Category Archives: Food stuffs

Coco Shea

She doesn’t pronounce her R’s correctly (so her name sounds like “Co-wa”) and she calls her leotard (which she very solemnly dons whenever she decides it’s time for an impromptu ballet class in the living room with Mommy) a “lelotalla.” Yesterday while the kids were playing before bedtime I heard her exasperated little voice say, “I’m always the princess! I never get to be the dragon!” I’m pretty sure I’m doing something right…

My baby turned four the middle of August and it is good. She is currently fascinated with hearing all the details of all of the kids birth stories (her favorite thing ever is when I talk about my water breaking and how it felt like I peed my pants) and in the telling and re-telling I don’t find myself longing for babies. Corra is now without a doubt a little kid, not even a toddler anymore, and it’s good. I’ve savored each stage so completely and I feel so peaceful about our decision to be done at baby #4, that there isn’t even a twinge of sadness at her growing up. I marvel every day at her beauty and her passion for life. Like I’ve said before, she filled a hole in my heart that I didn’t even know was there…and to think I cried the day we found out she wasn’t a boy. Good thing the Good Lord knows how to do this whole life thing way better than I do.

Corra’s favorite color is not pink. And the indignation comes out in full force should one even suggest it…luckily this barbie has blue (the actual favorite color) hair which made it possible for us to overlook the pink shirt. We had the hardest time nailing down specifics for her first friend birthday and at this point I don’t even remember how we landed on a barbie dress cake…Her Halloween costume will probably be made day of (right now we’ve gone through Merida, an alligator, the pirate fairy, and a dragon).

I did my best to distract from the pink with as much blue frosting as I could manage and have it still look like a fancy dress. We declared victory and the birthday girl was happy. Someday I might just even get an actual cake platter instead of just using dinner plates…maybe.

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Again, not sure how we arrived at a princess and knight theme…but we did and everyone came dressed up and ready for revelry. Garyn and Naomi graciously volunteered to be evil dragons. [as a side note: I love that these little girls are helping Garyn grow up slow. He still enjoys My Little Pony, gives me squeezes unasked for through out the day, especially when Layna closes the car door on my finger, and is willing to drop everything to play with his sisters. Sometimes I worry that he is acting too young, that he should be moving beyond childish things. Quickly I’m reminded that all too soon he will move on and just because other kids get hustled right through childhood, doesn’t mean it’s right or better.]

They built a “castle” and had a balloon free for all. Garyn ended up not being the only big brother there so he, Charlie, and Naomi made sure that no balloons went un-bopped into the air.

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The princesses played pin the Kiss On the Frog. Neil flew home from a work trip to Las Vegas the morning of the party so he wasn’t here to work his graphic design magic and make me a huge frog, but we made due.

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Our knights played pin the Dragon On the Shield. Naturally.

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Cake and Ice Cream. I’m pretty sure more than half the cake went to chickens but I just needed pictures, which I got. Our animals sure do love the combination of birthdays plus me trying weird cake recipes that kids may or may not approve of. Also Corra had her first hair cut so her hair is now just above shoulder length. It really suits her and she couldn’t be happier with it, but I’ll confess…I cried after she went to bed. I can’t wait for the curls to grow back.

Presents and more balloon frolics and we proverbially dropped the mic on year number three. She is already planning all the delightful things that will happen when she turns five.

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meat birds

When one embarks on a new hobby, one very quickly becomes immersed in a brand new subculture. And what is culture if not a collection of disagreements on how things should be done? Well, in the “raising my own meat chickens” community there is the conundrum of efficiency vs. quality.

On the side of efficiency you have the Cornish Cross. If you buy chicken of any sort at the store you are buying a Cornish Cross, a veritable miracle of breeding for purpose. These things get to market weight in 8 weeks or sooner and they produce tons of white meat on much less feed in the shortest amount of time possible. Less feathers and large body cavities make for very easy processing. The trade off: If you let them grow too big, their legs break under them. They can have heart attacks. People contend they taste awful or at least not as good as other breeds. They are gross and don’t move around a lot, except to feed frenzy their food.

On the side of Quality you have the Red/Freedom/etc. Ranger. These are a heritage meat bird that can get up to market weight in 12 weeks, but still retain the ability to lay eggs and mate naturally (the Cornish cross can’t do either). They are smarter and don’t face the health problems if allowed to grow beyond a certain age. People say they taste better as a result of being more active and they are prettier running around the yard.

We figured we’d do our own comparison to see which we liked better and had decided to start with the darling of hippie homesteaders everywhere: the much more natural Red Ranger. However, the feed store told us their hatchery had a break out of avian flu and lost all those chicks for the year so if we wanted chicken to eat it was the Cornish Cross for us. In perusing forum threads and blogs, I ran across some advice about managing these frankenbirds. The guy’s point was that one had to be aware of the nature that has been bred into them and work with that. These things are eating machines, therefore giving them free choice feed (like you would do with any other chicken, meat or layer) is a recipe for the above ickiness.  Our birds got fed twice a day and we found that while kind of pathetic and without grace, beauty or charm…these critters weren’t too bad to raise. Also I’m new to home raised chicken, so naturally these guys taste better than store bought to me and until my palette becomes more refined, I have no complaints.

*****Pictures of dead chickens: no blood, no guts, kid friendly*****

Here’s how it went down. We had 16 to process plus two roosters from last year. [Those two gentleman are still pecking about with our laying hens because after 4 hours of work in the hot and humid for both of us, we were done. Some day though, those boys are destined for the stock pot.] YouTube, the internet and books gave us the general idea, plus we did a few in Vegas. The killing cone was new and it worked well. Funny thing about chickens. When you hold them upside down they struggle and flap, but then they go limp and it’s like they just find their zen. This is convenient because then they slip right into the cone which confines them (theoretically) through the death throes. I say theoretically because one managed to flip itself out of the cone and around the shed for a solid minute sans head!

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Next the scald pot at 150 degrees with some dish soap in the water. This helps feathers loosen, cuts down smell and presents much less manure to be dealt with while plucking. And yes, I do most everything on the farm in my flipflops.

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And my sexy overalls. They do all the farm chores too.

Handmade plucker. It’s not fantastic but did get the areas I especially did not want to touch. It was fine for the amount we needed to do but any more birds and I’d want something more robust. They have motorized drums that can pluck multiple birds in a minute or two. A girl can dream, right?

What’s up? Chicken Butt. [Inner 12 year-old boy back in the box] The husband man and I settled into a fairly good system of killing (him), scalding and plucking (me), gutting (him), final cleaning and weighing (me). Pretty sure he got the short end of that stick.

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Not bad for a first try.

After hanging out in the fridge for a few days to chill and relax it was time to wrap them for the freezer. Nifty shrink wrap bags made this part so nice. Bag the bird, dunk in hot water, zip tie. Done.

It still boggles my mind when ever I grow or raise something that looks and tastes even better than store bought. These bird are so tasty and make spectacular stock (once I threw in the feet and necks). One and a half birds turned in to 7 quarts chicken pot pie filling, and another three got pressure canned (canned chicken makes amazing chicken salad).  I still think I prefer rabbit for the overall experience, but chicken will be in the rotation every year. At least one flock (15-20) of them…I mean from chicks to this it was only nine weeks, which is a very easy time commitment. We averaged about 5 lbs and $2.28 per lb. all said and done. We could bring the feed cost down if we were better about moving them to new grass and going with cheaper feed, not to mention a more efficient feeder with less waste potential. I bought the good stuff and it was still very reasonable. New meat source…Check! Next up in November, Turkeys! (We’ll definitely need a bigger cone.)

 

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RTDM

As you are no doubt aware, the military has a fascination with acronyms. ASAP, TDY, BHA, it goes on and on. However, you may not be aware that those in the software industry share this particular penchant for strings of seemingly random letters. The similarities between these groups doesn’t end there. As a general rule, with a few notable exceptions (My hubby), most members of these groups tend to favor colorful language not suitable for mixed company. Thus the above acronym. Read the Dang Manual. I’ve made the necessary modifications to write it on my kid friendly blog…in fact have a kid reading over my shoulder as I type.  Point being, so many problems and misinformation could be circumvented if people would just RTDM. Keep this in mind, I’ll be coming back to it.

Last week the husband man was back in Las Vegas for work. We knew that the earliest our cow could calve would be May 20 and that would be if the bull had got right down to business the first day she was available. But there are some things that can theoretically increase the chances of early calving. We figured that the best way to get her to come early would be to have Neil leave town. It’s how life tends to roll for us. Given this possibility my handsome lumberjack built me a stanchion before he left so I could start getting Mei used to the idea.

It’s a thing of beauty. Truly. Mei is getting good at it and it has been a lifesaver for this woefully out of practice hand milker.

Well he left on Monday morning, and Thursday evening I went down to feed Mei her evening Chaffhaye.

I screamed and almost hyperventilated when I realized there were more legs than there should have been. Squeaking into the phone, I told Neil that the baby was here and that I had to run but I’d call him back oh my gosh she had her baby oh my gosh!

This was the best case scenario as it meant Mei was able to deliver a perfectly healthy baby with no outside assistance at all. Carefully we introduced ourselves, and I made sure little one had figured out nursing. It took some time before I could get up close and personal enough to ascertain gender, but we confirmed that it was a girl. Naomi (resident animal namer) christened her “Star” and since everyone promptly agreed (hallelujah) it was official. Baby cows are dreamy. Silky smooth, adorable and so feisty. We are old hands at goat kids (who have the small thing working for them) but I’m pretty sure we are sticking with cows for a while…everyone fell in love. Not that there hasn’t been a learning curve.

With in the first hour we found out the electric fence does not contain our particular baby cow. So we’ve been lucky enough to play several rounds of “find the calf” over the last 8 days. Luckily she gets tired and just hunkers down when she realizes she’s lost. We are surrounded by woods and understanding neighbors, so it’s not a terrible ordeal.

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The first few days, when I was on my own, I could bear-hug her like the above picture and just haul her back to her mama. But a few days ago she out grew my strength, making me grateful once again for this guy.

Now back to RTDM rant. Dehorning her was what we decided long ago for a lot of reasons, just like we did for our goat kids. Goat kids got disbudded with a disbudding iron  and that is probably the best option for goats. To the internets we went and after much reading, we opted to go with caustic paste. We read a ton and went to  YouTube and watched it done and it seemed like an excellent option for calves. Once we got the paste we read the instructions and we quickly realized why people hate caustic paste. It’s because they do everything the instructions say NOT to do especially with goat kids. People, a goat kid is an entirely different creature than a cow calf. RTDM!!!

Well we followed our own advice and after reading we got it done. Best way to dehorn.

One key is to do this early. She was three days old when we did it. First, shave the horn buds.

Next, apply petroleum jelly in a ring around the horn bud to contain the caustic paste. Now to back up a minute, when I say caustic paste I’m talking lye, and some other nasty highly basic chemicals. It reacts with everything and ultimately eats away everything including the horn bud. Not something you want to touch with bare hands. It will literally burn you away. Seems mean, right? Many, many people think so and naturally studies have been done to see just how mean this is. Turns out young calves (like days old) show slightly fewer signs of discomfort with this method compared to a disbudding iron where the skin and horn bud are burned off, with no anesthetic. Older calves are usually given some sort of pain treatment. It is quick and one of the most humane ways to do it.  [I can’t find the study because I found it on my phone not on the computer I’m currently on. If you absolutely need the research and links I will happily oblige, but right now a certain almost 4 year old is demanding my attention.]

Paste is applied with a Popsicle stick. We applied the amount specified in the instructions. If you apply too much it will keep reacting, eating down further into the skull. People who apply too much, naturally will have some issues. RTDM.

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I must state that at this point our calf was just cranky at being held down. She was making no sounds and was not even really struggling. Compared to our goat kids who screamed and fought through the whole disbudding process, this felt so much better. Calmer and much less dramatic. Didn’t even smell singed hair.

Picture on the left is 24 hours-ish afterwards. Picture on the right is about 4 days after the fact. There was no blood, so no fly problems and after about 6 hours of keeping her tied so she couldn’t rub it onto herself or her mama, she was good to go. I could touch it and she didn’t notice a thing.

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I highly recommend this method for dehorning calves if you can do it early enough that there isn’t any pain (can be within the first 2 days). Not that you can tell by Miss Sassy Pant’s expression, but she does actually like us and is settling in nicely. Now that we are separating her at night so that I can milk in the morning, our only real issue is my hand strength. It is a race to get as much as I can before Mei finishes the bucket of yumminess I bring her in the morning. My hands are doing ok, I’m just terribly inefficient. Sigh. To be fair, Meushi has been an angel and even stood patiently for me to keep milking this morning even after she had finished breakfast.

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This mornings efforts. That is a gallon jar, and the goal is to get at least one of these every morning. Hopefully, we will both get better at this game and Neil can fill in for me with his huge lumberjack hands if my forearms fall off.

 

 

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Big Apple Firsts

At the beginning of the month I whisked myself away to experience New York City. Whisking allowed me to see the city as an adult, not as a mom with 4 precious children in tow. It wasn’t better, per se, just very very different. I think I needed both to really begin to start to think about possibly maybe someday understanding such a place. It was a trip filled with firsts. Most of them were small and mundane but it was an amazing adventure. First off: first canceled flight of my life.

Me and my boots waiting and then eating and then calling my husband and kids to turn around and re-drive an hour to pick me up after my flight was canceled due to weather. First time eating Five Guys fries. All. By. Myself. I’ve had them before but its a whole new level of bliss to not have to share even one.

Me and my boots on our very first Amtrak train bound for a destination more than an hour away. I’d ridden the train with my Dad (We went to San Juan Capistrano and saw “Zorro.” Could not have been more perfect atmosphere) but this was 11 hours of pure uninterrupted reading time. I finished the two books (Homeschooling books, of course) that I’d brought. They changed my life and that right there was worth the canceled flight drama. Naomi was gracious enough to loan me her lunch box.

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Saying goodbye to Mommy, take two. For the record, I married an amazing man. He single handedly took over the farm and the homeschooling and the bathing and the hair brushing and not only merely survived, but out did himself as a dad. He’s my favorite.

The rest of the trip will be related in three parts, Food, Art, My Mom and Sisters.  Things I can not possibly love any more than I do. Ahem.

My Mom and my sisters are locals now and they knew the places to go. We did Colombian, and Mexican, and Thai. I got to ruin bacon for my sisters…store bought will never live up to my homegrown cured and smoked stuff. We hit up the commercial bakery down the street from my mom’s that has tasty and dirt cheap baked goods…chocolate swirl cheesecake with a healthy dollop of apple butter and a side of madeleines (another first). There is a bakery in Manhattan called “Magnolias.” Their chocolate banana pudding made me seriously consider licking the inside of the cup (dignity and class be danged) and I need their lemon bars in my life daily. Huzzah for good food!

Art must be seen in person. Full stop. No other way to really “get it.” For the first time I had a chance to really see these iconic masterpieces. Did you know that One: Number 31 by Jackson Pollock has places where the paint is shiny??? Did you know that there are places on the canvas where the paint was absorbed at different rates creating a whole new level of depth and complexity??? Turns out Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Memory is super tiny…what?! and I saw the real Starry Night. People. There are maroon strokes in that cypress tree that I have never really seen because I’ve only seen glossy reproductions. I saw the edge of the paining, where Van Gogh decided to stop painting. I saw paintings from an artist I studied in high school and loved but forgot about. Art. I loves it. I also got to experience other forms of art. Daffodils in the middle of the city, stone steps on an early morning walk by myself just because I could, and a cold frosty sunrise because spring hadn’t totally started up north. Sigh.

I love this woman and these weirdos. This was the first time we had a chance to start to get to know each other as adults. Usually I’m in full out mom mode while they are working magic in aunt mode. Doesn’t leave lots of time for deep conversation. Laughing and fun, of course, but not deep “who are you really under all that” discussion. They make me so happy. And I’m pretty sure my mom is the coolest mom out there. True story.

Mom said this kind of sister/mom trip needs to be an annual thing. Not just because I came home with my proverbial batteries fully charged and ready to turn life upside down (in a good way) but because we all need to get to know the many sides of the people we love. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there is a unique, autonomous person under all the hats we wear. Sigh. I might just learn to love New York after all.

 

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a secret.

Can I tell you a secret? I’m a terrible Down Syndrome mom. Stop shaking your head and formulating all the things you are thinking to make me feel better. First, let me explain why I am a terrible Down Syndrome mom. In the first few days after Layna was born I had a few people point me to this blog. Before you misunderstand, I actually love this blog and the woman who fuels it. She inspires me and I like her…I do go in and out of following her blog, but overall it’s good stuff. This, my friends, is the standard for Down Syndrome moms everywhere, and frankly I don’t measure up. There are no groups, social events, or community anything that we belong to. I haven’t raised money for anything. There was one out of six years I called attention to March 21, National Down Syndrome Awareness Day on social media. Abysmal. To be honest, most of the time I completely forget that she has a syndrome at all and sometimes that’s not a good thing. Not to say that I don’t have my moments where I hate how much I struggle to understand her because of what that extra chromosome did to her expressive speech development, or that I don’t have times where I wish desperately that she was not going have the “Down Syndrome look.” And can we just talk about stubborn streaks? Oi. Vey.

I’m a terrible Down Syndrome mom because I can’t bring myself to treat Miss Thang any different than her siblings or change our life to include something that is as basic to her makeup as her eye color (Hazel eyes of the world unite!) But Alas for her, she is mine and I am hers. While I may be a terrible Down Syndrome mom in general…I’m hoping that killer birthday cakes, daily water coloring and play-doh, and the occasional “If you don’t get back in your bed I’m going to come up there and PUT you back in bed!” will somehow help her create whatever life she decides is meant for her. Oh and rabbit water bottles. She will always be allowed to poach drinks from the rabbit water bottles.

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This year was her first friend birthday party and I was grateful she didn’t have strong opinions on the theme. Goodness knows she has strong opinions on other things (looking at you, “brushing my own hair”), but I’ve been intrigued by the giant cupcake cake pan for a long time and was excited for an excuse to buy one. That and it was cheap so absolutely no hang ups at all. Overall it creates an epic cake consumption experience, and I hope I can be creative enough to sneak it into all the birthday themes this year.

First we had a birthday dinner at my grandparents house. Once again, so grateful they up and followed us across the country. I would be missing them something fierce right now. Also, the husband and I realized that it’s a pretty unique and rare thing for our kids to be so close to their great grandparents. Neil had one set he would visit every couple of years and I only was close to one great grandma. So glad my kids have them.

On to the party! Balloons and lots of them are my favorite munchkin party game. Naomi’s 4th birthday was Rapunzel and we had balloons to be beaten with frying pans. Her 6th party (Halloween themed) had bat balloons. [I’d link to pictures but the party happened during my blogging hiatus. Sorry.] I loves them. Then we played “pin the cherry on the cupcake” which was awesome. Can I also say how grateful I am for my software architect who just picked up graphic design and made all my cupcake dreams come true? Yeah. He’s such good stuff.

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No one better than Daddy when you’ve had too much party.

Then we painted pictures of cupcakes. Through a devoted and rigorous daily practice, Layna’s style is really beginning to coalesce into a bold and well-rounded advancement of the medium. She is currently in her black period.

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Frosting and cake are a win. Full Stop. But when you let kids be the boss of those things? Magic happens.

Some for me. Some for the cake.

One of my favorite things about her is that she always says “thank you.” She doesn’t need prompting and it’s always loud and heartfelt. It also sounds like, “Wank you!” which, I think, ups the awesome quotient by at least 47%.

Even though I’m still negotiating the new dimension that this one tacked onto my Motherhood calling 6 years ago, I wouldn’t change it. The potty training fiascoes, the delays, the therapies, the everything has given me such a deeper awareness and appreciation for the silver linings that are everywhere. Layna is wonderfully forgiving and patient with me and I’m honored to be her mom. Here’s to many more happy returns for my snuggling, travel-sized-for-my-convenience, house elf!

 

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Harvesting

Because the garden currently looks like this:

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And my cow had icicles on her fur and ears:

And because I devoured The Intelligent Gardner and Teaming With Microbes in 6 days. And because I can’t stop thinking and scheming about this year’s garden and my massive garden expansion plan. I realized it would be a good idea to take this downtime (between hog butcherings, chick acquisition, indoor seed starting, etc.) to finally get out a recap of our first gardening experience on our new homestead. [As a quick meandering tangent (oxymoronic, no?)…I’ve decided that the moniker “homestead” is indeed the most fitting for what we are building. Farm is too big and we aren’t (currently) selling anything, Garden doesn’t cover what a large part animals play in this thing. Farmstead would be an option but I prefer homestead and all that it implies. We have settled on an actual name too! That will be reveled later, but for now? Glad we got that sorted.]

Rather than drone on and on about the minutiae that doesn’t really interest anyone but me (even my husband is kindly polite when I get going on all things garden), I’m just going to show you some of my favorite pictures from the season. While there was a bit of a learning curve (Fungal disease from too much moisture was not something that happened in the desert. Ever.), growing stuff here is amazing. It gave me a glimpse into a world where I really could produce superior food for my family and make a substantial dent in our food bill. My previous successes were limited to “Hey, something grew! And it almost looks normal!”  No more, friends. We can garden for reals now.

Quick note: Morning Glories are weeds here. We had to work hard to grow some for Naomi in Vegas and even then only got a few. Best. Move. Ever.

The spider’s name is Quatro.

We probably got 20 lbs of pecans from our pecan tree that we didn’t even know we had until a few months ago. And there are still about 5 pounds on the ground because holidays commandeered my pecan harvesting time. I think only homemade bacon from my own pig has rivaled the joy and pride from serving pecan pie made from my own pecans on Thanksgiving Day.

I love canning. Do you love canning? If no, Can I can for you? Because I love it. I have an entire attic space that is now an attic pantry full to bursting with everything from bread and butter pickles to wild black berry jam to chicken pot pie filling. Happiness radiates, nay…exudes, out of there from under the door. Seriously, it looks like puffs of yellow glitter.

Final counts:

  • 44.5 lbs summer squash
  • 22 cantaloupes (averaging 4 lbs each)
  • 58 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 112.5 lbs cucumbers
  • 105 cups wild blackberries from our woods
  • 157 lbs. tomatoes
  • 6 lbs. peppers
  • 25 ears of corn
  • 6 watermelons
  • 5 big pumpkins
  •  9 lbs. green beans
  • a few small cabbages and cauliflowers
  • a ridiculous amount of arugula
  • 2 large acorn squashes
  • handful of small random squashes

 

 

 

 

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how we arrived at boudin noir

So boudin noir is the French take on the German blutwurst which is the corollary of the Spanish morcilla, but in England it’s pronounced blood pudding. Kind of. Something like that. No matter the ethnic nuance you start with, it’s basically pigs’ blood mixed with some spices and some other stuff then cooked and eaten. I also think it has the greatest ick factor of all the weird things I’ve done in the past two weeks. Bottom line, though? It’s tasty. Just like head cheese and fried kidneys are tasty. It’s commonly agreed upon that Pork as a food group is good eating, but these other things that our culture has left behind take eating pork to a whole new level. The catch, of course, is that it’s kind of vital to have crazy fresh and super clean ingredients and that, well, means raising and slaughtering and butchering the pig yourself. Or trading your first born to someone who did raise the pig. As I like our son, we chose the first option. I would like to share with you one of the coolest things I’ve done thus far as a homesteader.

***Graphic pictures ahead, because…well…the pig had to die to make a transition. He went from pushy, greedy garbage disposal (who also enjoyed basking in the sun, letting me scratch his ears, and snooting up the ground with his snout) into food for my family. I liked him and knew his personality. There is loss but it’s loss with a purpose, so there you go. Blood and cutting is part of that transition. You’ve been warned***

I’d love to write a whole post just on our experience at a Pig to Plate workshop we attended two weeks ago in Ohio. Realistically, with Christmas in 3 days I’m impressed I’m getting this post done. To condense: best money we’ve spent on educating ourselves and regaining a connection with our most complicated dietary aspect…meat. Quinn and Bill Veon of Reformation Acres hosted, Andy and Doug from Hand Hewn Farm taught. It was truly life changing and I’ll be forever grateful for that change. They will be hosting more workshops and if you are ever remotely interested in home hog production…get thee to a workshop!

It really doesn’t matter if someone warns you about leaving the hose out the night before you need it. Most likely it will be left out and you will be grateful that as the guys at the workshop related their personal experiences with such an oversight…they also joked about a solution. Hence we ended up with about 120 feet of garden hose in our bathtub at 9 am. Stranger things have happened.

I got back from dropping off kids to hang out with grandma for the afternoon. This wasn’t because I was worried about them seeing the process, but because I knew I needed to be able to work hard without chasing munchkins. Eventually (probably next year) they will stick around. Anyways, we went into the yard and the pig stood still and just stared at Neil. Big Man (you can’t feed something twice a day for 7 months and not give them some sort of name) was shot and down and bleeding out…and it went crazy fast. It’s weird how the mind messes with time perception in high adrenaline situations. We realized later that we didn’t get a great bleed, but even with that, the shot was good and our boy died quickly and peacefully. Well. To an outside observer it wouldn’t actually look peaceful. When an animal dies their body has an awful lot of energy still running through it and so most will thrash around for a bit and with a big animal it can seem pretty violent. (Although the first rooster we killed, scared us so much with how much he thrashed, we nearly second guessed this whole farm thing all together) Death Throes are a real thing.

We had some guys from church come to help and we got the pig on a tarp to carry a few yards to our set up for scalding and scraping.

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Getting an accurate weight was important to me so I can keep track year to year, and also to know our dress-out ratios.

Ok here’s what happens once you get the hog hooked onto the gambrel (back legs in the barrel first so you only have to flip once): it is dunked into warm water, 149ish degrees to be precise. This temperature allows the outermost layer of skin to loosen and the hair to start to loosen as well. It only takes a few minutes. Longer time or hotter temperature can actually set the hair, making scraping nearly impossible. I have it on good authority that shaving the whole carcass takes about 11 years.

After the proper dunk time you grab some back hair and see if it comes out easily. If it does, you hoist the pig out and start scraping. On our way home from Ohio we stopped at  Lehmans, a store that actually carries tools for this scraping. They are called Bell Scrapers or Hog Scrapers.  Unfortunately, they serve a large Amish community and it’s that time of year…they were out. We improvised with a coconut shell-er thing and a thing that was once a part of a lamp (I think) and it actually went really well. One advantage to our warmer southern winter…the dense winter hair hadn’t come in yet. The head and front trotters didn’t scald well so we didn’t use the trotters and Neil, being awesome, later poured boiling water over the head and cleaned it so that I could still use it. He is good stuff. Once the hair is scraped, you shave what ever is left, then blowtorch anything after that. Yeah, a working blowtorch would have been great…last minute Christmas gift to my husband?

Next is evisceration. Things to save and use/eat: small intestines (and large if you are feeling brave and masochistic), heart, liver, lungs, spleen, kidneys, and caul fat. Wait! What’s that? All that sounded familiar except the caul fat?

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This, my friends, is caul fat and it’s culinary potential is nigh unlimited.

After you save the good bits and bury the bad bits, you remove the head and split the carcass with a bone saw so it can thoroughly chill. The weather could not have been more perfect for us. It took us about 3 hours from shot to getting ready to split so I had to run and rescue grandma. The kids were equal parts fascinated and disgusted. They were so disappointed that while I did save the bladder to blow up like a ball…I didn’t put it in its own container and it ended up covered in bile. Ain’t nobody touching nothing that smells that weird! And there we called it a night.

Day #2: Break it down now. Leaf lard came out first (top left). This is the stuff pie crust dreams are made out of and so it is treated with respect. Then we cut one half into primals outside. A hog is divided into 4 quarters or primal cuts. Then each of these is broken down further. At the workshop we got to practice this process on someone else’s pig, which made doing it on our own sooooooo much easier. Not saying we couldn’t have YouTube-ed it…it just would have been a horrific mess if we had. We brought in one quarter at a time. Our babies helped for a while and then peacefully destroyed the house while the adults kept at it. This day was long, but we managed…and it feels so great to have a freezer full of beautiful white packages.

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Our work was not finished with all the fresh cuts being done…oh no.

Stock was made, lard was rendered, small intestines were turned into sausage casings which were in turn made into blood sausage (which i love, by the way).

During the next few days the madness continued.

Scrapple, Headcheese, Christmas Eve Ham put into brine, fried kidneys. And it all tastes so delicious.  Offal is my new favorite ingredient…I must have some sort of mineral imbalance. 20161219_090648

Nearly 40 lbs. of bacon is a strong argument for raising your own pork. We finished packing the ground pork today, it still will be turned into various typed of stuffed sausages. 20161221_081603

I’ll be happily  nibbling headcheese and rillettes for the next two weeks while we celebrate the holidays.

Final counts and thoughts:

  • Live weight – 365 lbs.
  • Hung weight – 281 lbs.
  • 124 lbs. fresh cuts including ribs
  • 38 lbs. bacon
  • 45 lbs. ground pork
  • 9.5 quarts lard
  • 4 gallons stock
  • 11 lbs. scrapple
  • 4-5 lbs. head cheese
  • 5 half pints rillettes
  • lots of lbs. of liver, kidneys, heart, and spleen. (all of which have been used)
  • 60 feet of sausage casings and caul fat (going to become Crepinettes on Christmas Eve and roast rabbit once I have rabbits in the freezer)
  • skin (not finished with this so don’t have a total. Doesn’t matter, we have enough to make cinnamon sugar pork rinds and change the world one mouth at a time)

It was an incredible experience and I wish I could write more. Oh wait I can! We are doing this whole thing again in a few months when we process our girl! There are big plans for her given our success this time round and I will probably write all about how my life and the life of my family has been changed forever by doing this. That sounds melodramatic, I know. But seriously, now that I’ve started to take more control over what I eat and had a taste of the satisfaction it brings…I’m not sure I could ever not being doing this. Don’t know that I have a choice anymore and that makes me happier than I can say.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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