Archives for posts with tag: pig

Part 1 here

Clean and white and looking much more like something belonging in a butcher shop, the pig hangs upside down, feet splayed out on the bar above. With a not-so-big knife, chosen for its blunt tip to avoid nicking the organs inside, he starts working a slit down the center of the pig. Thick fat parts around the knife; fat that will become bacon and piecrusts. The two sides peel apart around his hands and he tells us all to come sniff the air coming out of the pig. Beef has a very specific smell—a hamburger and a steak have something in common scent-wise. But a singular pork-scent is harder to identify, a loin and a strip of bacon don’t smell a lot alike—I can’t think of what “pork” smells like. This is what it smells like, says Brandon.

First whiff is nothing really, maybe a little bit of unpleasantness. Second go-round is this weird, pungent, bodily smell that does somehow bring the taste of a still-pink pork chop into my mouth. After we all get our sniff, Brendan furthers his slice, unearthing the secret insides of the animal. I was surprised by how clean and pale it was. Up until this part it’d been a bloody process, with the knife to the neck and continual dripping of red blood from the nose and mouth as the pig hung. Now, headless with gaping belly, all clean and dry inside. The cut about halfway finished, Brandon piles the organs that once lived in the hind end of the pig out, all of them slipperily falling over one another into his hands. The ballooned bladder, the bloated rope of the intestines, the dark brown-crimson liver. They flop into a bus tub and Brandon cuts a little further, getting closer to the headless neck. The lungs come out, the esophagus, the caul fat and spleen, the heart.

Having thought of the mysterious organs as a system for years, I was surprised to see them all come out individually. The heart is related to the whole body, but it easily slips away from all the rest.

All of this is food, and emerges from the pig with a recipe from Brandon. Spleen: to be butterflied and filled with sautéed onions, steamed over rillettes. Lungs, chopped and sautéed with wine. “The heart has the perfect sized cavities for dates and pine nuts,” Brandon says as he wiggles his fingers into the holes that once served arteries. The liver seared or made into paté. An abundance of guts, a feast of offal. He puts his hand on the end of the esophagus and fills the lungs up with air and they massively expand and I think of the living pig, its body full and taught.

The body is empty now and Brandon finishes the cut. The pig hangs like a book, one side splayed open. The saw comes out, and there seems to be a transition from slaughter to butchery. No fur, no head, no life-giving organs; no longer really an animal. Flattened, its legs pointing in opposite directions. Andrew pulls the feet apart and Brendan settles his saw into the very center of the spine. The halving is tricky business, trying to saw through the exact center of tiny featherbones that extend up from the spine. Slowly the sides come apart and two separate halves hang from the tree. Their hands bloody, sleeves dirty with organ phlegm and fat, Andrew and Brandon release the pork from the hooks and ease it down onto a wood pallet. I rub the finally exposed pork—familiar, pink meaty protein pork—with my index finger and think about washing my hands. I’m really cold and wet. And thrilled.

 

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I’m on Vashon Island, a twenty-minute ferry ride from West Seattle, for a pig slaughter class. I called it a butchery class for most people who asked what I was doing this rainy Saturday, feeling a little shy about spending the day watching men kill pigs. But I’m here, on Vashon, this beautiful little place populated by old hippies and ambitious young farm folk like Brandon and Lauren Sheard, who run Farmstead Meatsmith, a hybrid farm-school-personal butcher, with the help of Andrew Plotsky. I found the place because of Andrew, because NPR’s food blog did a story on him, a vegan turned pork butcher. I find the farm, not even half a block down a dirt—mud—road from a little circle of new-ish houses. I park and meet Andrew, and we walk over to the rest of the group gathered under a massive pine tree rigged with chains, sheltering a metal drum of water. There are five of us; me and one other girl—a farmer just about to relocate to a farm with pigs—and three men, one hoping for home charcuterie, testing his stomach today, and two others who just want to learn how to turn pig into pork. Brandon and Andrew welcome us and we get right at it.

At the pig’s little corral, we learn a little about the pigs—Tamworths—one of the only remaining pure heritage breeds. They look more like boars than pink county fair pigs; they’ve got  prickly fur and a little hint of that ridgeback at the top of their necks.  “They’re foragers,” Brandon tells us, pointing to the totally bare muddy mess of a plot where they used to call home. He steps over the foot high electric fence powered by a motor boat battery hidden under an overturned plastic box and the three fuzzy pigs flock to him like overgrown puppies; Gary, Sary, Milly, and Dilly, all the size of fat dogs, with bristly golden hair the color of old pennies. They’re more interested in the food he carries in a five gallon bucket than they are in him—a salmon skin flops out of the bucket and the pigs dash for it. Brandon has a matte black Magnum 22 with him—I don’t know a thing about guns but it looks serious, and totally out of place here in the muddy field, in the hands of a bearded guy wearing a wool vest over a long-sleeved flannel. Brandon kneels down in front of the giant slop bowl one pig’s face is buried in and steadies himself on one knee, the gun hiked up to his shoulder. He uses hollow bullets so they explode into the brain the instant the make contact. He looks right at the pig, gets still, and then gets up. “Once you realize you can take your time, it’s the most relaxed process in the world,” he says to us. “It’s more painful for you.” This is true—my whole self is cringing, has been since we walked over to the pigs area with a gun as part of the group. Brandon explains that pigs have thick skulls–miss the right spot and the bullet will just drive into an inch and a half of bone and the pig’ll keep on eating. The sweet spot is right where you’d imagine it to be, just above the middle of the eyes. Just as easily as he bailed the first time, Brandon kneels down again and shoots Dilly, the littlest pig. She doesn’t squeal—but the others do, as Andrew instantly swoops down with knife and shoves it right into the carotid artery, pushing till the tip just touches the spine.

The pig thrashes under his weight like a big mammalian fish, Andrew’s hand massaging the blood out of her neck. The other pigs keep eating, looking over at their dying pen-mate with only mild interest. For maybe three very long minutes Dilly’s legs shake and blood streams continually out of her neck. She finally settles, head in a pool of her own pretty red blood, her ears soaked in it and her tongue hanging out, dipping into it. “Good job,” Brandon says, to Andrew or the pig, I’m not sure. “The pig at the bottom of the hierarchy is always the most personable,” he says. “She’d always come up and lean against your leg,” adds Andrew, a strange farm eulogy. They respect these pigs, view them as creatures to be cared for, but ultimately, pigs are food. Their animalness gets stripped away layer by layer, first with the bullet exploded into the brain, making it a carcass, then the knife to the neck, draining it of its blood and its fullness.

Andrew takes the same bloodletting knife and makes two slits on either side of the tendons at the backs of the ankles, revealing thick ropes that will hold up this pig’s entire weight. The strange metal bar with a dip on each end and a loop in the middle that he’d carried over gets slipped behind the tendons, the pig’s feet resting in the grooves. The two men grab hold of the bar and start dragging the 200-pound body back to the tree where the work will really begin.

The six of us trail behind quietly, gawking at her bloody head, her comically piggy nostrils leaking strands of gummy blood. I remember Wilbur, fainting at the very mention of bacon. We come back to the tree where we met and they start adjusting the chains rigged around the sturdiest branch, getting ready for the next step. Brandon explains that while cows and other ruminants have hides, pigs just have skin, like us. This means that skinning them—which is the way they’re processed on most industrial farms—means losing edibles. The skin can become cracklins’ or chicharrones, depending what continent you’re on, and the fat just under the skin is precious flavor. So instead of skinning the pigs, they “scald and scrape”—scald the pig then scrape off the fur.

Andrew lights the little propane burner under the giant 55-gallon drum filled with water—a farm-ified lab setup, thermometers tucked into the two men’s vest pockets. While the water warms, Andrew and Brandon hook a sturdy chain into the loop on the metal bar still held by the pig’s tendons. They hoist her up, Andrew pulling on the other end of the chain, Brandon holding her front feet as she swings up into the air. We’re waiting for the water to reach 145 degrees—the perfect temperature to scald the pig for five minutes, just long enough and just hot enough to loosen the top layer of pigmented skin and the bristly hairs. A shoddy scald means impossibly sealed-on hair and a bad tasting outer layer of skin left on the pig. So there’s definitely a sense of urgency as they dip her in, doing “the pig waltz” with her hind feel that stick out of the top of the barrel. Brandon’s watch calls time and they start reeling her out, scraping every inch that emerges from the water with an aptly named “hogscraper,” a shallow metal bowl with sharpened edges, a wood handle emerging from the middle of the convex side, like a flattened bell. The thick bristles come off in reddish clumps along with thin sheets of skin. Brandon takes her feet, yanking off her toenails with another well-named tool: a “nail puller,” then scrapes between her toes and around the bumpy backs of her ankles while Andrew tackles the head. There are a few pig processing places that employ this method, but it’s done mechanically, the pigs’ bodies dunked in massive tanks then tumbled around in giant nubbly cylinders to burnish all the fur off.

 

 

After they’ve scraped this end clean, the let her down, hook into the tendon of one of the front feet, nd do the whole process over again on the other end. When they’re done the pig is mostly bare and the men’s forearms are speckled with blood, their chests matted with pig fur. They get out their knives and start shaving the tricky spots. Brandon buys almost all antique knives, prowling eBay for sturdy cleavers and beaver skinning knives that have been used for half a century or more. “New ones are more expensive, and they don’t work as well,” Brandon says. There’s clearly a dogma of nostalgia at Farmstead Meatsmith—when one onlooker, a mostly silent maybe-Russian, asks if its possible to kill a pig without a gun Andrew cites a book published in 1833. They wear wool vests and flannels—and they’re killing pigs by hand. These are not modern men, in the city-dwelling, suit wearing-sense at least. But I’m thinking that maybe they are a super accurate reflection of something we’re collectively pining for in this moment. The world keeps on getting more complicated—and the old school keeps on getting hipper. DIY is cool, riding single speeds is cool. Farmers markets and patio gardens are cools. We love “artisans.” Southern food, the staples of a place that has long been the least progressive part of the nation, is cool. Menus are stuffed with fancy comfort food—mac and cheese, burgers—and restaurants are full of exposed beams and mismatched silverware and mason jar glasses. This, raising and killing and eating pigs, is cool. Andrew has a blog, Farmrun, that often showcases Farmstead, that’s designer-y and cool, with lots of white space and well-chosen pig photos. But I’m having a hard time imagining him hunched over a MacBook now, as he shaves bristles from bloody pig cheeks.

Soon enough, the pig is bare, spare a few stubborn bristles. Next up is the head. The line where the cut will be made was started with Andrew’s stab this morning—Brandon takes that mark and follows it around the neck, cutting through all the different tissues in the head. The head comes off without much of a fight, and Andrew grabs it by the ear and sprays the bloody side down with a hose. The anatomical-cut-away side gets hidden, the head plopped onto a cafeteria lunch tray, and the barber shop routine continues, Andrew puling the flesh taught to finish the shave.

 

Fourth of July = Massive Overeat. How could one possibly resist literally falling off the bone ribs, cedar plank chicken, watermelon laden fruit salad, sausage spotted pasta salad, baconey potato salad, sweet sun-yellow corn, and a smattering of summer berry pies? And why would anyone resist really? Somehow got lucky enough to not work on the fourth, so drove on home then down to family friend Dave’s house on the Clearwater. Good to be home, even better to be home and stuffing my fat little face. Dave is an excellent cook, and in particular the master of the cedar plank. First cedar plank experience was roasted goat for New Years. Real good. And it’s only gotten better. Indubitably the best ribs I’ve ever had. Some secret barbeque sauce + plank + low n’ slow heat = oh heaven and a messy face. (and the olives. Have I already rambled about THE olives? I’m a big olive-eater. I like ’em all, from wrinkly kalamatas to the giant juicy green ones to the sliced black canned variety, but Dave’s homemade olives are something else. Not salty. Nope. Vinegary like crazy. And SO good. Camie and I are obsessed, thankfully no one else is quite as infatuated and we can just huddle over the jar like selfish little creatures. Dave let me take the last jar, it was like Christmas.)

(There’s Tucker, who can’t resist licking the meaty, barbequey plank, even though he’s burning the crap out of this little tongue.)

Everything else in the potluck sorta deal was tasty in its Americana glory as well, but I was sort of very distracted by my plate of ribs. (And second plate, which once empty I quickly hid then denied its existence.) Then, friends, a coconut cake. Which I never would have imagined I would like/love, but it was just gloriously light and sweet and scrumptious. Jess and little far-too-clever-to-be-only-seven Hayden made the praised cake, decorated with American flag fruit, as you do. And then a strawberry pie as well, just in case we weren’t quite stuffed enough. Which went a little like this: buttery pie crust, cream cheesy stuff, sugary strawberries. Mhhm, yep, ok then. 5,000 calories and much joy later, we decided the best thing to do was probably jump into the negative 200 degree river and float around for a bit. And after that we felt we’d earned s’mores, and thus commenced the sitting around the fire, frantically blowing out ignited marshmallows, getting sticky hands and sticky, smiley faces, listening to Dad (also known as PopPop) and Lex playing Steve Earle songs, and feeling very content and I guess pretty American.

Ribity ribs. Very seriously falling off the bone. I feel sad now writing about it because there is no rib meat in my mouth or hands or anywhere near me.

Chicken, baked beans, potato sal, pasta sal, fruit sal, RIBS. Not pictured, the sweetest corn ever. Which became corn and black bean and a bunch of other stuff salad the next day.

Piglet! Happy little piglet.

And though I thought I would never have to eat again, the next morning I managed to wolf down about fifteen pumpkin pancakes. Which I had never encountered before, but have adopted as my new favorite thing in the whole wide world of breakfast.

Is this not the rockin-est spot on the whole earth? I don’t know why exactly, but a good Fourth of July requires close proximity to a body of water. Strangely one of my most fun Fourths was in Bermuda, eating Portuguese doughnuts at an old British port. Not so American, good nonetheless.

Dad and I, post schnib-stealing. (Schnib = tasty little meat morsels scavenged before dinner. Extra rib bits, burnt little pieces of chicken. Mmm.)