Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pigs: Skin and Bones

I'm going to have a hard time getting out of bed tomorrow.
We roasted a half-pig in the smokehouse for the Fourth of July, and the other half has been hanging ever since. Things have been busy this past week, and the second half had not been processed. Mr. Farmer just didn't have time, so the job fell to me.  
Men generally handle the skinning around here. They skin deer and pigs and sometimes various fowl, if they don't feel like dealing with feathers. We have a friend who can dress and skin a deer in under a half an hour. He can do it in twenty minutes if it is hung at the right height and his knives are sharp. I guess this is a skill that comes from practice, however. Today I learned that skinning is HARD WORK.
I've never skinned anything before, and skinning, like butchering, can't really be learned from books. Sure, the background helps, but you never really get it until someone puts a knife in your hand and says, "Go to it!" So I did. I put the half-pig on the counter and started trying to peel away the skin. The edges had sealed to the fat as they dried, and it was hard to get the angle right even to get it started. I had to turn it several times and contort my body in ways I didn't know I could just to get the knife in where I needed it. In short, it was a nightmare.
Nearly an hour later, the skin was off and I could get to butchering. I boned the entire thing, including a very tricky shoulder blade. Mr. Farmer said I did nice work, but it sure felt like a lot of exertion for only a few pounds of meat! My neck aches, my back is burning, and I feel like I could go to bed now!
Well, now it is time for a prophylactic dose of Aleve. Mr. Farmer is going to reward me by cooking the remaining fresh ham on the grill tomorrow. I can't wait!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cooking: Everyday Deviled Eggs

Where there are hens, there are eggs. Where there are eggs, there are people who are desperate to find things to do with the excess eggs when they aren't selling well and the family is getting tired of them. What's a gal to do?
Older eggs make better hard-boiled eggs, so when we get overloaded I either sell them cheap or boil them. The children, however, aren't all that excited about hard-cooked eggs as a snack. They can sit in the fridge for days if left unprepared. I have found, however, that it is simple to make them irresistible:
  1. Cut them in half lengthwise
  2. Take out the yolks
  3. Mix the yolks with a few household goodies
  4. Put the yolks back
  5. Sit back and watch the kids devour them!
Deviled eggs are not just for parties! Watch how easy it is to turn them into an everyday snack.
Seriously, this is not hard. Cut 6 hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise as carefully as you can. Gently remove the yolks and place them in a sandwich bag. Add 2 tablespoons of mayo (click here to learn how to make your own) and a teaspoon of mustard (I like spicy brown). Smoosh up the yolks in the bag. Snip the corner of the bag with scissors, and squeeze the filling back into the divot in the eggs. Sprinkle with paprika.
That's it! So easy! And Yummy!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Pigs: Much Ado About Buster

Hi, Ron!!

A friend and fellow farmer had a dilemma. Buster was an old pig- 7 years old if I have my facts straight- and it was time for him to go. The butcher, however, would have no part of him. A pig that old is only good for sausage, and our friend was not in the habit of processing hogs himself, so he offered him to us in lieu of burying him in the back field. We accepted.

Sadly, once the skin is off a pig, the clock is ticking. Yes, the meat is served well by resting a few days, but after that it is a race against spoilage, especially with an animal this big.

All was going well until Mr. Farmer had a car accident. He was not injured, but the car was totaled. Since we only had the one vehicle everything was put on hold, including the making of sausage, until the transportation issue could be handled. So, while Mr. Farmer scouted an alternate vehicle, I spent my day off alternating between calls to the insurance company and packing the already boned meat into freezer bags for longer term storage.
Over and over I rinsed the sink, rinsed the meat, labeled the bags, filled them, stacked them in the freezer, and re-sterilized the countertop. I managed to get half of the meat safely stowed before I ran out of freezer space. (On a side note, if the neighbors thought the sound of piglets protesting being put into the back of a truck was disturbing, imagine if they could have seen what I was up to in my kitchen that day!!)

Once again my enemy, Waste, has been thwarted. YAY ME!


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Cooking: Concord Grape Syrup

The kids and I picked a lot of concord grapes this summer. Somehow they got loose in the woods and were growing up through some trees. Most summers you can smell sweet grapes, then wine, then vinegar on the breeze in late August. Most summers we smell them before we remember that they are even there, and by the time you smell them, it is too late.

Concord grapes are fairly acidic and very seedy, and therefore not great for snacking. In the past we have made wine out of them, but Mr. Farmer was not in the mood. Many years ago I made jam and jelly, but there was a recent coupon/sale combo that resulted in this:

There are 16 of These

So, having what appears to be YEARS worth of concord grape jam and jelly in the house, for thirty cents per two pound jar, which is less than what the glass alone would cost me if I made my own, it just didn't make sense to make jam. But I remembered my attempt at jelly when Young Master Farmer was just about two years old. I did something wrong, and the jelly didn't gel. The result, however, was a delicious syrup that we enjoyed on pancakes and waffles and French toast. Syrup made a lot of sense.

Concord grapes are very seedy. Those seeds are stuck really well to the flesh of the grape, and removing them is a chore. The seeds also have a fairly strong flavor, so you have to choose your battles when removing them. Cooking them will impart some of the seed flavor into your juice, but removing them raw is a lot of hard work. I chose to take the easy road this time and cooked the grapes whole (seeds, skins and all).

Of course if you want to cook a bunch of THESE...

You must first pick through a lot of THESE.

After picking through all the stems and leaves, I washed the grapes thoroughly and simmered them for a couple hours. As they cooked, I mashed them in the pot and stirred them so that the seeds broke loose. When they were done, I was finally appreciative of this weird seive that Mr. Farmer has always insisted was important:

This worked SO well!

I had to do almost NOTHING to get down to just seeds!

Look at all that beautiful juice!
I returned the juice to the pot and simmered some more, adding alternate cups of white sugar and corn syrup. I lost track of how many, and I think I burned my lips from all that acid, but it came out to be quite delicious. I poured it, still hot, into jelly jars and canning jars, wiped them up, and stuck them in the fridge. As expected, we ate it all so fast that there was no point in canning it properly.