Spring is coming!
Yesterday the thermometer actually got above freezing, +1C to be exact. We should get a bit of melting of our snow pack in the next few days before it dips back down into freezing temperatures again. Oh, the joys of living in northern Alberta. Thankfully, we are always guaranteed that warmer weather will come.
Last week we talked a bit about how pigs are raised commercially in confinement operations versus how small-scale family farms are raising them on clean pasture or forest environments.
Delicious Pork Products
Today I will give you a glimpse into all the yummy things that we make from our humanely treated, small farm grown pastured/forest raised pigs.
Preserving Our Meat
Just like our ancestors had to do in the past we still need to preserve the meat that we have taken such care in raising.
A pig, beef, lamb or goat has a lot of meat compared to a chicken, duck or goose for instance. Poultry is usually only one or two meals at most. In the past when mother wanted to serve her family chicken, she only needed to go out to her flock of chickens and pick the one she wanted to process for that meal. Preservation was “on-the-hoof” as the old saying goes.
But, larger animals posed much more of a challenge. One family simply could not consume all that meat in one or two meals, so before refrigeration was common some kind of alternative had to be found.
There were typically a couple ways this problem was addressed. The first one involved the community. Each farmer in the neighborhood would raise a pig or beef. Then when an animal was ready for processing the neighbors would all congregate at that farmers place. The animals were butchered and the meat was divided among all the families that were involved. They would then take their portion home and further process it for preservation according to their traditional methods which usually involved some sort of curing and smoking.
The second method also works well, but now the community aspect has been removed, for better or worse. I will let you come to your own conclusion on that.
With the advent of refrigeration this became a much simpler process. A whole animal could now be cut into meal size portions and stored in the freezer. I remember my grandparents butchering a whole animal. They did not have electricity at their farm, but the local butcher in town did have it. He would rent out space in his large walk-in freezers to farm families who butchered their own animals.
On our farm we practice a little bit of both “old-fashion” and modern methods of meat preservation. We use curing and smoking for hams, bacons and sausage while freezing or canning all other cuts.
We have chosen to use natural methods of curing when preparing meat for the smokehouse. We use what is called a salt-cure method. We use only sea salt, a natural sweetener such as maple syrup, molasses or honey and spices. Then depending on what we are curing we decide if it will be a dry cure, brine cure or a brine injection.
Curing Bacon & Hams
For bacons we use mostly a dry cure. This involves taking the whole slab of meat that comes off the rib area of an animal and thoroughly rubbing our mixture into the meat. Sometimes we will do a brine cure. To do this we create a ‘brine” by mixing the dry-cure ingredients with water. The slabs of meat are then soaked in the brine up to five days. Either way, the slabs are then rolled up and placed in special curing tubs and placed in the walk-in coolers for two to three days. After this they are removed from refrigeration and the majority of curing mix is rinsed off. They then get hung on racks in the smokehouse where they will be smoked for twelve to twenty-four hours, depending on their thickness.
Hams require a slightly different preparation. Whole hams are cured with a brine injection. We use the same salt/sweetener/spice cure that is mixed with water. We use a special injection syringe that has a six inch long needle with holes in the sides of it to inject this brine directly into the meat. This process can take up to twenty minutes to accomplish as special attention has to be taken to get the curing brine to penetrate every part of the ham. These “brine-injected” hams are then placed in tubs in the cooler for up to ten days. Not only will the hams plumped up with the cure, but they will also be soaking in the brine. If we choose to dry cure hams they are deboned and cut into meal size pieces. We then use the same process as for bacon that involved rubbing the curing mix into the meat. When this process is finished the hams are hung on racks in the smokehouse and smoked for twenty-four to thirty hours until the correct internal temperatures are reached.
Sausages are another one of our favorite foods that come from our pig. It is so convenient to have in the freezer for a quick meal when no one feels like cooking or we have all had a busy day outside. We have made so many varieties that it is hard to pick a favorite. Alsation Christmas is our favorite pork sausage, while Sweet Spanish or Dutch Mettwurst are our favorite beef sausages. When we make sausages for ourselves we tend to get lazy and not stuff the meat into casings. We usually will make five pounds at a time forming them into patties. We then freeze the patties for use at another meal.
The meats that we do not cure are pork chops and shoulder roasts. These we use fresh by either marinating with an apple cider vinegar and spice mix or dry rubbing them with a seasoning mix, then either roasting or pan frying them.
Last, but not least is the wonderful lard that we render from the fat of our pasture/forest raised pigs. It is an absolute necessity for any frying in our house. We use it when we cook eggs, potatoes, etc. It makes absolutely the best homemade french fries.
What Wood Do We Use In The Smokehouse
We like to experiment with different varieties of wood in the smokehouse that will achieve different flavors in the finished product. We have used apple, willow and alder wood that grown on our farm. We love the challenge of using locally grown species. Our favorite right now is apple. The next wood to try is saskatoon and hazelnut.
How We Learned the "Old Ways"
A few years ago we spent a number of weeks with an older gentleman who was a master butcher from Germany. He started learning his trade when he was fourteen and spent the next seven years of his life becoming a master of the trade. When we went to learn from him he had been in the trade for over fifty years. Being from the “old school” he did all meat curing without added modern chemical preservatives. We had always been told that to make a safe product you have to use the commercial curing products, but he taught us otherwise. We have never used and will never use any artificial preservatives in any of our meat curing.
Glazed Holiday Pork Roast
Here is a free recipe for Glazed Pork Roast. It is really quick to prepare and very impressive to serve. We have enjoyed it on many occasions.
- 4 - 41/2 pounds Pork Roast
- 1 cup Mixed Dried Fruit, divided
- 2/3 cup Water
- 2/3 cup Honey
- 2 Tbsp Onion Powder
- 1/4 cup Ketchup
- 2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
- 2 tsp Lemon Peel, grated
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Thanks for stopping by today. Have a wonderful weekend. We look forward to visiting with you next week.