food


Hi everybody and welcome to the final instalment of The Hog Blog! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reading it and I’m pleased to let you know that Nicola’s adventures raising her pigs continues beyond what she has written about on this blog so there is a good chance that more instalments may appear somewhere in the future.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 4

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 4

I spent today sorting out who gets what and what will be left. By the time I have given Jules and Joe their share and taken some for me, the pile looks smaller. But there is still a lot to sell and it takes about seven minutes to clear the lot. We cooked a small pan of the sausages in the kitchen, opened the office doors, allowed the sweet smell to roll up the building and it worked. People arrived with their purses and cheque books and then it was gone. I just managed to write down who had what in time. But then there were the disappointeds. I kept having to nip back to my own supply and raid the sausages and chops – but not giving my joint away. Then I felt like Jonesy in Dad’s Army, sidling up to some of the disappointeds with a small package and nodding at them conspiratorially.

Meat is currency, and getting cash back for it gives me a good, wholesome feeling. I worked harder physically for that pork than I have in a lifetime of sitting at a computer. But I still have only made a tiny dent in my original costs, and those costs will rise if I get more to fatten. I am hooked, and write out cheques like a mad woman who has won the pools.

So, I can do meat. I immediately order another couple of fatteners from the farm in Devon. They will be about a couple of weeks behind Trotter and Elvis in age – so now I will get meat from three pigs instead of one. And I will still have my breeders, Elvis and Mabel. That will be the next learning curve.

Love has not sprung up between them yet, but I am hopeful. Elvis is incredibly friendly – almost gobby. I have clothed him in my mind in a rather jaunty leather jacket and some torn jeans – I know he will grow up to be a quirky ne’er-do-well, just my sort of a bloke. And I hope that my precious, stand-offish Mabel with her priggish lace cap will quiver with desire and fall under his spell. I now know I was over Beatrix-Potter’d as a child.

The weather at the moment is amazing. Still frosty and freezing at night, sunny during the day. It’s like skiing weather: it’s perfect. In the afternoons, at about 4.30, it is magical, with the sun going down on a golden pink sky and opposite a silvery full moon has risen already. We have a little robin friend. He keeps hopping about the pig pen pecking at something on the ground – maybe husks of straw or something the pigs are dropping. When he is there the wagtails are not. I heard robins were the bullies of the bird world; maybe it is true.

The End (for now)

Nicola

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Hi everybody. I’m still playing catch-up today so even though it it two days in a row, I’m giving you more Hog Blog. But it’s a bumper instalment this time where Nicola goes into great detail about the experience of eating an animal that she has raised and cared for herself. I really recommend you read this one right through to the end. There is something quite sweet yet pragmatic about how she describes it all.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 3

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 3

Joe has produced a spreadsheet. Julia doesn’t agree with it and produces one of her own. I don’t like it because it requires Elvis to go to the abattoir to give us more profit.

I don’t want to send my prize board to the abattoir. But I don’t want to argue with anyone about money, least of all two people I am fond of.

Have radical plan. Will hurl even more money into pig project but will be the only investor. I will give all others their money back and pork in exchange for labour. With any luck Julia and Joe will still want to give time in the future towards helping look after them and I can pay them for that time with meat rather than money. Solves all discussion about money. Feel relief to have made a decision and email the others to ask what they think.

They agree! And they want to continue helping in exchange for meat. Now I will be poor, but at least I will be my own boss.

Today I discover, quite by accident, that Berkshires are not fully grown until they are three years old. Why do they make them breed so early? It’s like teenage mums in council flats, and quite unworthy of a Berkshire. Who knows what they could achieve if they weren’t weighed down with the burdens of motherhood so early? Feel a plan coming on to make Mabel wait another year before encountering sex or babies. But can I afford it? Probably not.

February is very cold indeed, surprising us with thick frosts, icy grass and ponds, freezing fog which gives way to bright sunshine by coffee time. I drive to the abattoir in Frome to collect not Porker, but a carcass. I pay them £27 which seems incredibly cheap compared to all the other bits of looking after pigs. The body is in two halves with the head and feet still attached, the head sliced neatly down the very centre, so that whichever way I lay the long bundle one eye is looking up. She smells like meat and not like a pig. All her hair is gone and her skin is pink, but there is a small tuft or two of strong black hair close to her snout so I know it is her. It strangely reminds me of visiting my newly-dead father in the chapel of rest and noticing little tufts of cotton wool stuck to the bristle on his chin. But it turns out not to be sad. I knew that wasn’t Dad, just his husk, and I know this isn’t Porker, just her outside. Wrapped in a huge tarpaulin she makes the journey back to Bristol again, and Steve the butcher at the farm shop takes her in as if this is normal. He promises to have her ready in three days and I leave, feeling strange.

I have no idea how much meat to expect back really. I rang the abattoir and they said the dead weight was 57 kilos, but that doesn’t really help me work out how many chops, how many sausages.

I find out when Steve rings late in the evening to say all is ready to collect. Clever Porker gave: 16 bags of chops in twos, weighing about 500g a bag, 8kg of sausages, 4kg of belly pork, four rolled boned shoulder joints all weighing about 1.5kg, 6 leg joints (which I still fail to understand) weighing about the same as the shoulder joints, and two long ribs at about just over a kilo each. Steve charges me £30 which I think is incredibly cheap. Was thinking of maybe doing a butchery course but it is hardly worth it when he does a professional job at such a low cost. He is even cheerful about it and tells me it is good meat, which gives me a burst of pride. The head and the offal and the trotters and some innards were all in a separate bags, which I gave straight to Joe so he can experiment in the kitchen. I stuff as much as possible into the two fridges at work, put the rest in the freezer and go home with two pork chops.

I walk into the house with my precious package, feeling nervous. If it doesn’t taste good then all this will have been a bit pointless, and too expensive to repeat. I shout to all and sundry that I am home and I have meat! Silence. Nobody at home. This is rare. For a moment I’m tempted to feel sad about it, but actually the quiet is good, and the tasting maybe too solemn a thing to attempt with others.

I put the chops in a roasting tin. They look good. Chunky and lean but with a good layer of fat around them. I drizzle a little olive oil over them and sprinkle some chopped-up thyme from the garden, then pop them in the top oven of the Aga.

I have some fabulous purple sprouting broccoli so I prepare that while I wait for the pork. I set the table properly, light a candle, award myself (and Porker) a proper linen napkin, open a good bottle of red wine. After about quarter of an hour I take them out to turn them over. A quite remarkable smell wafts through the kitchen and I feel very very hungry. On the plate they look delicious. I sprinkle some lemon juice over them and push a knife through the first one. It goes through the meat as if it were butter. The flesh is white and moist and smells slightly gamey, but it is tender and the best pork chop I have ever tasted. The darker meat near the bone is almost like offal, and with a strong pork taste. Good indeed. Two of these huge chops is far too much for one person, but I am greedy for more so I keep eating until I have not only finished them both, but licked the bones clean too. I give a tiny bit of gristly fat to Bobbie. She is ecstatic. Her barking has, at last, got the better of Porker.

Feeling rather bloated now. But by golly it was good. Porker did so well I raise a little toast to her. She was a good piglet, a lovely pig, she went to her death with hardly a squeak (apart from the ear tag noise) and she gave us all fabulous meat. What a pig! I will never forget her, and in fact she gets her own back, because I am windy all night. My fault.

Nicola

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I realise that I’m posting very late in the day today but having been at the London Book Fair the past 3 days I’ve been frantically catching up on a backlog of emails. Sorry to make you wait! Some good news that I found waiting for me is that our July release What About China? will be getting featured in an influential book trade publication. More about What About China? later but in brief it is a book about how to answer awkward questions about climate change such as “What is the point of doing anything when China opens a new power station every week?”

But for now here’s another instalment of Nicola’s Hog Blog. Have your tissues ready.

Cheers, Thomas

The Hog Blog – February 2008, part 2

The Hog Blog - February 2008, part 2

We arrive early at the abattoir and I go in to sort out the paperwork. Three forms for one pig. A pig movement form, a transportation form and a what she has been eating form. One of the forms is three pages long and I understand none of the questions. They are in code. The guy who manages the abattoir is about 65, with the ginger grooved wrinkles and the deep, watery chested voice of the dedicated smoker. His ‘office’ is a sort of freezing cold garage with a tiny electric fire at one end and a small wooden table and chair at the other. He is an old hand. He is not overly friendly. He’s seen it all before. I feel like an idiot. I am behaving like a ridiculous townie at a cocktail party, enquiring about his job and whether he ought to have a bigger fire, and oh gosh, these forms, how on earth does one make head or tail of them? He groans and lights another fag.

Help is at hand from a lovely young man in a white coat and white wellies: the man from DEFRA. He helps me fill in the forms, then helps us get Porker down the ramp and along a long, stone corridor. He is so gentle and sweet with her ‘Come on lovey, come on sweetie’, patting her gently and encouraging her down. Pigs don’t like going downhill much. I instantly like him and trust him and there is a lovely, straw-filled pen waiting for her with a drinking bowl and everything. I give her a pocketful of pignuts and stroke her nose for the last time. She is next in line. I walk away. Turning once I see her just rooting about in the straw like normal. I am not worried.

I make arrangements to collect the carcass in three days and return to work. Feel strange all day. Quite grown up.

Nicola

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As promised last week here is a new set of sample pages from Go Slow England that have not previously been available anywhere else. So I hope you enjoy the Angel Inn in Yorkshire and remember that all previous sample pages can be found here.

Also, for those of you in London don’t forget Alastair’s appearance at Standfords next Tuesday. Click here for more details.

Cheers, Thomas

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Angel Inn 

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It’s time for another Hog Blog and I think you will agree that it’s starting to get a bit dramatic!

Cheers, Thomas

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The Hog Blog – January 2008, part 2

The Hog Blog - January 2008, part 2 

Rang abattoir in Nailsea today. Porker has only four weeks or so left to go. I need to hire a trailer and also get her an ear tag or slap-mark of some description. Not sure how to go about it, but I phone the North Somerset council man and he tells me which company to order them from. He is also, he says, coming to inspect me in February. Blimey. Order ear-piercer and tags with my herd number stamped on them over the internet and they arrive in the post. Fifty ear tags minimum order. Oh well, I shan’t have to order again in a hurry.

I have a mad two weeks trying to get out of going to the Nailsea abattoir (I hear gossip from Steve the butcher at the farm shop that a mate of his sent some rare-breed pigs to Bakers and didn’t think he got his own pigs back; and there were bits missing that he had specifically asked for). But I’m worried about not having any alternative. People keep telling me about nod-and-a-wink travelling folk who come with a small gun and do it in the field. On research, they don’t appear to exist, or only do it secretly.

Steve says there’s another abattoir in Frome which is smaller and less commercial and gives me the number of a mate who knows them. The mate recommends them and I worry about the fact that it is 27 miles away rather than eight. My address book, which used to be filled with city numbers, is now criss-crossed with numbers for trailer hire folk, ark builders, mates of mates who shoot pigs in fields on the sly, farmers and hedge trimmers, oh and abattoirs. Weird. It is make my mind up time. Every time I look at Porker I feel like a traitor.

Later that month…
Time up. I opt for the Frome abattoir. But how to get her there? Ring Pete the hedge trimmer as he is a Long Ashton local. He tells me to ring Tom James who keeps cows in the field below me. Tom is brilliant and agrees to help (for £60!) We talk pig on the phone and I like him. He meets me in the field the next day and we check to see he can get his trailer in and every question I ask (there are many) he answers patiently and kindly.

Nicola

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Hi everybody

One of the editors of Go Slow England has sent me some information about a very interesting Slow related event over in the USA. Here is what she has sent me:

Slow Food Nation

First we had Eric Schlosser in his hard-hitting book Fast Food Nation telling us about the insidious nature of the fast food culture in America. Apparently any day one in four Americans opts for a meal from a fast-food restaurant, “without giving its speed or its cheapness a second thought”. Depressing indeed.

Now though American foodies are determinedly ganging up to launch an event of global significance – Slow Food Nation – in San Francisco from 29 August – 1 September 2008.

The event’s website says: “The world’s most pressing questions regarding health, culture, the environment, education, social justice and the global economy are all deeply connected to the food we eat and how it is produced. Slow Food Nation is an event at the center of a movement with national impact and global implications.” Carlo Petrini, Alice Waters and Eric Schlosser will speak.

Have a look at the Slow Food Nation website at slowfoodnation.org for more information and if are lucky enough to be over that side of the world for 29 August – 1 September then why not go along?

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Hi everybody and I hope you had a wonderful and slow Easter.

I discovered the historical delights of Glastonbury and Salisbury for the first time, with a look in at Stonehenge – all by train and bus. I managed to constantly get myself caught in sudden snow storms where ice particles blew horizontally at face height rather than fall from the sky. I must admit though, it was very amusing coming down from the Glastonbury Tor on Friday to witness all the dogs and small children being literally blown off the path. It was also very funny at Stonehenge to witness all the people stand with their backs to the rocks who would briefly spin around to catch a look at the magnificent rocks before spinning around again to protect their faces from the shards of ice. I just fired my camera over my shoulder so I could look at the photos later. My wife had the better idea of us standing face-to-face so we could pivot on the spot and take turns peering over each others shoulder. It was actually all wonderful and what better way to appreciate such sites than to do so while caught in a furious tempest?

Before I sign off I’d like to give a special mention to the terrific B&B I stayed at while enjoying the delights of Salisbury. It is a Sawday’s place (of course!) named Bolhays, run by a pair of sisters who simply know their stuff when it comes to creating an inviting and relaxed atmosphere. Thank you Bar and Sue!

Cheers, Thomas

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