Monday, 31 May 2010

Beer flavoured pork - 2

It didn't work. The pork was lovely, really good flavour, but not a hint of beer. It doesn't matter - though i still don't understand why it didn't work? If you think about it, you get heather flavoured honey from bees that visit heather, you get Salt Marsh lamb, you get corn fed chicken, you get foie gras, you get veal (not that i'm in favour of veal, but it is a legitimate example), and as i said in the last blog, you get autumn pork, or spring pork, or spring lamb for that matter, all of which take on certain characteristics of the food the animal is given. So why doesn't beer shine through?

I didn't want it to be strong like a marinade, but i was hoping for some hint of a malty, hoppy background. I had this mad idea of selling beer fed pork sausages for the world cup, which i know is a bit tacky, but there is a sense of fun there none the less. I quite like food with an edge of fun to it - just look a Heston Blumenthal and his sense of theatre.

So beer didn't work. But i can't help thinking i was nearly onto something, a nagging thought in the back of my mind that if i tweaked the idea slightly, i could create something special. Something fun. Oh well, at least the pigs enjoyed the beer.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Beer flavoured pork?

Sometimes you have to manipulate your own feelings. You have to, kind of, focus them. Send them in a certain direction. It takes practice.
I make myself feel excited inside when a pig carcass comes back from the abattoir. Otherwise, what’s the point? Once the pig has gone off, then it becomes meat – that’s the only way I can get my head around it and remain sane. Meat that I have produced myself, and I like that thought; maybe that’s a residue of the old caveman provider coming out in me. And it’s also respect for the animal. Imagine going through all of the rearing and looking after and then getting the pork back and moping and being indifferent about it. No, it’s got to be worthwhile. It’s got to be for a reason, and the reason is my own rare breed, free range, healthy, happy, pork – and that’s exciting.
Only today, I’m more excited than normal.
I don’t normally sell weaners (baby piglets just weaned from their mother), as I like to keep family groups together, but Shammy had a litter of eleven and she was struggling with them all, so I sold four to the local pub landlord.
The pub is situated on the top of Exmoor with wonderful views and a huge paddock out the back. The pigs would be happy. They would also have their feed supplemented with beer, and on a busy day, this could be as much as 20 pints.
I offered the landlord a deal, that if I kept an eye on the pigs and made sure they were healthy and happy and well cared for, in return for him rearing one extra pig for me.
The idea of a pig getting so much beer fascinated me because I know just how important the diet is, and how directly that diet affects the flavour of the meat. For instance, many producers will fatten their pigs on barley for the last month of the pig’s life, but the fat turns pappy and yellow and soft, whereas I finish all mine naturally and the fat is solid and as white as milk (guaranteed to crackle and perfect to render down as lard – and don’t knock homemade lard, it’s been proven to be better for you than butter!).
Another example of a pig’s diet affecting the meat is seasonality. Autumn pork, where the pig has been running in the woods eating tree bark and roots, wild mushrooms, slugs and snails, tastes dark, almost earthy, whereas a spring pig that has spent their time on fresh grasses, heather, gorse, and new saplings, tastes fresher, with just a tiny hint of something you can only describe as citrus, not orange, but a similar background zing you get from oranges; that clean, almost refreshing taste.
So a pig supplemented with beer (not lager), is going to be very interesting.
It went off to the abattoir last week and comes back today.
I have a feeling it’s going to be really special.
I always do all my own butchery anyway, so I’ll break the carcass down into the primal cuts, and then take a chop and fry it gently. I’m hoping to get a sense of the beer coming through in the flavour. I’ll let you know.

Monday, 17 May 2010

I'm not sure my mum understands

Mum is down and sitting in front of me. She lives in London and comes to stay with us a couple of times a year. I’m not sure what she thinks.
Of course she’s positive and complimentary when I talk to her, but it must be odd to see her son live such an alternative lifestyle, her boy who she remembers wandering off to school in a smart uniform, who used to play with the family cat, Solomon, and shy away from any dogs (oh how things change), who left school and began a career of working in offices as an estate agent, and now… now, has separate indoor clothes and outdoor clothes (a sure sign of a manual worker), and the front door step crowded with mucky welly boots.
Most of the time even I’m astounded by how different my life is; not from other peoples, but from my own. In London I had such a trendy apartment. It was Victorian with ceilings so high that when I wanted to fit a plaster ceiling rose, I had to hire a mini scaffolding tower. The walls and ceiling were yellow, and the rose, coving and all the woodwork a bright, crisp white, with jazzy curtains hanging at the windows. You could have photographed it for a magazine.
Now I live in a tiny cottage on Exmoor. In the lounge, about six inches away from my mother’s feet, is an incubator with half a dozen goose eggs and nearly thirty duck eggs warming nicely with the chicks growing inside. On the other side of her, curled up and asleep, is my dog. She doesn’t look comfortable.
I want her to be part of my life, but I know she doesn’t quite know what to make of it. She can’t join in because she doesn’t know how to. The other thing is, our life has lots of different stands to it, with the farm work, the farmers’ markets, the courses we run teaching others how to butcher and process meat, or smallholding courses, even self sufficiency courses. Then there’s the writing.
The writing is going really well and I’m actually now getting editors coming to me asking if I can supply articles, which is brilliant. I had a lovely one last week. There’s a magazine called Writers’ Forum, and for years I was a subscriber because they have a monthly competition where you write a story on a set theme and the winner gets theirs printed in the next edition. I entered every month for years, and every month I prayed this would be the one and I’d win, but it never was. I never even came close. Anyway, a little while ago I sent a pitch in for an article about getting my book published, and they accepted – but the really cool thing is, they want a photograph of me for the cover. What a turn around.
I told mum about it and she laughed. She keeps looking at me now while I’m writing, little furtive glances that I can sense rather than see. She’s not proud of what I do, she’s not—oh I don’t know, maybe she is, maybe that’s not fair. The thing is, it’s a Monday morning and I’m sitting on the sofa writing this, and then I’ve got an article to write for Devon Life magazine and some research to do for The Exmoor magazine, but I know she doesn’t think this counts. What counts is if I was up and dressed in a smart business suit and on my way to an office somewhere.
I guess it used to upset me a little. Getting the book published helped, and I think she can see that Debbie and I have worked really hard to achieve the life we have, even if she can’t understand it. I have got to take her back at the weekend, back to London. On route, I’m going to make a detour to Bluewater, the massive shopping centre in Kent because that’s where she shops and that’s what she knows, and I’m going to take her into Waterstones and stand her in front of my book. It probably won’t mean much to her, but for me, it’s going to mean the world.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Last week I put up a post on facebook and a couple of other sites asking for people's photographs of self sufficiency, and, with a huge thank you to everyone who sent some in, here they are...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Brawn or Pork Terrine, Sir?

Okay, traditionally brawn is made by boiling up the pigs head, which i can understand might put some people off tasting it. It wouldn't put me off eating it, but i do have a thing about using the heads, only from the point of view that the pigs are my mates and although i have learned to disassociate the individual who goes off with the meat that comes back, i couldn't lift the lid off a pot on the hob and see my friend looking back at me through the steam (i don't have a problem using the head of a pig i don't know, though).
But i do love brawn, so i had to find another way of making it.
If you haven't tried brawn, imagine a chunky meat pate held together with gelatin, almost like the innards of a really good pork pie. Heaven on hot toast.
So, how to make brawn without using the heads...
My only concession is to use the bath chaps (the cheeks) that i carefully remove from the heads, and toss them into a large pot. Also in go the trotters back and front, the tail, ham hock and any trimmings and bones. A pinch of mace (small pinch), a few juniper berries, black pepper corns, a couple bay leaves, a whole onion skin on cut in half and a carrot. Cover in water, put a lid on and simmer for five or six hours.
Allow it to cool and strip all the meat into a pile before packing reasonably tight into a loaf tin, and then strain the juice until it just tops the meat, then pop it into the fridge to chill down completely, before turning out and slicing.
I admit it is a bit of a faff, but I'm really keen on the whole nose to tail eating, and i think that if I've reared the pigs it shows good respect for the animal to use as much of it as possible.
The funny thing is when we come to sell it at the farmers' markets, and have learned to have two trays of identical brawn, but labeled differently. For those who feel brawn is old fashioned and can't stand the thought of eating something made from a pigs head, we call it Pork Terrine, and for the other half, it's good old Brawn. We sell out every week.
As far as I'm concerned, brawn or terrine it's hansom!