Search Results for: ark of taste

Eat EVERYTHING from the ark?

The @slowfooduk Ark Of Taste product range that is; I’ve mentioned them a lot before on the blog inc. here and here but after @val_littlewood paid for our membership of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust it occurred to me only half jokingly that this would be a fine, fine project to undertake.

The most important way we — the general public — can help to preserve this produce in all its many and varied forms and flavours, is to EAT it. Eat as miuch of it as possible, as often as possible. Buy it from the suppliers, many of whom struggle to make a living from their Herculean efforts. By buying it, you keep up the demand for and thus the willingness of, these self-same producers to keep on carrying on doing the great work that they do.

There’s (currently) 100 items here; and whilst some can be consumed on the same plate, it’s still going to take me a few days to get them in, cooked and eaten. Wish us luck.

And at number 85 is my Huntingdon Fitchett Pie — a righteous inclusion, I talked about before.


Belt up! The Siena Cinta; more heritage taste.

Highlighted by my reading of a piece in Aliza Green’s wonderful “The Butcher’s Apprentice”, I came across yet another — heretofore unknown to me — of those great, autochthonous, heritage breeds, the Cinta Senese (named after the white “belt” or “sash” that runs across its shoulders, sides and front legs and traditionally from “Siena”) pigs who even now are allowed (no, actually, are required) to run around as free-ranging animals in those still extensive Tuscany woodlands.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (the “Buon Governo” or “good governance”) fresco 1337; installed in the Palazzo Comunale in Siena’s Piazza del Campo

The breed, one of only 6 native ones to survive in Italy, is thought to have originally been brought into the country via Phoenician traders — maybe as long ago as 1,500 BCE — and then (as pigs are always eager to do) they mixed with the native wild boar, the cinghiale, that still thrive to this day in the region. This lovely black pig has the sturdy limbs, the long ears to cover and thus protect its eyes from low hanging branches and that long, tough (yet delicate*) snout that we see in those animals that still root around in the woodland.


The traditional herd-book had been established in the early 1930s but this fell into disuse and was discontinued in the 1960s. Up until this time then, it had been a popular pig, tough, self-sufficient, ideal for the traditional small-holding family but slowly, after WWII, eating fashions were being changed and faster growing, cheaper, alternatives took over and, in a similar manner to all our heritage breeds around the world, by the 1990s, it was considered to be on the critical list.

* Despite constant rough use, the snout remains, in the words of one pig observer, “art-gum-eraser tender,” as sensitive and finely tuned as a safecracker’s fingertips. Mark Essig, “Lesser Beasts”.


But then along came the Slow Food movement — which noteworthily originated in Tuscany — and with it, a concrete desire to plan to ensure the survival of these types of species. The herd-book was re-opened in 1997; kept by the Associazione Nazionale Allevatori Suini, the Italian national association of pig breeders. And although the population remains low and is still classified as endangered, since then, thanks to their work, they’ve succeeded in reversing this decline such that by the end of 2012 there were 2543 pigs registered, distributed over some 111 farms. And again, like so many of the heritage breeds, since 2006 it’s protected under EU DOP (“Protected designation of origin”) status.

To keep this classification, they can only be fed using a combination of what they obtain through their own woodland rooting, along with carefully controlled supplements of pelletted cereals — these have to be guaranteed free from all GMOs. Like the pata negra, like the Ossabaw and the Euskal Txeriia, even the old English Huntingdon Black Hog breed, there they get to eat chestnuts and acorns from the cerro or quercus cerris, a Southern European native oak (also known as bitter oak or turkey oak) and wild broad beans [fava beans — shades of Hannibal there…].











The piglets are certified just after birth and are then ear tagged; listing their genetic background which process carries through into the meat which also all carries a plastic band to similarly certify the product’s origin thus giving full traceability, all the way back to the original animal.

They’re butchered at 24 months, by which time they’ll weigh between 120 and 150 kilos [260-330 lbs], whereas ‘ordinary’ pigs reach 150 kilograms after only eight months. This meat then goes on to produce those products typical of Tuscany, including salami, finocchiona (delightfully heavy with fennel), sausages, of course, pork loin, bacon, capocollo (or coppa), lardo di colonnata and, of course, prosciutto — the latter adding at least another two years to the wait for all of this mouth watering delight. You can understand why it was rightly named Slow Food…

And on that note it seems apposite to quote

“If you put good things in it, it’ll taste good”. Business card of baker Caroline Rozgaj Kobe, Sugar Creek, Missouri.

And finally, a reminder that the fascists have always been with us and we need to always keep resisting them. Every day. Everywhere. This pointer to what a little shit he was comes from the National Archives:

“Sir Oswald Mosley charged with causing unnecessary suffering to pigs”

This file relates to a case brought against Sir Oswald Mosley which was eventually dismissed. Mosley wrote to the Lord Chancellor on 10 December 1945 to ask that the magistrate who heard the case should retract what he considered to be unjustified observations made in open court after the case against him was dismissed. The Kingsclere magistrate, Lt Colonel Kingsmill had heard evidence that Mosley’s boar, two fat pigs and 95 store-pigs were emaciated and living in filthy conditions.  The magistrate, in his closing remarks, suggested that although he was dismissing the case, he felt that Mosley should have been aware of the state the pigs were in and taken steps to ensure they were properly fed and housed. Mosley wrote to the Lord Chancellor demanding that the magistrate retract his observations in open court.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The question on the table is: “How can we put the taste back into British food?”

This excellent piece in today’s Observer (and one, purely coincidentally, arriving on the same day as my earlier anti-Tesco rant this morning) asks this question and follows up with why

“fresh local produce has been replaced by cheap, bland, industrial-farmed food as supermarkets slash prices. What will it take to bring change?”

It’s a complicated problem but also a national public disgrace that, despite the huge apparent availability of this cheap food pumped out over the last 40 years or so by these supermarkets, in the opening years of the 21st century, in England — supposedly the 5th richest in the world — we still have large swathes of our people going hungry. And that the food that’s produced in a sustainable, ethical & moral manner is actually also better for you (higher in vitamins E & B and beta-carotene & omega-3 fatty acids), SURELY argues for this to be the only sane route to follow?

When breeder, butcher & public agree and it’s only the supermarkets that say the opposite?


Fuck the supermarkets and the hedge funds and big agri-chemical businesses who’ve so badly damaged the earth and the food-chain. Instead, let’s argue & agitate and mobilise for the proper care & welfare of the animals, the nurturing of & fair payment to small, trustworthy farmers and then take a quiet joy in seeing the resultant uplifting of the long-term health of our populace.

Syndactyl. It’s to do with a PIG, not some species of dinosaur.

One of the more peculiar pigs on the planet has to be the Mulefoot hog, so named as it’s syndactyl. That is, it’s not cloven-hoofed: the two central digits on both the front and hind-feet are fused into one, similar to that seen on the mule. NOTE: the fact that it’s not cloven-hoofed however still doesn’t make it an acceptable addition to the diet of those religious maniacs with dietary laws as, like all pigs, it’s still an omnivore, not a ruminant. Poor sods eh? The people; not the pigs.

It’s a mutation and one that’s been seen before but it’s not that common: Aristotle reported on syndactyl pigs in Greece all the way back in 350 BC; later still, Gesner wrote about syndactyl pigs in England, Belgium and the Netherlands and Linnaeus in the 18th C. wrote about their occurrence in Sweden. Remains of syndactyl pigs have also been reported from various archaeological sites in England, Ireland, Wales and France.

© Diggin Dust Heritage Hogs 2015

Whilst the origins haven’t been tied down exactly, it’s likely the breed, like so many of the American “native” ones, actually descended from those same Spanish hogs starting to be brought to the Americas in the 1500s, that also gave birth to the Choctaw (and let’s not forget the marooned Ossabaw…) It shares some attributes with the former (inc. the single hooves) and the breeds very likely come from that same ancestral stock. Until the late 1800s they were after all only loosely selected and managed; not much was done to enhance or improve the breeds and they were pretty much left just to forage for themselves.

This specific Mulefoot mutation was first recorded as showing up around the 1900s in the southwest USA & Mexico.  It also became known as the “Ozark hog” in Missouri and Arkansas. For a while, it was hugely popular as, like a lot of its cousins, it’s tough, productive & easy to fatten. Curiously — and like other syndactyl pigs — it was for a time (unfortunately, erroneously as it turned out) believed to be immune to foot and mouth disease, swine fever and cholera, which would have helped encourage its popularity with breeders. However, this single hoof did help alleviate the threat of foot rot, thus making it more suitable for wetter, boggy areas.

In the 1800s there was a huge demand for hogs to help fuel the relentless westward expansion and this breed helped the settlers in their onward travel. So, by the first third of the 20th Century, Mulefoot hogs were to be found distributed all throughout the Corn Belt. They were also common along the Mississippi River Valley, where farmers annually moved their hogs onto islands in the river, putting them out to safely forage there in the springtime then returning to collect them in the fall — this practice was however terminated by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950’s…

The National Mulefoot Hog Record association was organised in Indianapolis, Indiana, in January 1908. There was sufficient demand (and numbers) that two additional registries were also founded. By 1910 there were 235 breeders registered over twenty-two states. Mulefoots were also taken to Canada between 1900 and 1920 “although there no attempt was made to establish a herd book and pedigree records were not maintained”, according to J.W. MacEwan in The Breeds of Farm Livestock in Canada. They’re still being bred there, this photo taken from a small organic farm near Pilot Mound, Manitoba called Harborside Farms:

But breeding “fashions” change and like so many of these similar heritage, now rare, breeds across both the States and here in England, the newer larger, faster growing, less fatty pigs, were preferred and the Mulefoot slowly declined and almost ceased to exist.

That they didn’t was mainly thanks to the efforts all through the ’60s and ’70s, of an Mr. R. M. Holiday from Louisiana who introduced the genes into a new herd, to establish what would become the last group of purebred Mulefoot hogs. He acquired further stock around 1964 from all the then known purebred breeders, and used selective breeding– although in 1976 he also managed to introduce split hooves, ‘prick’ ears and wattles (!) by swapping some of his pigs with a dealer from North Dakota, a mistake he never repeated —  to try and maintain the standard.

By 1976, the registries for the breed had closed; subsequently the herd books, pedigrees and other registration information were all lost.

In 1993, Mark Fields of the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (later The Livestock Conservancy) had begun working with Holiday to re-establish the breed registry and expand breeding programs to additional farms. Despite these ongoing efforts it’s still on the “critically endangered” list [a categorisation given to breeds with a population of fewer than 2,000 and yearly registrations of fewer than 200] and there are still only around 300 breeding hogs in existence today.

In 2006, having worked the herd for over 40 years, the venerable Holiday decided to retire and sold off the last of his stock to the Maveric Heritage Ranch Co. He lived until he was 96, dying only in 2013. Maveric now own the largest herd of American Mulefoot hogs in the Americas and have started over 40 US breeders with Mulefoot stock. The team there also breed Guinea Hogs and they’ve established a close working relationship with the American Mulefoot Hog Association to jointly carry on with breeding and expansion programs and, like the Ossabaw, Choctaw and Red Wattle, they’re now being encouraged in this genetic quest by the growing number of chefs and cooks around the country using them in their dishes as well as the addition of the breed to the Slow Foods Ark of Taste.

Beautiful looking pigs. Like the Ossabaw from the previous piece; these little darlings come off the fire pit looking hugely edible…

© The Virtual Webber Bulletin Board/Chad M 2013

© The Virtual Webber Bulletin Board/Chad M 2013


Madgwick, R., Forest, V. & Beglane, F. 2011. Syndactyly in pigs: a review of previous research and the presentation of eight archaeological specimens. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology doi:10.1002/oa.1260

No fidget-ing at the back; or the Huntingdon (fitchett) Pie

So, why am I writing about a humble pie you may ask? Answer: for any number of good reasons (foremost of which of course is: “it’s a PIE, stupid, what’s not to like?”) but really there are two main ones:

  1. It’s a great traditional dish made with pork & apple that’s been produced in and around Huntingdon and dates back hundreds of years &
  2. It used to be made with bacon taken from the Huntingdon Black Hog, now sadly extinct. A local pig, dear to my heart, especially as it was so similar to my beloved Berkshires.

It’s such an important specimen (the pie that is, obviously; sadly the pig isn’t with us anymore) of the history of the food in this country, that the very wonderful Slow Food UK movement have added it to their Ark of Taste programme as a prime example of one of now nearly 100 or so English products, felt to be under threat of either disappearing completely or being changed beyond recognition (i.e. read “cheapened”).

The Berkshire (along with the British Lop, Gloucester Old Spot, Tamworth and other rare pig breeds) is also in there, right next to our regional cheeses, ancient fruits, endangered sheep and traditional fish, all coming under a heading we could and should call “best of British“.  Do you see a theme emerging here?

So, back to the Fidget (“fitchett” is an alternative spelling, as one suggestion for the derivation of the name is that it was originally ‘fitched’ or five-sided in shape; however, reading Stefan’s Florilegium also suggests the origin could indeed be fitchett, a slang word for ‘apple’), whilst local Cambs. food historian Alison Sloan said:

“One of the most popular theories is that it was named because the ingredients move around, or fidget, while it is cooking, but there are almost half a dozen other ideas.”

However you choose to pronounce this beauty, with pork and apples cooked inside a golden-brown short crust pie, what’s not to like about it? And along with onions and cider, that’s the basis for this deceptively simple dish.

[NOTE: some recipes also throw in potato — but that’s some horrible aberration ‘straight outta Shropshire’, so will be ignored here and henceforth by all right thinking people].

Sloan went on to say:

“We were quite late in using potatoes as our staple food in Cambridgeshire, and relied a lot on wheat and pastry. Therefore, pies were very popular – especially as there were a lot of apple orchards. Another local favourite was eel pie. People would not have eaten a lot of meat, so fish was very important. Eels would have been caught in the ditches around the Fens, along with herring.”

Back in 2007, a Grauniad journalist ¹ tried to find a Huntingdon Fidget Pie he could sample whilst on a family visit to the town; with a singular lack of success. Things haven’t improved any in the 10 years since then. Still no one is offering them in the town. Not one place.

These majestic pies — that were once produced here and all over the Midlands and described memorably as “meals on wheels for working men” ¹ — are the hyper-local equivalent of (amongst others) the bulging Cornish pasty…

…or those packed hot pies coming from Lancashire…

..but unlike these other two, you’re hard pressed to find them being made anywhere now, even (especially!) in their home-town — and that’s a crying shame.

So, to redress this balance I intend making these regularly. And with Berkshire bacon as I can’t get the pork from a genuine Huntingdon Hog. There are a number of recipes floating around the web now but this is the one I’m slowly fine-tuning. This will probably serve four (small) people. Although I’m not sure that’s the correct numbers — “your mileage may vary” — so you may want to scale up the numbers below …

The loud — and increasingly self-parodying — Gordon Ramsay’s recipe is pretty much word for word, exactly the same as mine, so I’m not linking to it. I’m not saying “disgusting, typical bullying plagiarism” here. Not exactly, but…

The Hairy Bikers (for whom I have a warm place in my heart, alongside the Two Fat Ladies & Keith Floyd), unfortunately use potato, so in this instance, their recipe in turn is sent back to the depths of Hades. Although I may try their use of a small touch of nutmeg at some point.

No, THIS one is canonical. Art least for the moment.


  • 100 g (4 oz) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 250 g (9 oz) plain strong flour
  • 1tsp fresh thyme
  • 1tsp brown sugar
  • salt and milled pepper
  • 225 g (8 oz) back bacon, rind off, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 225 g (8 oz) mixed cooking & eating apples, peeled, cored, roughly chopped
  • 15 ml (1 tbsp) chopped fresh parsley
  • 150 ml (1/4 pint) dry cider
  • 1tsp corn flour
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten, for the glaze.


  • We’ll start off with the pastry:  sift 225 g (8 oz) of the flour and a pinch of salt into a bowl and add the thyme. Rub the butter in gently, until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs, then add just sufficient cold water to mix to take it to a firm dough. Ball up the dough, knead lightly then cover the bowl in clingfilm and put it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, cook off the bacon and onions in a little pork fat until the former starts to crisp and the latter to go translucent. Combine the two, tossing in the corn-flour. In the pan juices left finally brown off the apples and then decant all three items into a 568 ml (1 pint) pie dish. Add the parsley & brown sugar and season to taste with salt & ground pepper.
  • Take the remaining flour and slowly add the cider, a little at a time, until it’s a runny paste; pour this into the pie dish.
  • Roll out the pastry until it’s approx. the depth of a £1 coin. Cut off a thin strip long enough to go around the rim of the pie dish. Moisten the dish rim with water and place this strip onto the rim, pressing down lightly all the way round.
  • Roll out the pastry again until it’s a circle approx. 1/2″ wider than the dish diameter
  • Now moisten the strip of pastry, place the pastry circle on top and press firmly to seal. Knock up and flute the edge using a fork.
  • Make a diagonal cross in the centre almost to the very edge of the dish and fold the pastry back to reveal the filling. Chill it all in the fridge again for 30 minutes.
  • Take out and brush the pastry all over with the egg. Bake at 190ºC (375°F) gas Mark 5, for about 45 minutes or until the pastry is deep golden and the filling is cooked.

And this is the result. Well, one of them. In this version from today, I’ve used diced pork loin rather than bacon, to ring the changes and experiment. Hey, no carping criticisms eh? My town, my recipe(s), MY frickin’ pie.

It’s perfect straight from the oven along with a green vegetable — I’d suggest a purple sprouting broccoli or some curly kale or you can let it chill and then match it with a salad & a sharp pickle.

† interestingly, there’s a Fitchett mentioned in connection with the eponymous town of Huntingdon, VA. Nothing to do with pigs or pies but still, one of those nuggets of useless information (in this case about Cherrystone oysters),  that you’ll thank me for one day. You’re welcome …

Doran S. Callahan Collection, Eastern Shore Public Library Accomac, Va. 1900


  1. Fort, Matthew. “Start fidgeting”. The Guardian, 17 November 2007