Out damned spot(s)…

Give them shelter from the weather but let them out to roam across the fields & pastures.

That’s how pigs were always treated until the comparatively recent advent of factory farming and a lot of people are currently now, and rightly, trying to reverse this decline.

The pig farms I knew and lived on as a boy* were already showing signs of becoming the precursors to these huge, profit driven, stark “meat production” units now common. Huge covered stalls, pigs crammed inside all day & night, no room to move, to play, to explore, antibiotics used like Smarties.

There isn’t as far as I know, an equivalent word for pigs, to “inhumane” used for the two legged people. There should be.

*[As a side-note, I well remember on one farm, a huge barrel of black, molasses-like treacle, used as a treat for the pigs — it was also a treat for any children who managed to dip their fists into it whilst running past, trying not to let the farmer (and my father who was one of them) see your act of thievery.]

It was understandable why most farmers chose to take this approach, as both pricing, being driven by huge buying units, such as the supermarkets, pushing down prices to a rock-bottom and “taste” (driven by ill-conceived government edict & ill-informed “medical” advice) were changing the economics of farming, in a way that hadn’t been seen in any of the previous hundreds of years leading up to the last century and, counter-intuitively,  was one of the reasons why Danish bacon managed to get such a strangle-hold on the English market and shopping basket.

If you want bland, tasteless, watery, lean pork (lean pork; whoever thought this was a good thing?), supplied through a supermarket counter, then this is where your meat still comes from — but if, like us, you want good meat, flavoursome, different, interesting meat, from people who care passionately about their animals, then buy from the increasingly common small, far less intensive, rare breed suppliers.

[And before I get torrents of abuse from UK farmers: Yes, I know that pig living conditions have been improved slightly recently – although it took legislation to force you to make this happen – and that European farmers are now worse villains in the piece, as they’re failing to implement the relevant directives. But it’s still hugely far from the ideal.]

On a brighter note, the recent visit to Sylvia & John at Old Weston Garden Farm where Old Spots (and Berkshires) were running outside, prompted some great art-work by Val and a page on the history of this breed by me.

dotty-bg girlie-bg-

Chef Kerridge and a great piece of Mangalitza belly pork

I can’t lay any claim to being a great chef but still enjoy trying new tastes, new textures, flavours, smells, ingredients.

I decided to use Tom Kerridge’s recipe for the piece of pork belly we’d again bought from Brian at Rectory Reserve, served with lentils and black cabbage salsa from his “Proper Pub Food“¹ which involves (a) black cabbage (obviously), also called Cavolo nero² which I’d not knowingly matched with pork before and (b) the technique of brining, which I had used (but more on this in a separate post to come soon).

I forgot to take a photo of the results, so you’ll have to make do with this one from the recipe. Apart from the wooden table back-drop (and the plate), mine was indistinguishable (did you doubt it?) from his :)

kerridgebellypork

The great thing about his book is that even kitchen fools like me can follow it and produce (whilst not Tom Keller French Laundry-style quality, agreed) interesting takes on some standard ingredients.

So, did it work? Yes, hugely well.

The belly pork was rich, moist, succulent with great crisp crackling. The lentils, a crunchy delight, the salsa piquant & tart. It meshed together perfectly. If you’ve some good or even just cheap, belly pork, then you should rush out and grab the ingredients below (if not already stashed in the cupboards) and start this. The brining takes a minimum of 24hrs so it needs a little planning. That aside, it’s just a case of “follow the guide”.

Thanks Chef.

Ingredients

For the brine
For the pork belly and lentils
For the salsa

Preparation method

  1. Bring 1litre/1¾ pint of water and all of the brine ingredients to the boil. Make sure the sugar and salt have dissolved, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
  2. Place the pork belly in a plastic container with a lid. Pour the brine over the pork to cover and seal the container with the lid. Transfer to the fridge for 24 hours.
  3. Remove the pork belly from the brine and pat dry.
  4. Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2.
  5. Place the pork belly onto a wire rack suspended over a baking tray. Roast in the oven for 2½-3 hours, or until crisp and golden-brown. Once cooked, allow the pork to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  6. Heat a little oil in a saucepan set over a medium heat and add the bacon. Cook until crisp, then remove the bacon and add the onion to the pan. Fry until soft and translucent.
  7. Return the bacon to the pan. Stir in the herbs de provence and the lentils and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the white wine and bring to the boil. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat and cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are just soft.
  8. For the salsa, blanch the mint and parsley in a pan of boiling water for a minute. Remove from the pan, keeping the water boiling, and plunge into ice-cold water. Add the cabbage leaves to the boiling water and after two minutes place in the cold water with the herbs. When the leaves are cold, drain them thoroughly and squeeze to remove any excess water.
  9. Chop together the cabbage, mint leaves and parsley leaves. Add the grated garlic, chopped anchovies and capers. Put this mixture into a bowl with the chopped shallot, salt, cayenne pepper and lemon zest. Mix in the olive oil to make a rough salsa.
  10. To serve, slice the pork, spoon the lentils into a large serving bowl and serve with the salsa. ©BBC & Tom Kerridge

¹ An Amazon associate link — buy this book via the link here and Amazon send me money and make me rich beyond the dreams of avarice; I’ll soon be able to retire. Or maybe not.

² Some more interesting recipes for this vegetable are here at the BBC site.

Some good words about fat (or lard)…

On Friday we picked up some of the Berkshire Pig pork from the Old Weston Garden Farm small-holding, located only a few miles away from our village. We’d seen the pigs (they also have some Gloucester Old Spots which I’m writing more about now) the weekend before, trudging through the glutinous mud bath that was the current state of their fields and placed an order then, as they’d told us that the next male was off to the the local butcher (Hellett & Sons) at Kimbolton to be slaughtered during the coming week.

A comparatively new venture, run by Sylvia and John (and helped by a couple of part-time local assistants), they have a few acres on which they’re producing vegetables, chickens (and great multi-coloured eggs), turkeys for Christmas and, of course a little pork. This isn’t a big business, is incredibly hard work — they live in a caravan, are pretty much off-grid, having only solar panels for a small amount of electricity — and is one that we love to encourage and continue to buy from.

Vegetable sales start again later in the year (after the waters soak away and they can actually be seen and harvested!) from their millimetre-precisely laid out Kitchen Garden, designed in the French ‘Pottager’ style, mixing vegetables, flowers, fruit and herbs and they’re also halfway through building a metal barn from which they’ll be able to sell & to cook and prepare their food products inc. a great runner bean chutney.

Val is drawing the pigs & the chickens soon, so keep an eye on Pencil and Leaf.

Like Brian and Sylvia at Rectory Reserve, OWGF rightly make much of the healthy nature of the fat made from their pigs. Their own leaflet says it all:

owgf&fat

Pigs in The Smoke

We didn’t get a chance yesterday to grab one (or more) of their truly excellent hot-dogs from Herman Ze German’s place in Old Compton Street but this omission will be remedied very soon…

hermanzegerman

Popped quickly into the Wellcome Institute gallery (dodging around the building works) to see the “Foreign Bodies, Common Ground” exhibition.

Some interesting work, including this necklace piece on fossil history by Katie Paterson — there are some more great linked images by Val in her blog at Pencil and Leaf.

katiepatersonnecklace

And some very red pig imagery by Lêna Bùi from Ho Chi Minh City in her pieces on how cultural and sociopolitical backgrounds affect our own perceptions.

London. Just the best.

Buy & eat them today – way down West

An interesting piece on BBC Radio 4’s “On Your Farm” this morning; talking about The British Lop pig that I wrote about before, being bred at Trevaskis Farm in Cornwall, farmed by the Eustice family (in a strange quick of fate, one of whom happens to be a government minister — for food). A timely reminder of just quite how endangered this great pork species still remains. The best way to help? Buy and eat some of them. Today!

greatlophuntinghall

You can hear this piece here.

And finally, a quote from the Eustice family encapsulates just why these species should be encouraged (and eaten):

The rare breed British Lop Pigs reared at Trevaskis Farm today, are of the same bloodlines as those reared by the Eustice family since the late 1890s. The ‘Actress’ bloodline has only 29 registered breeding sows in the country, 10 of which are here at Trevaskis!

Rare breeds, such as the British Lop, take longer to grow to killing weight than, for example, the White, Landrace or Welsh breeds that are bred for supermarket supply. In rearing our own pigs in this way, we have avoided the pressures of needing a fast – growing breed and can be sure that the meat we produce is tastier, has been reared at home in a free –range environment and is killed locally.

We cure all our own bacon, gammons and hams as well as making our own delicious sausages and hogs pudding.