flank in the lower ground. The giant warrior wore the head of a massive pig as his war helmet and a huge red hog hide as his cloak. The tusks and knuckle bones of many defeated pigz hung around his neck. In Bourbon's hand was his Schweinehammer. The like had not been seen in the land in a hundred generations. He alone could wield it, such was the size of the war hammer. The staff of the much feared Schweinehammer was as tall as Bourbon and the stone attached to it weighed as much as a calf. He had been known to unhorse a man with a single blow. On his belt he wore a dagger of unexpected beauty which belied its awful deeds.

Some of Bourbon's men were still drunk from the night before. This intensified their howling rage as they whipped themselves up into their battle frenzy. Their war cries pierced the morning and ran shivers down the spines of some of the younger war hens. Bourbon's men were said to be the most courageous in the known world and would not break formation under pain of death.

Col Ti bellowed orders and moved the war hens into position. OFG gave an encouraging nod to the young speckled hen who replaced old Franhilde as her standard bearer. Young Ginny had never seen battle and was awestruck by the great spectacle. “Stay with me,” OFG told the young hen assuredly, “and keep the standard raised. At all costs.” Ginny nodded nervously but set her jaw. She would not fail. Overhead a pair of hawks screamed into the wind.

“Col Ti,” Commanded OFG, her blood hot, “It is time. Cry havoc and let slip the hens of war!”

At his signal the drums began the cadence which was taken up by the war hens all beating their swords against their shields. The sound was deafening and it filled the great valley. Bourbon of the Red strode forward swinging his mighty Schweinehammer and calling the pigz to battle. Col Ti raced up and down the battle line and howled his terrible war cry, rallying the war hens.

The great beasts screamed their mighty retort and thundered toward the battle line. The ground and trees shook as the pigz hurled themselves forward. The fearsome pigz charged out of the underbrush, wild with fear and dread and bloodlust. The battle was about to be joined.

Suddenly a massive black horse sailed over the battle lines darkening the sky and landed just in front of OFG. She immediately recognized the mysterious horse and rider who seemed to appear out of nowhere. OFG turned to shout, “Hold the line! Hold the line! Keep your positions! Col Ti! Hold those men!”

The rider slipped silently from the saddle. He boldly stepped toward the charging pigz, first at a steady walk as he judged the distance, then faster running to meet his foe, soon the big man raced forward, drew forth his bow, and the mighty assassin smote the first beast with a single shot. The great pig tumbled into a heap. Stunned, the war hens behind him gasped, then the air was full of the loud victory cheer, “Huz-zah!”

To the beat of the war hen's swords on shields the big man continued his charge. The second pig lowered his head, screamed his rage, and met the challenge. OFG could barely breath as she watched the two large figures race toward each other. The big man ran, seemingly unaware of the huge pig's horrible ferocity, and without great effort he thusly felled that pig also. The pig bellowed one last bloodcurdling scream and then lay still.

The big man turned and faced OFG. And there he stood as the war hens rushed forward. Bourbon and his men charged also and made sure that each pig got hence to its miserable death.

In the ensuing chaos and jubilant cheers of victory the big man walked slowly toward OFG. He slung his bow over his shoulder as he crossed the battle grounds. Standing before her he took her face in his hands, pressed his forehead to hers, and then walked away without saying a word. She watched him take the reins from his companion, mount the large black horse, and he disappeared back into the great forest like an apparition. His dark companion trotted behind him. And then they were gone.

OFG was aware of pounding footsteps and looked up to see Princess Kai and Zander rounding the bend at great speed. They had been leading the right flank in the woods behind the pigz. Kai tried to push past OFG, looking around wildly. “Was he here?” Kai desperately cried. “My father, was he here? Where is he?”

“He's gone, Kai.” OFG gestured toward the forest. “He's gone. You know it has to be this way.” Explained OFG holding the young princess by the shoulders. Kai shook loose and took a few steps toward the forest but knew it was too late. She had searched the countryside before for the big man. He could not be found nor tracked by any means.

“But,” Kai started to say as useless tears started to fall on her shining battle armor, “...he never even....” And then she wept openly.

Leaving his sister to her private grief, Zander followed OFG down to the battlefield. Whatever warmth had been in her eyes while the big man was there was now gone. She yelled orders and directed the troops as she made her way down the hillside. In the cold morning the smoke from the blood soaked ground rose hazily.

Bourbon of the Red was standing victoriously over the carcass of one of the slain beasts. A great “huzzah” rang out when he ran his dagger down the belly of one of the pigz, reached into the great maw, and pulled out the heart of the evil brute. He held it aloft for all to see, all the while singing a great victory song in his native language.

About them the ducks and hens had started the process of hauling the carcasses up the hill to the Great Hall. Huge carts of bloodwine were being brought down to the battlefield for the victorious warriors as the work parties prepared for the great harvest at the top of the hill. Bourbon's men had released the horrible heads from the pig carcasses and had hoisted them onto great pikes as a sign of victory.

The young dark prince sat quietly looking up at the gruesome sightless eyes. All around him was the activity of triumph. The great carts were loaded and the war hens had taken up the ropes, straining to pull the spoils of war up the hill. Behind him Zander could hear Col Ti barking orders and the creaking of the wheels as the carts started to lurch forward.

The pup sat, still carefully studying the pigz heads. The ghastly eyes still held the terror of their defeat and blood dripped in pools at the base of the posts on which they were mounted. Zander took this all in. “Soon,” He thought to himself, “Soon this victory will be mine.”

In the distance he heard his mother calling to him, “Zan-der.... Zaaaaan-der.....”

He turned to go, then looked back once more at the pig trophies, threw back his head and for the first time howled his war cry. 

Note: Available here Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of our story.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Bacon's here....

I'm sorry but I can't talk to any of you right now.... the bacon is here. I'm sitting in my kitchen surrounded by 90 pounds of bacon and ham just back from being smoked and cured at the butcher.

Hello Hams!

Best. Day. Ever.

I think I'm on my 3rd "BLT"... Its a miracle that I even have lettuce in the house. Lately I've been on my own "modified Adkins" (meat, coffee, and donuts). But I figured I needed to have some kind of vegetative matter so at the store the other day I grabbed an overpriced head of lettuce and swore I'd grow my own from now on.
This ham slab didn't even fit in my biggest skillet.

At least I didn't buy a store tomato, I just popped open one of my home canned pints of thick 'mater sauce. A schmear of "T" on one side, an unholy amount of Miracle Whip on the other, an obligatory lettuce leaf....and all the bacony goodness that piece of bread can handle.

Me home alone... with all this bacon....

Carry on without me friends, I think I have room for BLT#4.

Happy Monday everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Part Three: The Eve of Battle

The scene: The Great Hall in OFG's lands, just after dusk the eve before battle

The full moon rose against a pale sky casting great shadows across the countryside. The revelry within The Great Hall could be heard for miles in all directions. Candles lit the Hall and all who entered were stunned at the sight of the heads of many pigz past. The gruesome heads hung as trophies on the walls. The ghastly figures grew more fierce as the night darkened and the drinking increased. Many barrels of bloodwine had been brought from the store houses. The war hens caroused loudly in a scene of unbridled celebration.

The entire company was there, sitting around great tables filled with a feast of unparallelled glory. Young ducks carried trays heavy laden with all manner of delicacies and brought wave after wave of feast foods. The jubilation was loud and ruckus and in the air hung the feeling that this would be a night of nights.

But all were silenced when the troubadour, known as Little Mo, stood up and stuck his harp. He sang such sweet and dulcet tones that not even the most hardened battle goose could help but shed a tear. Little Mo sang a song of long ago when the world was good and the larders were full of pork, so much pork. "...Oh bacon, love of my life... I whilst love thou always...." There was not a dry eye in the Hall when Little Mo finished his song and sat down, suddenly ashamed of the attention. The merry making was struck up when the geese took up a bawdy drinking song and the revelry rang loud into the night once again.

OFG walked quietly among her subjects in a plain battle cloak pulled over her head to disguise her identity. She made her way to a table in the shadowy light at the back of the Great Hall.

Bourbon of the Red and Col Ti sat across a bloodwine stained table dimly lit in the gloom. Each was flanked by their most trusted men at arms. The adversaries stared vilely at each other, the hatred was palatable between them.

“So, friend,” Said Col Ti, but there was no mistaking he thought the huge man was not 'friend' at all. “Tell me. Why have you come?”

“To join the battle, of course.” Replied Bourbon as casually as he could...almost dismissively.

Col Ti reached, a little too quickly, for the bottle of bloodwine set between them. Several of Bourbon's men at arms reached for their swords. Col Ti's men responded in kind, the sharp sound of metal being released rang clear.

“Stay,” Said Bourbon to his men in a low voice, “Come now, Ti. Enough of this old business. Let us drink to the death of pigz and a victory on the morrow!” He poured the wine and lifted his drinking tankard. “Gentle men all, let us drink.” The men at arms on both sides shifted uneasily but kept their guard.

The great warrior downed the tankard in one long draw and smiled wolfishly at Col Ti. Eventually Bourbon's calm manner set the others to ease but Col Ti kept a wary eye on the giant man. OFG watched this all from a distance. Even in her lands she knew better than to come between men with unfinished business between them. Hoping they would not cause a disturbance OFG faded into the shadows and passed from their hearing. Just to be sure she asked the young hen following her, an attache named Doolittle, to keep an eye on the goings on and report immediately if things changed.

On the other side of the room a young Princess Kai, regaled in her finest tiara and dress armor, stood looking out a window into the night. OFG approached her gently and asked, “What are you watching for, Kai?”

Kai did not look away from the darkness, but softly replied, “My father.”

Meanwhile, in the darkest part of the deepest forest a man sat near a smokeless fire warming himself against the bitter cold. He was a large brooding man with dark eyes who was silent more than he spoke. The big man rode a giant black horse with no name. The man was well armed with a bow of the finest design and a sword which dazzled all who were felled by it. He was a wanderer, a man without people or country or fidelity. A loner save for his companion who never spoke.

The man looked across the fire. His companion was one of swarthy discontent. Some say he was mad. Other thought him possessed by demons. Many called him Gato Diablo and he was shunned by all save the man to whom he was bound to by blood oath.

The story tellers say that Gato Diablo was once trapped on a high cliff after a bad fall. For days he writhed alone until thirst and heat and pain drove him to make promises to bitter gods. Just then the man happened to pass by and found Gato Diablo. Gato Diablo was saved from death but he did not live. He now begrudgingly followed the man and cursed his desperate oaths. The two had since warred side by side, each taking out his own torments on those who would cross them.

The man wondered what thoughts his companion had but knew they would never be known. He returned to smoking his pipe and looking into the small fire. Behind them the enormous war horse snorted contentedly.

Back in the Great Hall the festivities were interrupted by angry shouts of men and the sound of a massive table being overturned. The young hen ran up with her report to OFG... who could already see that Col Ti and Bourbon of the Red were trading blows. 

Note:  Available here....Part One and Part Two of story.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The cure for bacon

Of course there is no cure for love of bacon... so you just gotta give into the bacon obsession and make your own. Make your own bacon? Sure, yes you can!

First, did you run right out and get Ruhlman's book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing? His instructions are easy peasy and even if you don't have a great smoking set up like my pal, The Gastronomic Gardener, you can still make bacon. And even if you don't raise your own hogs you can get fresh pork bellies online or from a local butcher. Then all you need is a few simple ingredients. One of the things you need is "pink salt." I found some from The Sausage Maker here as Instacure #2 for Drying Meats 1 Pound.  Everything else you can find at the grocery store.

The first step is to cure the fresh meat.  You'll need a salt and sugar "cure" to cure the meat. Got it?  Just make up a batch of Ruhlman's basic cure, rub it all over the meat, then seal it up in a bag or a non-reactive container, and refrigerate.

I used big gallon bags for the plain bacon, the black pepper bacon, and also my small experiment of rosemary and black pepper. The big piece of maple bacon is curing in a smallish dish tub I found at the Dollar Store (yes, it was one dollar). Every other day I'll turn the pieces of pork over so it cures evenly. After seven days I'll check and see if its ready to smoke. How fun is that?

I also started two pieces of pancetta and also two small jars of salt pork. The pancetta has different ratios of salt, sugar, and spices. The salt pork is just the basic cure and has slightly different instructions.

As Meat Week winds down I also started two more batches of lard. I tried cutting theses pieces instead of grinding them - we'll see how it goes. We had a shorter day on Thursday because we took the pup, Zander, to the vet for his rabies shot. We were wow'd to find out that our little baby is 44 pounds! The vet had to check the records twice to make sure that he really is just about 14 weeks old. The vet was a little gaga that Zander is on track to be pretty darn big. Of course we were very proud of Zander and he was very good during his appointment.

While the pup did just fine, the nervous mommy came directly home and calmed her nerves by  making a big plate of porkchops. Then I felt much better. Zander slept for most of the afternoon then was just fine.

Happy end of Meat Week everyone! There's still a little more work to do... but more on that and what I'm gonna do with all this lard later.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Finishing up - lard and leavings

Oh Lard...lard lard lard. Lard and more lard. So much lard....

The leaf lard we got was extraordinary. This entire kettle was full of leaf fat - more than we've ever gotten before. I can't wait to bake with it. Of course, I had to render it first.

Today was all about lard and leavings. Remember that there's two kinds of fat on a hog - leaf lard which is fat surrounding the organs. Than then there is the rest of the "regular" fat that is around the outside of the hog. The leaf lard makes the most amazing baking lard for pie crusts and pastries. And the regular fat is good for everything else.

I used Big Onion's grind and render method and wow did I get great results with the leaf lard. The rest of the fat did OK. However I ended up with a kind of weird blob of fat-leavings. When I cut up the lard I got pieces. The pieces are good for us because they are easier to feed to the chickens. The best thing about having lard - besides having lard - is the leavings to feed to the poultry. Talk about a great source of protein and calories! Mix with some cracked corn or scratch and the hennies will eat it up.

My biggest stock pot was full of bones-n-stuff.

The next thing I worked on was the leavings for the dogs. I trimmed the bones and such generously so I'd have more for the dogs. I cooked several really big pots of bones and such. And also the kinda gross stuff. You know.. hearts and kidneys and the like. I ended up with a rich broth - and all the meat. We have some very happy dogs.
Dog snacks went into jars

And finally I worked on pate. I love pate..oh liver.. I love you in the wurst way...

Liver pate was spooned into jars

If you don't have it, run right out and get a copy of Ruhlman's Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing...he's got some great stuff in there. I loosely used his recipe for pate. Mixed it all up, and cooked it in a hot water bath - in pint jars. I'll put them in the freezer and anytime I want a little lovely liver, I'll have it by the pint.

I still haven't gotten to curing the bacons - so that's on the agenda for Thursday. Whew! This has been a ton of work but its also been a lot of fun. Of course, it was kind of a weird day for anyone to call me. Most folks know better to ask me what I'm doing - some of the answers are met with long awkward pauses. Or sudden hang ups. Today the answers to "whatcha doin" were:

1. Cutting up pigz hearts and stuffing them in jars of blood broth

2. Stirring a big vat of fat

But even that didn't scare someone off the phone. So I started telling them that about the soon-to-be liver pate that was seasoning in the fridge. And how The Big Man thought it was a bowl of cranberry sauce. You can imagine how that went. (He just covered it back up and put it back in the fridge - at this point he knows better.)

Happy Thursday everyone! Go meat!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grinding Day

We're sloggin' thru the Meat-a-palooza 2011....Day Four grinds on...

Actually Tuesday really was grinding day. We lost our cold weather so we had to hop-to and get everything out of the meat locker, aka the garage. Even tho it got warmer today it was still below 40* in the garage. But we weren't taking any chances so we got everything packaged up or put in the coldest fridge we have.

As a I was trimming the meat I put the extra or weird pieces into two piles - either "to be ground" or "to be cut up for stew meat."  The "stew meat," which is really for stir fry and the like, was the odd ends that were a little better quality - more meaty and tender. The "to be ground" pile was the tougher cuts and anything that was more marbled and fatty. We'll use this ground meat for making "taco meat," burgers, sausage, and as a base for our bolognese sauce.

The ground meat was put into 1 pound portions and stuffed into appropriately marked freezer bags. The "stew meat" was cut up into 1 inch chunks and also portioned out.

And then. The lard. I took Big Onion's challenge (just kiddin!) from his comments the other day and decided I would not be foiled by melty fat. So I marched out to the meat locker.. I mean...the garage and got my almost full 5 gallon bucket of cut up fat and prepared for glory.

Normally we just cut the fat into small pieces and then render it. We tried to grind it one year and it didn't work at all. But guess what? It worked! Well... the grinding part worked. I'm still working on cooking it down. We'll see how it turns out tomorrow. Thanks Big Onion for the tip (see comments) to get me to reconsider grinding fat for rendering lard!

Speaking of the Big Onion....he asked about the last "cutting chore" and did I do it? Well. I did it. It took some chest beating, some dancing around the fire, and me and The Big Man punching each other in the arm and "double dog daring" each other to get out there. We finally marched out there to make the final cuts for.... "guanciale" as my pal the Gastronomic Gardener calls it. But around here we just call it hog jowl. That's right. I cut off the pigz faces. Actually just the cheeks.

We intentionally didn't take any happy snaps of this big event so there is no pictorial evidence.. I mean.. step by step guide. Mostly because we were laughing so hard at the stupid jokes. So many jokes. After a small oogly-boogly moment it was over. We had the jowls and then bagged up Smiley and Head Cheese for the garbage guys. Dang, the garbage guys hate coming to our house. Its like no one but us puts badly butchered pig heads out for them to collect.

Speaking of pigz heads...so a couple answers to questions that I know you are all asking yourselves.

1. Do we make head cheese? Nope.
2. Aside from the jowls do we use anything else from the heads?  Nope.
3. Did we ever find the missing pig heads from last year? I ain't sayin'.

That's the report for today on this Week of Meat. I'll be working on rendering lard, making pate, and starting to cure all the bacon odds and ends tomorrow. And making sure the garbage guys actually take the pig heads. And other stuff. Oh geez, I might as well just start making a huge burn pile just in case they don't take any of it. Cowards.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Even MORE meat! All meat! All the time!

Monday is wasting away and here I am. Meat drunk. I love meat. I spent all day Monday doing the rest of the cutting. Of course I had my handy fry pan hot at all times so I ate my way thru the day. So I am meat drunk. I'm not even sorry.
Cut the center cut in half, lengthwise. 

And since we just can't get enough - here's more on the meat processing.We'll call this "OFG's Lame Tutorial On How To Cut Up The Center Cut Of Pork Without Ruining It Entirely." Also known as, "this is how we do it here but do it however you'd like."

You can see from here that the center cut - a side of pork without the shoulder or ham - is a darn big piece of meat. The goal is to get it into smaller more manageable chunks.

The first step it to cut it just about in half, length-wise. You really want to cut a straight line starting just under the tenderloin so that you get the biggest ribs. Use a meat saw like this Weston Butcher Saw with 16 Inch Stainless Steel Blade or just a good old hacksaw that you've cleaned really well and only use for butchering. One thing we learned was to go with a smaller saw. Sure they have a big one, but my pal Bourbon Red said he regretted getting it. The blade has too much flex in it. So go for the small one.

Once cut in half, the first thing you want to do is get the tenderloin out. That's the magic, baby...
Then cut the loin part (the side with the backbone) in about thirds so its more manageable. At this point you could just package up those bone-in roasts and call it a day. But we like porkchops so we keep going.

Use the meat saw for just getting thru the bones, then use a handy chef's knife to cut the rest of the way thru the meat. Easy peasy!

At this point it gets a little tricky. Use your boning knife to remove the loin from the ribs. It takes a little practice but you'll get it. See the ribs on top? And the beautiful chops encased in lovely fat?

We cut those small fry ribs from the backbone and use them for snackable bites. Delish!

But the real goal is to get to the pork chops. This years chops weren't as big as last year's. So we sliced them extra thick. I'll talk more about the differences in pigz later but for now, with as lovely as these pigz turned out we weren't devastated by smaller pork chops at all.

And see all that beautiful fat? This is the prized back fat that southern folks know and love. You can see in this picture that it actually is in layers. Its easy to use these layer lines as guides to trim the backfat from the chops - leaving a good healthy layer, of course.

Next you'll need to tackle removing the ribs from the bacons. Make sure your boning knife is extra sharp. You want your ribs to have some meat on them, but don't rob from the bacon too much! I found it easiest to peel the ribs back and cut them loose, then peel again, and cut until they were released.

Then you get to the bacon....

so much lovely bacon... Lets just take a moment and observe the bacon. Can you even believe it?

Then its just a matter of squaring up the bacons so you can ship them off to the butcher or start curing yourself. These pigz were so long in the body that we ended up with a ton of bacon and also some belly sections as well. I cut these odd shaped ones so they will be easy for me to cure and smoke myself.

And here is kinda what you end up with....this shows the pork center before I even worked on the loin side. From the top/left we've got the loin side, the ribs, the bacon, and then the weird bacon/belly pieces.

Isn't that amazing?

We took the hams and some of the bacons down to the butcher to be cured and smoked. Three fresh hams and two bacons weighed in at just over 90 pounds! The butcher even came round to see what was going on when his work crew was oogling the hams. I can't wait to get them back. Of course, we always end up butchering just as our deer hunting season ends so our butcher was swamped. We apologized for our bad planning and had a laugh about the whole thing.

Could we cure and smoke the hams and bacon here? Sure if we had to, but we really aren't set up for it. For one things, we don't have a fabulous smoking set up like my pal, the Gastronomic Gardener. Have you seen his custom smoke house? Wow! I need to get my act in gear and get something like that here.

I can smoke a few things at a time in our smoker but I'm really not really set up for full cuts just yet. I kept one of the bacons tho and then I have all those fabulous weird bacon ends and belly pieces to work on myself.

Remember that about half the cost of having a butcher cure and smoke your meats is in the cut and wrapping end of things. So we are getting only one of the hams cut-n-wrapped... the rest we are getting back whole as I can break them down myself like I did here.

Tuesday is another all meat all the time day - but I'll be working on grinding the weird cuts and strange pieces into ground meat. Easy peasy once I get my Kitchen Aid set up. Then we'll be just about done. I have one more cutting chore left tho... um.... its the ickiest part. I'm gonna need a cup of liquid courage to march out there. We'll see how it goes.

Happy Tuesday everyone! Are you learning that "yes you CAN" cut up a side of pork yourself?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Meat, meat, meat, and more meat!

Meat! Glorious meat! What a day....here are some quick pix from Sunday.

The sides of the pork were huge... Technically this is just the center cut. The ham and the shoulder had already been taken off!
The shoulders alone were enormous. This is the shoulder with the hock removed and cut in half for the picnic ham and the boston butt cuts.

 and check out that lovely layer of fat on the shoulder.

Which was nothing compared to the back fat! Can you believe it?

And then there was the bacon. For heavens sakes, we did win the lottery!

Our reference for doing these cuts is here. And also this guy really seems to have good info. I think he put more of his information in his "for sale" products because last year he had a better step-by-step guide.  The free video is pretty good (and funny, I like him talking over the other guy).

However, ahem.. someone I know really needs to get his act together and gimme the pix of "how to" do these cuts so I can post them for you folks. You know who you are. We only kinda know what we are doing and even tho we sometimes have a "what the heck is that?" moment, we've been happy with our results.

Folks sometimes ask me what cuts they should get when they have a butcher dressing their hog. The answer is - whatever you like. I'm not sure there is a wrong selection - its what you use. Primarily we use fresh ground pork, "stew" meat, bacon (of course), pork chops, and ham. We also really like "country style ribs" and also blade steaks. Because there is just the two of us we really don't like big roasts. So we take off the best parts for the grill and the rest of it goes for stew meat or ground for fresh pork.

What about sausage? Lean in, friend, I got a secret for you..... sausage is just seasoned meat. At any time you can make sausage - even just before cooking it. Now you know. We never want links anyway because we only use bulk sausage.  So any time we need sausage we just grab one of our handy prepackaged frozen 1 pound packs of fresh pork and season it up. Voila! Easy peasy.

The only tools we used for cutting up the sides of pork were a meat saw and a couple knives. I like my good boning knife and my chef's knife (actually I have two - a bigger and a smaller one). We took up the fat and will make lard out of it later.

Can you do this yourself? Yes you can! Once you read the instructions a couple of times and look at the side of pork in front of you, it seems to make sense. And if you do monkey it up - for heavens sakes its just meat. More than likely its about how you cook it and not if its a perfectly butchered side of pork.

Monday is more meat meat meat and more meat. We still need to do the grinding and also finish up the last side. And I have to call the butcher - I hope he doesn't freak out when I tell him we're on the way with fresh hams. Our deer season just ended and I'm sure he has his hands full.

Say, if you're inspired by all this lovely pork and are in central Ohio, check out my buddy D at Spring Hill Farms. He'll bring you a box of pork all cut and ready for action. When you talk to him, tell him that OFG says "hi" and wow these porkers turned out great!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Turning pigz into pork

Did everyone hear the great 'huzzah' yesterday when the evil pigz were slain? Whoot!

Here is the before....
and the after.
By the way - that huge kettle is full of leaf lard. That's what I'm talkin' about....

Today is all meat all the time - we are cutting these beautiful pork halves into manageable chunks and then getting them into the freezer.  The hams will be taken to the local butcher to be cured and smoked along with one of the bacons. We'll work on the other bacons here. And we might try canning some of the meat instead of freezing it all. But I'll get to that as we go along.

We had a great time yesterday. Everything went off without a hitch and we had a wonderful time with our pal Bourbon Red and his kids ("the Poults").  The Poults were my best helpers ever and wow can they make cinnamon rolls!  We loved having our friends here and were so glad they came - we could not have done this ourselves. The pigz turned out to be huge - at least 325lbs or better!

And now we have most of the meat we'll need for a year. I feel like we won the lottery. The bacon lottery....*OFG dreamily thinks of a real bacon lottery...*

All of the effort, all of the work, all of the pig-hatin' was totally worth it... and as the day went along from when we first marched down there to the moment the last half was strung up in the garage... I finally loved them pigz.  Turning pigz into pork is where the real love happens.

I'll be posting a detailed post about what happened... along with Part Three of our epic tale (Part One here and Part Two here)... but for now I gotta get my meat saw and run right out there.

Happy Sunday everyone!  On this Lord's day we thank God for this full harvest and having the Hand of Provision on us. Amen and amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Part Two: The arrival

Part Two:  The scene: Just inside the mighty gate at the border of OFG's lands

The caravan was just coming into sight. A mighty carriage led the baggage train that stretched for miles. The scouts has been reporting it's progress for two days. OFG stood at the front of the welcoming party. At long last the geese blew their opening notes of greeting on silver trumpets. The turkeys heaved-to and opened the gate. The ground shook as the carriage rolled in and creaked to a halt in front of them. Banners flew overhead as the welcoming company stood at attention.

The carriage door open and Bourbon of the Red emerged. He was an enormous man. Fair of skin and hair with eyes like the sky before thunder. He looked as if the ancient Teutonic gods of his people crafted him from the shale and ice and ocean of the north. Some of OFG's welcoming party took in a sharp breath when the man stood to his full height. He reached at least 7 feet tall.

Formally he walked toward OFG and saluted her.

“I bid you hail and most hearty welcome Bourbon of the Red!” OFG announced for all to hear. “Let it be known that this warrior is our guest and will be afforded all of the hospitality of this Good Land!”

“Good Sister and Ruler of the South!” Bourbon replied, “I bring you gifts from the North and I thank you for your welcome.” As he finished his greeting Bourbon's personal guard pulled an enormous trunk from the carriage and brought it forth. The welcoming party murmured and whispered, knowing that the trunk contained a most valuable treasure - an elixir as fresh and pure as the driven snow. Some of the pages jostled each other to get a better view but were silenced by a sharp look from Colonel Ti.

Formalities over, OFG stepped forward and grasped forearms with the legendary man. They greeted each other like brothers in arms.

“Come!,” She beckoned “We've started the Yule log and the banqueting tables are being filled. Refresh yourselves after such a long journey.”

“Yes, yes, of course, but first... show me these beasts you spoke of...show me the enemy.”

In the background the young ducks had rushed forward to help Bourbon's pages unload the baggage train. Their knees buckled as they tried to unload his battle armor. The cuirass alone required five young ducks to carry it into the Great Hall. Other ducks rolled great winches and pulleys to unload Bourbon's implements of war.

OFG and Bourbon of the Red passed among the buildings to reach the high hill. Passing the barracks Col Ti barked an order and immediately two young soldiers dressed in fine armor presented themselves.

“Here they are,” OFG said proudly to Bourbon, “you remember my youngest two, I'm sure. My Fighting Uruk-hai Princess Bearkiller and Zander Hannibal Bonecrusher.”

Kai stepped forward on long legs and careful paws, shaking her mane and flashing her teeth. She bowed low to Bourbon, but kept her eyes on him the whole time. He did not miss this slight and laughed, tossing his head. “She keeps her insolence, OFG, you must watch this one.” He said, his tone light as he reached out and touched Kai's chin. “She's cut her teeth in battle but she has yet to learn the ways of a true warrior.”

Then the large man turned his attention to the young, dark prince. Zander's bright eyes stared right at Bourbon. The young pup stood proud, broadening his shoulders and keeping his ears straight up. The man towered over Zander but the pup did not flinch.

Zander's birth had been foretold by an oracle of the land many years ago. An ancient hen had made her way into The Great Hall on gnarled feet to tell OFG of the vision. On a stormy night long ago the old hen had seen it. That night the thunder shook the ground and lightening cracked the sky open. In the blazing sky she had seen a warrior as fierce as the wind and more terrible than the hour before the breaking day. He came on flashing feet that fell like drum beats. They called him The Black Death. Coyotes in three counties would heard his howl. And fear.

OFG heard this telling and pondered the words. She then set out to find this pup, this dark knight, this Black Death. At long last she found him being raised by wise women on an island far to the East. He looked so small back then, but OFG knew when she first held the squirming pup that he was the one. She rewarded the wise women well and named the tiny one Zander Hannibal Bonecrusher. He bore the weight of the heavy name and those ancient generals would be proud.

“Ah, yes,” Said Bourbon nodding, “The Black Death. He will be a strong warrior.” The two looked intently at each other for a moment before Colonel Ti growled low under his breath. Zander inclined his head and then trotted back to take his position.

The young warriors fell in line as the party made its way to the high hill. The enemy could be seen below, moving about lazily, unaware of their impending doom.

“This is where we fight,” Said Kai breathlessly looking down on the enemy.

“This is where they die,” Replied Zander, dark eyes unblinking, staring intensely at his prey.

The still scene was broken when suddenly Bourbon of the Red raised his voice and bellowed, “"ihr seid Schweine!" He stood at the edge of the forest and began shaking his fist and hurling insults as the pigs. He did this for well over an hour even tho the pigs had run off long before.

The first flakes of snow started to fall.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Taking one for the team

No one on this earth loves to play fetch more than Dog#1. He's mad for the game and could play all day.

Here's mud in your eye....

Sometimes he likes to catch the ball right out of the air... and sometimes... well. It doesn't go as planned. Like this. That mud shiner must have been worth it. For sure.

The rest of the dogs don't really care for playing fetch. Kai mostly just likes the running, Dog#2 just likes to goof around, and Zander only thinks its fun to run off with the ball after Titan drops it to be thrown again. Zander's new favorite game is "keep away" and he and Kai play it all the time. Dog#1 doesn't think this is funny at all. But we can't help but laugh at Commander Zander's floppy little ears and his hobby-horse-like run, half turned around , looking over his shoulder with the ball in his mouth as if to say "you can't catch me!" But the thing is... we can catch him. We think this is pretty funny. He does not.

We are looking down the barrel of another epic rain around here. So plenty of mud to go around in the next few days. We might even break the all time record for rainiest year on record.

Stay dry everyone! And remember the key to a successful game of fetch is to bring lots of balls.

Happy Monday everyone!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Part One: At first light

The scene:  A pale sun rose on two figures high on a hill overlooking the enemy's encampment. The first red rays of dawn streaked across a moody sky.

OFG stared down intensely at the enemy marveling in their size. She narrowed her eyes as she calculated the spoils of war. The morning's cold chilled her to the bone.

Colonel Ti sniffed the air anxiously wondering when they would get their opportunity.

"Will the weather hold, Sir?" The veteran warrior asked his liege.

"I don't know." OFG stooped to the ground, scooped up a handful of the good earth and breathed in its scent.

"What do the oracles say?" Col Ti pressed.

"The oracle speak in riddles," she said "we alone will make our decision and let him know."

That very morning word came from Bourbon of the Red. He pledged to move his troops down to join the battle with them. The only question was when. OFG gazed up at the brightening sky. The wind blew cold from the north. If only.... On this knife's edge of seasons a battle too soon would be misery in the cold rain. The mud would make for a difficult victory. They needed cold days and frozen earth.

Col Ti ventured, "Will he bring many troops?"

"A few," She answered, "boys really."

But both knew that extra troops were unnecessary. Bourbon of the Red was the most feared warrior in the known world. Stories sung around the fires told of his fearlessness. Some said that he enjoyed the slaughter too much, that his veins ran with ice water. Tested in battle many times his courage was unwavering. And he was merciless. He shared his domain with a small, fire-haired woman who wore the mark of The Bar. It was said she was a sorceress and that her words alone defeated her foes.

After a time OFG stood, looking down once more on their enemy. “Col Ti,” She commanded, “Prepare the men. We ride for war five days hence, at first light.” She turned, letting her battle cloak fall from her shoulder, and strode toward the bunker. Preparations were to begin immediately.

Col Ti, hungry for the battle, broke out in a fierce grin. Then, suddenly he threw his massive head back and let out his war howl. It pierced the coming day like a thousand spears and echoed thru the land. Below the enemy scattered in fear. He turned and trotted after OFG.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Comings and goings

Actually its mostly "goings."  We've had a few losses - some of the old guard.

Penny is the beautiful grey Toulouse shown here with the flock. 

Our old momma goose, Penny, finally passed. She'd been poorly since this summer. All Penny ever wanted to do was lay eggs and set a nest. She was a great momma. Mated to our ornery gander, OD, we were the pair's third owners. We think they had to be at least 10, but probably 12. They came to us as "used poultry" from my pal, Bourbon Red.

Since geese mate for life we were afraid that OD would be lost with her. Even tho OD was a philandering gander and had spent time in the tabloids for his exploits. Earlier this summer we encouraged him to team up with Cindy and the two young ganders. Penny spent most of her time sitting and enjoying the sun while the others roamed around. However, the other morning was so wet and cold that we kept her inside in the dry straw. We found her later that day.  A fine end to a long life.

Our other loss was Franhilde. She was one of our original 5 hens. Probably the only "Easter egger" who laid white eggs. For heavens sakes. I was surprised by her passing tho. Earlier in the week I was noticing how spry she was and how well she was doing. However, she was at least 12. Franhilde gained notoriety as my standard bearer in this epic tale. 

As far as new arrivals, the goaties are all doing well. They are all changing in shape - even Dahlia. So hopefully this spring there will be a horde of baby goats. Mission accomplished, Too Short!

That's the news here. Happy Saturday! Is everyone avoiding the shopping malls? Or are you headed for the madness?

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