Lipstick on a pig?

Why not? They’re good with mirrors after all. But a Sarah Palin or David Cameron nightmare to haunt your dreams this isn’t, don’t worry.

© Pretty Little Pig blog

Scientists see the ability to understand how to use a mirror as a sign of complex cognitive processing and an indication of a certain level of self-awareness (in this case, called assessment awareness). Into this select band of creatures able to perform this feat, come the pigs; in addition to humans and some of the other primates, dolphins, elephants, magpies and (notably) a famous African grey parrot named Alex

Research by Donald Broom of the University of Cambridge, back in 2009, was published in Animal Behaviour and shows a level of self-awareness that means they can understand the significance of a situation in relation to themselves, over a short period of time. In this case, the pigs remembered how their own movements appeared in the mirror and further, were then able to apply that knowledge to a separate situation involving a hidden bowl of food.

Interestingly, if researchers placed a yellow mark on the black feathers of a magpie, it then used the mirror to clean itself off. These ‘mark’ experiments just don’t work on pigs: they’re so accustomed to being streaked with mud, they really don’t much care if more “dirt” appears on their body

“We have put marks on pigs,” Broom wrote. “They take little notice of them.”

Smart eh? You have to love pigs. Here they are, managing to give the finger (trotter?) to Big Brother in the shape of their farmer. The same RFID chip technology used to track pets is also used for farm animals – to trace livestock through their life-cycle. The microchip implants securely identify the animal’s origin so there’s full traceability i.e. in the event of an outbreak of a disease, such as mad cow, the RFID-tracking system will pin-point the source farm.

The video below is of pigs on a farm in Essex where they’re equipped with cumbersome RFID collars that attempt to limit their food to a certain amount per diem. A pig walks through the gate and their collar works out how much (if any) food to dispense. But in a classic case of learned behaviour, some of the pigs have figured out this collar is the key to more food. And this adaption to their environment is happening on a number of independent farms not just this one. Some pigs manage, by dint of scratching, to remove these collars and other pigs come along, pick up the discard and…carry it to the feed gate a second time. Voila! Double-helpings.

And one last thing? Pure poetry in motion. This video of the boys at Blenheim Forge using their furnace and other kit. I really want one of these…


Craftsmanship. Worth paying the price?

Craftsmanship is never unfashionable“.

That statement is precisely on point, on so many levels and it was a comment I heard whilst listening to this recent fascinating BBC piece on Lobb shoes*.

* (And at less than £4k a pair, that must rank as a bargain, right?)

And then there’s this shot via one of our few female butchers, Charlotte of the eponymous “Charlotte’s Butchery” in Gosforth reading about Charlie of Flat Iron


…and then seeing the quiet smile on Charlie’s face as he looks at that beautifully crafted ironwork; a joy to behold. As is the beautiful rack of meat that he’s about to char & cook over those coals.


We’ve an old nut-cracker, “inherited” from Val’s dad and probably even further back than that. It’s the most basic of implements possible to imagine for this task. But it really does prove the old “form follows function” saw to be true. The lovely patina of age smudged by different fingers as it’s been used over the years, the little teeth to hold the nuts whilst cracking, the rivets holding the arms in place, sawn off, barely visible now. A wonderful item. Simple, no frills. Perfect for the job it does.

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Yesterday I came back with these two bargains — one a santoku and one a paring knife — hot off the forges by the boys (three of them) at Blenheim Forge (not forgetting Connie who was so incredibly helpful but doesn’t, yet, hammer away at bright red glowing heated pieces of metal).

The forge entrance whispers honied promises of a cave of dark and arcane mysteries…


…leading firstly to the old, old mechanical punch they use for the Blenheim Forge stamp (into hot or warm metal)…


…then tooled in many arcane & dwarf-taught ways, using these mediaeval torture instruments…

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…via these intensely hot furnaces…


…and the home-made grinding wheels; you lay over them and as cooling, lubricating water gushes onto the stones, you slowly, noisily grind the knives whilst at the same time, silently praying that these huge blocks of stone, travelling at up to 60mph, don’t suddenly shatter and take out you and the rest of the team in the forge…

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…and having managed not to die from any of the potentially lethal encounters possible up to this point, you can finally take the knives into the dark, warm, womb-like cavern at the back where the finishing touches are applied, inc. the wood handles and ferrules.

The ferrule – or ‘cap’ where the blade meets the handle, protecting the wood from moisture and splitting – is sustainably sourced black buffalo horn and in the case of my two blades, uses walnut as the chosen wood…


…resulting in these two beauties. The slight imperfections in the handles (where they accept the tang) aren’t visible in these photos and — as well as meaning they were priced at a huge bargain discount (thanks James!) — although they have no detrimental effect on use or longevity of them either, actually make them for me. The wabi-sabi  of knives if you will…

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A great morning; fun, informative and hugely interesting and tempting. I’m seriously thinking about getting into knife making. The whole thing, forge, anvil, grinders, heavy duty metal cutters, the lot.

Thanks James, Jon and Connie. And if you get a chance to pop along to the railway arches right alongside Peckham Rye station don’t hesitate to go in and have a look.

And finally? Finally, we’d also recommend highly the food served by the enthusiastic team at Honest Burger


with a great menu…


located a short, 1 minute walk on the way to the Blenheim Forge — this was their pork & egg, with meat gravy and home-made beans, brunch snack I sampled. Finest kind. Finest kind.


Another helping of ‘internals’ from Fergus H (and others)…

More plated servings of vom schnörrli, zum schwänzli goodness. And another reminder that meat doesn’t come pre-packed in styrofoam, brightly coloured, packaging; at least not naturally. Which is why I keep talking about offal, in all its mis-shapen and bizarre looking incarnations

© Hank Shaw 2008

© Hank Shaw 2008

You may also have noticed that I really rather rate Fergus Henderson? And you’d be right. He’s been at the forefront of the “nose to tail, waste absolutely nothing“, movement for many, many years. Along with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, he’s one of the very good people out there.


This post is going to lean a little heavily on photos from the hugely talented and influential team at Serious Eats. I’ve already mentioned J. Kenji López-Alt in Cooking for geeks; in the food lab, the MD of this site. They managed to grab a space at the pass when Fergus visited New York (a few years back now) and cooked with, amongst others, the very wonderful fellow Brit, April Bloomfield at her “The Spotted Pig“.

Their menu included some offal dishes from other than pigs — I’m ignoring them for the purposes of this post. Hey, my blog, my call, OK? 🙂

It started with ribbons of grilled chitterlings (also know as “chitlins”). In any event, however you call them, they’re the small intestine — or, in the case of the “hogs maw”, the stomach — and a staple of Southern (initially poor, mainly black) cooking. But they were also known way back as common peasant food in medieval England, and remained a staple in the diet of our own low-income families right up until the late 19th century and are still a firm favourite across the rest of (possibly less squeamish?) Europe.

© Serious Eats 2008

© Serious Eats 2008

Thomas Hardy wrote of chitterlings in Tess of the D’Urbervilles, when the father of a poor family, John Durbeyfield, talks of what he’d like to eat:

Tell ’em at home that I should like for supper, – well, lamb’s fry if they can get it; and if they can’t, black-pot; and if they can’t get that, well, chitterlings will do.

So, to follow? How about confit of pig cheek and dandelion?

© Serious Eats 2008

© Serious Eats 2008

OK, there is one dish that I’m including with a non-pig offal: the lambs’ brain; battered and deep fried to a wonderful, golden crisp. There’s a green sauce in there, infused with parsley and dill, complimenting those earthy, creamy nuggets.

© Serious Eats 2008

© Serious Eats 2008

I’ve wavered and included this because I could really see this being done well but using pig’s brains.

I’m a little surprised to find that Fergus hasn’t yet done so (he claims pig brains aren’t as flavoursome). But as if by way of compensation, he did do this Brain Burger along with the MEATliquor team recently as part of joint effort raising money for the charity researching into the Parkinson’s Disease, from which he’s suffered for many years.

© MEATliquor 2016

© MEATliquor 2016

Next up from the NY gig, warm pigs head and bean salad

© Serious Eats 2008

© Serious Eats 2008

And finally, snail, trotter, sausage and chickpeas. Perfectly poached snails and al dente chickpeas in a hearty trotter infused broth:

© Serious Eats 2008

© Serious Eats 2008

Am I envious of all the lucky diners who managed to score seats at this gig? Is that sky pixie, voices in teh head, guy in Rome, a Catholic? And do Ursidae defecate in the forest? Hell yes!

And finally for this week? Well, finally Esther…

A look back at when the butchers at Sabatos Prime Meats — who started up nearly 100 years ago, back in 1918 — were (mainly) men and pigs were, well, apparently the size of frickin’ elephants!

© Sabato Prime Meats

© Sabato Prime Meats

We all love our Mangalitsas

But some of us (inc. yours truly) are more infatuated than others…

Tom Adams — star of Pitt Cue and Coombeshead Farm amongst others — rhapsodises about them and they’re served on the menu at the new Pitt Cue near Liverpool St. as you can see. The pig sketch isn’t bad at all; not up to Val Littlewood standards of course but hey, but then not much is.



And I managed to blag* a huge poster from him that used to adorn the old Pitt Cue in Soho after it closed down and this is a small portion, highlighting the swallow bellied Mangalitsa that he’s farming down in Cornwall

*(OK, it involved me handing over some folding stuff but still…)


Aren’t they just gorgeous.

And finally, Brynheulog Rare Breeds & Butchery. Wales. Genius bunch. Just look at how they use their loved pigs…



The Holy Trinity

No, not some bearded sky pilot or religious pixie voices talking in your head, shit, but instead the basis for so many great cuisines around the world. We first came across the phrase being used in its cookery sense when running the totally insane — and increasingly anarchic — B&B, The Creole Gardens in New Orleans.

We managed every now and then to escape (our very own Louisiana version of the Eagle’s Californian hotel) to eat at some great places in this, our favourite city, and speaking to some of the cooks and chefs there, it became apparent that their dishes pretty much all started with their Holy Trinity.

From France’s mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) to Germany’s Suppengrün (carrot, celeriac, leek) to the three beloved of Cajun cooking (onion, celery, green bell pepper), almost every style of cooking around the world starts with a common simple, balanced, vegetable base.

So, it seems only right that cooking the Fergus Henderson Trotter Gear, starts with onions, celery & carrots alongside the cleaned pigs trotters.

From this


via 4 hours of simmering later


to this.


OK, without the branding. But, hopefully, with all the taste.