Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Meat Processing Factory

Thank goodness. I have finally finished processing all the pork that needed processing. Some is in the freezer and that's fine. Some is in the brine and that's fine. But the pate needed to be mixed and cooked and that took ages because I only have 6 pate dishes and I had about 5kgs to cook. I had to cook some, weight it down, let it cool and set, freeze it, de-container it, freeze it and then start again with the next 6 pots. I'll need to get sharper eyes at the brocantes to find some more pots before the next lot needs done.

It was necessary to sort out the flair fat (the hard fat for making lard) and the soft fat before rendering. The photographs show the sorted fat before and after rendering in the oven. Note the difference in colour of the fat once rendered - the finer fat (the flair fat) is much lighter in colour. Post script - next time I won't render it in the oven as it took on a golden colour and tasted 'roasted' not neutral as it should.

I mentioned that some of the sausage mix was being left for me to add some more ingredients which I did. However, when it came to making the actual sausages, the gismo that I have for making them was untried and pathetic to say the least so the finished article was disasterous. So disasterous that I squeezed the mixture back out of the skins and put it in the freezer until I can get a proper machine, albeit a hand-cranked one so as to be sustainable. We did however have sausages for tea and the photograph shows the first meal we had from our very own grown pork (and our own potatoes!)

The rillettes was a tasty success but it took 6 hours to cook down the meat, 2 hours of both Ben and I lovingly sifting the mixture through our fingers to ensure no bone fragments nor 'undesirable' bits went into the finished product, then a further hour to sterilise the 19 filled jars for storage. Here you can see the pate and the rillettes as finished product (plus jars of my own chutney)

And the photo not for the faint-hearted, is the process of making the Fromage de Tete. A surprising amount of good meat comes off the head but the trotters were another matter. A teaspoon of meat from each! I think their main purpose is to add gelatine for the setting of the brawn. I found lots of recipes for cooking trotters though how anyone would want to eat just chunks of fat off the bone I'll never know - not my thing for sure.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

No Plough Grain Sowing

For those of you that have been following this blog, you'll know that I agonised for ages as to whether or not to plough more land for cropping this year (see this post). I decided not to.

On 29th October, Jason, Korey and I found ourselves suitable bags and got ready to load up with seed. Jason got accosted by children before going out and had to carry S around for a while. We over-sowed by hand almost an acre of meadow with wheat grain. It was a fun job that took us about 2 hours on a pleasant Friday morning. We all laughed as we were doing it and wondered if we were mad but now I'm happy to report that the grains are coming up strong though perhaps a little patchy. I hope that they have got their roots down into the ground as we are due some frost by the weekend. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Winter Sunshine

I just love winter sunshine. It gladens the heart after long, dreary, cloudy and rainy days - not that we have so many of these now that we live here rather than Scotland. It floods into the house because it's at a lower level in the sky and reaches every nook and cranny. But that there is also the downside. It shows up all the dust, fingermarks, grub on the floor, dirty windows and suchlike so that I feel quite embarrased. I have therefore today cleaned all the windows, scrubbed the floor, and cleaned off all the fingermarks from the cupboards. Most of the spiders' webs were allowed to stay as without them they don't survive and they're good fly-catchers. Goodness only knows how long it will stay sparklingly clean with three young lads living here and a farm to run but it looks good now.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Processing a Carcass

Rimmel did indeed get slaughtered and I surprise myself in that it wasn't as traumatic as I'd thought for me. I wasn't involved in the actual killing though Ben said that it was quick (well I know it was because within 15 mins of them going out to the field to lure her down with a lovely breakfast, Ben was running back for the tractor to carry the carcass back for hanging). For his account of that bit see the previous post. It sounds more gruesome to write it all down actually but to be here was different.

When it came to the butchery and processing it was over to me (and Claude our butcher of course). Ben oddly went all squeemish and wouldn't touch anything. Fortunately it was not the bloody process that I thought it would be as the blood had been drained on Monday within seconds of her being shot with a captive bolt stun gun - interestingly the French word for this piece of equipment is un matador. Immediately Claude had made this blood into boudin noir, the French black pudding, by adding some neck meat, onions, salt and pepper. I have to confess that I did not try the boudin noir (though Ben did) but it was a gift very warmly received by all our neighbours who had helped us since our arrival.

At 7am it was time to unwrap the carcass from its shroud and begin butchering. I took a deep breath. Claude began cutting, and my friend Sheena and I weighing, labelling and bagging the meat for the freezer. Claude made some sausages but left some mixture for me to make into the sausages of my choice. He minced the meat for the pate. He boned out hams and cut meat for bacon preparation.

Now we have hams and bacon in a brining solution I'd made last night ready for smoking in the coming weeks, sausages, meat set aside for making rillettes, pate ready for cooking, roasts on the bone and off the bone, tenderloins, chops, spare ribs ready for the BBQ next Spring etc etc. I'm even going to make Fromage de Tete or Brawn as it's known in the UK.

It was a long, cold and arduous morning but we finished by 1.30pm. I say 'finished' but actually there's still a lot of cooking to be done.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Slaughter Day

This blog so far has been written by me, Alison, but as I wasn't involved in most of this morning's activities, here is Ben's account....

I'm not a vegetarian.

Since I could toddle I've been an active and vociferous meat eater. Every Thursday after my cruel and heartless parents forced me to go to Silver Band practice (run by Mr Phillips, a sadistic conductor who would throw his baton at you when you made a mistake) the only thing that would keep me going was the thought of being allowed to go to Burger King afterwards to pick up a takeaway Double Whopper with cheese. However, since running the farm here in France I became aware that perhaps to hold my head high as a meat eater I needed to "man up" and actually get involved with the business end of meat production. Namely the raising and killing of the same animals I'd eaten without a second thought for the past 32-odd years.

Before this week, my "meat experience" was preparing a goose and a chicken for the table. However, in both cases the animals had died naturally. About a year ago we'd bought 2 pigs with a view to one of them being for the table. Pigs are intelligent animals. They were named (Maybelline and Rimmel) . The kids loved them. Like all the other hangers-on we had on the farm I began to think that perhaps they would become pets. However, for some reason, we also bought another 2 pigs and the combined food bill was astronomical. The hard decision had to be made. One of them had to go before winter set in. Of the two pigs, one was friendly (Maybelline) and one was a nasty bully who bit people and other pigs (Rimmel). So, nasty bitey pig was selected to "go".

Now clearly I have no background in dispatching animals, so we contacted a local butcher and discussed with him how, where and when we wanted the deed done. A date was set. We had an uneasy week. It's hard to look a pig in the eye when you know you've signed its death warrant. Alison fretted about every detail. I tried to blank the impending event out of my mind...

As the day dawned (bringing torrential rain) I leapt (well, slouched) into action and began to get everything ready. This meant setting up a big table, and starting 60 litres of water boiling. We'd set up in a bit of the barn as it was the best option. At 7.30am the butcher, his friend and another friend of ours (a local sheep farmer called Sheena) turned up to assist. The pigs had not yet been fed so basically we could lure the intended pig out of the field they lived in, and away from the others, before dispatching her.

At least that was the plan.

Nothing in life is ever simple. Although we managed to get the target pig out of the enclosure, she wanted back in. No amount of tempting her with food seemed to convince her. Perhaps she knew something was up. In the end she was penned in a corner out of sight of the other pigs, but only after slamming me to the ground by accident and narrowly avoiding a nasty "pig-trotter-in-wedding-tackle" incident.

How do you kill a pig? With a compressed air bolt gun to the head. This sounds pretty horrific, but in the scheme of things it's probably the most humane route to take. Smaller animals (like sheep) are often dispatched just by slitting their throat, or bashing them with a mallet which seems worse somehow...

So the gun goes off. It's loud, like a shotgun. Thankfully the pig falls to the floor, unconscious.

The next bit is unpleasant. Basically the pig needs to be bled, quickly. This involves sticking a knife into the pig's neck and catching the resulting fountain of blood in a bucket. That in itself is pretty grim. But once this process starts the body of the pig starts to convulse. It's a natural reaction during death. We lost one of our sheep a month ago to an illness, and as she died in Alison's arms she did the same thing. But a pig is huge. Even with four of us holding the body down it took a considerable effort to keep the pig stationary.

This moment was truly horrible. But at the same time it's the reality I think I needed to see as a meat eater. It's all very well buying a shrink wrapped pork escalope at Tescos, but ultimately something has to die to produce it. I guess I felt guilty, sick, horrified but a strange sort of deep satisfaction as well. Pigs farmed for meat are usually kept in horrific conditions. This pig had lived a decent life, free range, with company and love. She'd gone and hadn't known much about it. It was horrible, sure, but I think I had to go through it. It was sobering.

So, eventually the blood and the convulsions stop. I bring the tractor up to the top field, we load her onto the scoop and move her down to the barn for processing. First, the hair needs to be burned off. This is done with a flamegun and a scraper. In a sense this bit wasn't as horrible as it sounds. With each scrape the pig turns from an animal into a carcass. But it takes ages. When I did the chicken and the goose the plucking bit was by far the longest and in comparison to a pig both are tiny animals. I think it took about an hour or two. Once done the pig was hoisted up and the bit I'd been truly dreading needed to happen.

The evisceration.

There are plenty of things in life I think I'm phobic of. I hate spiders. Wasps. Heights. James Blunt. But the "inny bits" going "outy" of anything is my number one nightmare. It's one of the reasons I won't watch horror films or nature documentaries. It's one of the reasons I decided not to do forensic medicine (the other being I was far too stupid).

But.... I forced myself to watch as the deed was done. It was grim. As was the subsequent decapitation. But once done the remaining bit of pig looked like.... well.... a lump of uncooked meat. As this was our first pig we decided rather than process the tripe we'd recover a few bits and bobs but bury most of it under a fruit tree in the orchard. Other stuff, like the heart, liver and lungs were hung up ready for processing and refrigeration. I was very glad that bit was over, though strangely it was possibly better than when I'd had to rummage around in a chicken de-gutting it manually by hand.

Up until now it had been raining hard. Suddenly things seemed to perk up and the clouds lifted a bit, and we began to prep the ingredients to make boudin noir. This is popular in France. Essentially pig intestine filled with the fresh blood, fat, onion and garlic and boiled for a bit to cook it. Sort of like black pudding, but without oatmeal, and a sloppier consistency. The butcher helped us make this. I tried to disappear during the tasting, but he insisted. Looking at his eager, expectant face I could hardly refuse, and I managed to choke back a few mouthfuls so Gallo-Welsh relations wouldn't be tarnished, but it was pretty horrible. Later that day we delivered it as a petit cadeau to all our favourite neighbours, who were all delighted. Many had been donating scraps and spare fruit and veg to feed the pigs through the year, so it was a fair exchange.

The last task for day one was basically to wrap the pig in a sheet, and drive the tractor under cover for three days to let the meat "hang". This isn't a very popular process in France, but basically it makes the meat less "flabby" and after some discussion with the butcher we convinced him it was something we wanted to do (weird foreigners).

So, that's where the pig remains. And on Thursday, Alison, the butcher and Sheena will all be having an ad-hoc butchery seminar as the carcass is converted into ham, bacon, spare ribs and all the other good stuff. The freezer is prepared and we are waiting to taste it (the meat, not the freezer obviously). So far the chicken we processed tasted horrible (it was crop-bound, which means it died choking on food, but this tainted the meat) and the goose was so-so (it just tasted... strange....), so we're hoping the pork will taste OK.

If not we'll have a chest freezer full of the stuff to give away/sell....

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Goodbye and Thank You

Well, I have been out to the pig pasture and fed the pigs, giving Rimmel her last meal. I said thank you to her, watched as she happily guzzled her food pushing the others off their buckets in case they had something better than her, then she walked off to go and dig in the field. I re-arranged the gate access so that the following morning would be easier and therefore not stressful to her, whispered my goodbyes, and walked away hoping against hope that we had given her a happy life. For tomorrow morning the butcher arrives to help Ben slaughter her and she will provide food for our family for the winter. It was a hard call for me to make to Claude, our new butcher, as we have never willingly killed an animal in its prime before. I cry as I write this.

Her life has been, and will be, honoured by our family. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we are trying to be sustainably responsible omnivores and that means facing up to where one's meat is coming from. We are raising our own pigs because the pork that is readily available in supermarkets and most butchers has been reared like this...

... and this, in our opinion, is cruel and degrading. Rimmel has known nothing but freedom since the day she was born and will end her life tomorrow in the fields where she grew up with her nose in a bucket of delicious breakfast.

Vegans and vegetarians may scoff at the idea that farmers can be, or are, deeply emotional about the animals in their care, and with industrial farming as the reference, I cannot blame them. On a homesteading farm however the contradiction, the paradox, of lovingly killing animals in order to eat them is resolved in the depth of the emotion and care given to their living moments. Care is more than an activity on this farm, it is an ethic - an ethic that permits, and demands, the development of a deep bond between us and an animal that we may kill or have killed to eat. The fact of slaughter does not nullify the ethic of care.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Passing Time

Whenever we harvest fruit I find my mind drifts to this beautiful song and video. Beautiful but sad on so many levels. Not only are we losing those we love but also the knowledge they had and used and lived by. Sometimes I wish we could turn back the clock - I want to ask so many questions, learn so many things....

Deep Litter Beds

In August Ben built our geese a new Goose Hoose because a) the little ones were fast outgrowing the mobile dog's cage that housed them overnight and b) we wanted them all in one house to be easier for us and safer for them. The new Goose Hoose is on the right in the photograph (the old one with its roof off is in the background). It has worked well.

The thing that I am most impressed with is that it now has an earth floor (my choice). The old one had a wooden floor and was very difficult to clean once all the straw had been moved out as their poop is very watery and 'lurked' on the wood. The earth floor just absorbs it and deals with it. We can now run with a deep litter bed system. This is where fresh straw is put on top of the old and the warmth from the old straw decomposing keeps the geese warm. I cleaned it out this week and was pleased to see that the system was functioning well, that the straw was not smelly and horrible, that indeed just a fine strawy/earthy mix was forming. In the photograph taken part-way through cleaning you can see a 25cm deep layer of straw at the back, moving to earth at the front. Not a horrible wet stinking mess like the old house after just a week! This straw buildup represents 3 months of accumulated bedding. As this 'experiment' is working, we will continue with it and our geese will be healthy and warm through the winter, and we will have the bonus of less mucking out to do - truly a permaculture solution.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Curious Creatures

We are always finding lovely curious creatures in our garden and the boys are always right on hand to come and discover them with me. They often come round shouting that they've found something interesting and here they are looking at another 'interesting' thing.

This year has been no exception and our slower pace of non-mechanised farming has allowed us
a small window into the life of a field spider. Here you can see the spider's nest looking like a ping-pong ball sized hot air balloon. The intracacy of design is truly amazing and indeed even humbling. It's like parchment paper in texture, reinforced with extra dark 'strings' towards to opening at the base. There were loads of these little marvels deep in the base of the grasses of the meadows and we only discovered them
because we were scything. Had we been using a tractor or lawn-mower these wonders would have been missed, eradicated by the 'modern marvels of mechanisation'. However, by using a scythe, these nests have not been minced up with rotating blades and will carry the next generation of spiders that will hopefully guard some of our biodiversity.

Then we found this beautiful shiny blue-ish black beetle (?) that was about 2cm long. We have no idea what it is so if anyone can identify it then please do post a comment.

And then we were priviledged to see this butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Once again we don't know what sort of butterfly it is (or maybe even a day-flying moth) but I'm trying to track down a name.