A few months ago I did this interview and the photographer came. I thought it would never be published! But here it is. The print version has two photos of yours truly. The chicken I’m holding is one of Patrick’s Australorps from Hen Waller! She’s famous now.
Left the farm for a weekend–well, technically only one night. But boy did it feel great! We stayed at Jug Handle Creek Farm near the town of Mendocino, CA. My urban farming friend Willow organized the get-away weekend. Of course we brought pork roast to share for Saturday dinner. Chris Lee and I gathered fennel and rosemary then stuffed it into a hole of the loin roast. That’s Italian style. Served it with Samin’s pepper jelly. Amazing. I spoke with one of the guests, a woman who lives in London about Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the famous meat cook. “Oh, I can’t watch him, or Gordon Ramsey,” she declared. “They swear much too much.”
We swam in the ocean, slept in the woods, and picked blackberries. Now that’s a break. We returned home late Sunday and the rabbits were very hungry, the duck quacked his head off when he saw me, and even the chickens came out for a midnight snack. Simon, the buck, escaped but I found him this morning, visiting with the turkeys. Dear sweet animals.
Sausage. Making. Too tired to take photos. Mixed up a lot of ground pork with paprika, salt, sugar, pepper, fennel, basil, and oregano then funneled it into some poor hog’s casing. I’ll admit that when Sylvia said she killed the pigs and didn’t save the insides, I was semi-relieved that I wouldn’t have to clean the small intestines to make the casings. I hear it’s a smelly, poopy task. But I do wonder too, who first saw a poop filled intestine and thought: meat should go in here. Is it some kind of whimsical folly? In any case, they tasted good–fried up and served with sauerkraut.
Now–I’m so sick of writing about food, I don’t know how you food bloggers do it. Back to the farming….
Here’re the turkeys! They’re glad the pigs are gone so they can wander around freely in the animal area. There’re three Bourbon Reds and one Royal Palm. I think it’s three ladies and one guy. I love the sounds they make and they follow me around everywhere. Trouble is, they get distracted and then confused. Poor silly birds. Those are the pullet chickens in the background–there are twenty. I’m keeping the Marans (beautiful French chicken that lays chocolate colored eggs) and selling the rest.
Samin and Chris waxed poetic about the time when Dario the Tuscan butcher came to Berkeley and made this very same dish: pigs heads, pig trotters (feet), carrots, orange zest, and some ancient kind of alcohol. After cooking the heads all day, one then picks out the teeth, peels the tongue, splits the cranium to get the brain, and then stuffs the whole shebang in a linen sock. In a few days all of the flavors meld, the fat congeals, and there you have a Tuscan head cheese: aka Sopressata.
Not to belabor this point but, hanging out with the pigs heads today, like their butts yesterday, made me appreciate them so much. To know how they come apart, to use every bit of them to make something delicious, to make something with a deep history. It felt right. And they don’t look too pissed, do they?
Nat asked for it, so here we go.
I’ve spent the last 12 hours working with the pig meat. In the morning I called my “American” butcher Joe Gates in Vacaville. He’s cutting up Little Girl–loins, legs, boned shoulders, lard–she’ll be ready on Wednesday. Then I headed over to Eccolo and watched an awesome butcher take apart Big Guy in the Italian style. In 3 hours we had two proscuittos salted and in the process of curing, 2 shoulders (for salumi), 6 pancettas (!), 4 gorgeous loins, 2 tenderloins, a ton of leaf lard, some bones, and 2 racks of ribs. Chris and Samin said the pig looked really good, and that I had done a good job. I can’t help but feel so proud of my pig. To make the proscuitto I rubbed the leg’s skin with salt, sort of massaging it in. It was so wonderful to really feel the pig, to get fat all over my hands, and make a connection with the pig again. I felt like, Oh, my friend, here’s your buttocks, they’re so nice. Chris said in Italy the butchers talk about women while they rub the legs.
I left the resto after a delicious BLT with a bunch of meat to process. First I put the loins and ribs in the freezer (thanks Daniel and Claudia!). Then I roasted the bones and boiled them in water to make pork stock. Then I rendered the fat. Then I made a county pate with the liver (Sylvia did get me the liver–and in the bag there’s also two kidneys and the heart). I don’t have high hopes for the pate–but I had to experiment with this huge organ. I ground up some meat and fat, lined the terrine with a big strip of back fat, mixed up the diced liver with eggs and white wine and flour. Cooked it for 2 hours. Around 9:30, I decided to eat dinner. I made a cuc, corn, tomato salad with bits of pork cracklings (you should smell my house). Next, I rubbed the tenderloin with fennel pollen, salt and pepper then seared it in a cast iron pan. Samin gave me some vibrant Tuscan-style pepper jelly as a sauce to pair with the pork. The meat with the jelly was the best thing I’ve ever tasted–it’s total heaven.
Bill has been telling people we aren’t going to raise a pig again, then he took a bite of the tenderloin and as he chewed he kept saying wow, wow. Then he paused and asked with a titch of paranoia: Do we have enough?
I pulled away from El Ranchito feeling vaguely uneasy, but also vastly relieved. I had successfully raised the pigs without malnourishing them, with only a few escapes, and they weren’t mangled on I-80 in a truck/trailer jackknife.
But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I left something very important, very precious, in the hands of an imbecile.
Sylvia of the banana clips and fake nails–didn’t take me or my pigs very seriously. For me, though, the pigs were a twice a day (at least) interaction for the past 5 months. I had wanted their death to be important. Sylvia, though, was always in a hurry and berated me for “asking so many questions.” Duh lady, questions assure that everything gets done correctly. I knew that she was trouble but I drove away because I had no other choice. I had rented the trailer and this was the end of the road.
Last night, while at a friend’s poetry reading, I got a voicemail from Sylvia. “Your pigs are ready,” she chirped. I checked my watch, 8:10pm. I was filled with dread and hate. First of all, I thought I had made it very clear that I would be there at the time of slaughter. I really feel strongly about this. She robbed me of that. And she also robbed me of all the organ meat and blood (when I called she said they hadn’t saved it). She lamely promised that she would find the heads.
In the end, this experience makes me hate America. This is how we do everything: we rush around because time is money, even at the time of death. The modern American tradition of not using everything–of throwing all that good stuff away just to deliver me the meat on a hook, it made me feel sick. The fact that I was culpable in this fiasco made it suck even more.
So it was with a swirling rage that I drove up with Bill to pick up the carcasses. I couldn’t even look at Sylvia I was so pissed off. I wrestled them off the hooks, lay them on burlap and then scattered bags of ice over them. They have 2 inches of fat all over their bodies, and I think big guy’s going to make some great proscuitto. I carefully put their heads in buckets on ice.
We drove out of Dixon, stopped and got some peaches at a roadside stand, the smell of the pigs like in Spain, and I fretted about why I was still so enraged. Here I was, I got the pigs, they looked great, I could relax after 5 months of hard work. Why wasn’t I celebrating? Why couldn’t I let go that I missed their death and their organs?
As the juice of a peach in early September dribbled down my chin, the man I love so deeply beside me, I sifted through my thoughts of anger. Around exit 56 of Vacaville, it suddenly became clear: perhaps in seeing the pigs die, I thought I would understand the nature of dying. Now cheated of this knowledge, I had to accept it: I will one day face an equally graceless death, and I still won’t understand it.