Ah, the vicissitudes of time. Two years ago, when there were NO currently relevant small-scale-farming introductory handbooks available, many of us welcomed the publication of Richard Langer's Grow It! with open arms. Now that we're all older and more experienced, however, some folks find it increasingly easy to criticize that breakthrough beginner's guide.
Which brings us to another breakthrough book that is just as important (probably more so) now as Grow It! was two years ago, and which may well come up for its share of criticism in another 24 months or so.
Be that as it may, John and Sally Seymour's record of 18 successful years of small scale farming on a 5-acre spread in England is important now and should offer welcome encouragement to today's back-to-the-landers... both real and imaginary. Many readers will want a personal copy for their home libraries. This chapter covers the process of raising pigs—and of slaughtering, butchering, and curing pork meat. —MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
A couple of flitches of bacon are worth fifty thousand Methodist sermons and religious tracts.— William Cobbett
If you have a cow you will ultimately find yourself making butter, and perhaps cheese, and then you will have skimmed milk and whey and what are you going to do with these? You can, in fact, fatten ducks or chickens on milk products, but the best use to which you can put them is to feed them to the pigs. Also, your fields and garden will by now be yielding you much waste that you cannot eat yourself. There is very little that a pig will not eat. True, you can compost vegetable waste, but show me a better way of composting anything than putting it through the guts of a pig!
There are several ways in which you can have pigs. For the individual or community seriously intent on being self-supporting the obvious purpose of the job is to have pigs to kill for meat. There is nothing wrong, though, in having a surplus to sell, or to trade with other people for other produce. Other considerations are: the fewer pigs you have the more completely you will be able to feed them on the waste products of your farm. A gallon of skimmed milk a day will go a long way to fattening a pair of baconers, but spread among a dozen its effect is not so noticeable: in fact you will have to feed them primarily on other food, the high protein part of it probably bought in. You are thus getting further from the idea of being self-supporting. But, say you only want two pigs, how are you going to get them? To be truly self-supporting you must breed them yourself. So you must have at least one sow. Now she will give you, say, twenty to as many as thirty piglets in a year (ours always used to give us twenty-four, never more, never less). You need two pigs to kill for your family. But of course you can always sell the others as weaners (that is at eight or ten weeks old, straight off the sow). But all this forces you to be in pigs in a bigger way. Then from where do you get the boar? You can't afford a boar to serve one sow. There are 'boar walkers' though, who go around carrying a boar in the back of a van, and who will come when you telephone them, provided you can catch your sow when she is in heat, which is not always easy. But this boar problem is a problem. One answer is to have enough sows to pay the wages, as it were, of a boar. My belief is that if you have six sows, or even as low as four, and they pay you really well, you can afford to support a boar. But again it drives you into a bigger and bigger commitment in pigs. From a man wanting a couple of baconers for his family you now become a pig farmer.
Of course the whole problem is eased if you are part of a like-minded community. Either the community can keep the boar in the centre, as it were, and lend him out to the communiteers, or else one member of the community can do all the sow keeping, and swap weaners for other produce. I say weaners; this is ecologically a sounder method than that the one pig keeper should fatten the pigs too, and simply trade pig meat with the other people. The pigs do better, and more good, and are fed more cheaply, if they are spread out among everybody.
But if you are on your own, and don't want to go into all the intricacies of sow keeping, you can simply buy a pair or more of weaners. I will personally have no part in suggesting to anybody that they should buy one weaner. I have made the point that the husbandman is a benevolent ruler and not a tyrant, and a benevolent ruler does not keep anybody in solitary confinement. But you can buy weaners, at this day and age, for from five to ten pounds. My advice is, if you have milk by-products, to buy the cheapest weaners you can. Normally weaners are sold at from eight to twelve weeks, and the older they are the dearer they are likely to cost. But if you have milk you can buy them very young—and thus get them cheaper.
Let us deal with this plan of buying weaners and fattening them first. The countryman who used to keep a pig at the bottom of the garden (all too often alone, I fear) used to show him to you and say: 'I'm only a "growin' " on him now o' course.' He meant that he was not feeding him a fattening ration, but just enough food to keep him growing, in good lean condition. When the time came, in would go the barley meal and the pig would be fattened. 'That's no good a "fattenin' " on him twice,' the owner would say. So when you first get the weaners your should feed them well, with plenty of milk, until they get over the shock of being weaned from their mother, and then feed them on a lower diet, and keep them active and happy, until they are fully grown. Then you should confine them in a warm place and simply push the food into them.
When I worked on a farm in Gloucestershire, as a boy, we fattened a hog until it was enormous: twice as big or bigger than any baconer that is killed today. We turned this pig into bacon and the bacon was nearly a hundred per cent fat. There was hardly a streak of lean in it. This bacon was never fried, but boiled. It was boiled in great chunks, and every morning the cold chunk of fat was put on the table for breakfast and we ate slices of it with dry bread and a boiled egg, and mustard. To have eaten it with butter would have been revolting, but as it was the stuff was perfectly delicious, marvellously digestible, and it kept us working at very hard manual labour, out of doors in the severest winter England had had, for many years for many hours a day. This is how pigs used to be eaten. Cobbett says: "Make him quite fat by all means—the last bushel does the most good if he sit to eat it." He goes on to say that if the pig can walk a hundred yards he is not fat, and that lean meat is only fit for wasters and drunkards.
Nowadays apparently we have a population of wasters and drunkards because the only baconers the market will accept are—like Cassius—lean and hungry pigs. Such pigs are dangerous. The fact is, of course, that people who live hard and out of doors can relish fat bacon, and it does them good. We all know the executives' nursery rhyme:
Ring a ring a roses
We all fall down!
Animal fat only gives seizures and coronary thrombosis to people who do not get enough exercise. When this nation was fed on fat bacon and fat beef and mutton the disease was unknown. Now, as meat gets leaner and leaner until it nearly fades away, thrombosis is increasing faster than any other disease except lung cancer. It is idleness that causes diseases of the heart. True manual workers never get coronary thrombosis, and nor do self-supporters. But it's all a matter of taste. I like fat bacon—boiled, mind, not fried in yet more fat. If you don't, well don't have it—kill your pigs when they are lean.
If you want good fat bacon buy your weaners in the spring and kill them just before Christmas. At Christmas you should be eating hams killed the Christmas before; hung a year they are so much better. And it's nice to have some fresh pork at Christmas anyway.
I do not like to see pigs kept indoors all the time. If you let confined pigs out of their confinement it is pathetic to see them snort and gallop and leap about in their happiness to be free at last. During the last month or two of fattening a pig keep him indoors by all means, he seems to get his pleasure then from the thing a pig likes, after all, to do more than anything else—eating. But until this fattening stage—when you are 'a "growin' " on him', let him out. Of course you can't let him run anywhere or he will do endless damage. And this is where we draw on the resources of the modern world. The electric fence is your answer. You can keep pigs in with pig netting, with a strand of well-strained barbed wire at the bottom, but it's a running battle. Electric fence is the thing, either two single strands or the new electric netting which is very good. If you use single strands and find they don't work try erecting wire netting behind them, for its psychological effect. Pigs are tryers. In a world with no electric fencing I would say, tether your pigs. A rope or leather harness with one strap in front of the pig's forelegs and another behind them will do the trick. Incidentally, if you want a quiet life never try to keep prick-eared pigs, like the Large White, out of doors. The flop-eared pig is far more likely to stay behind a fence, for his ears hang down over his eyes.
But while we have electricity let us use it, and part of your garden thus fenced off, and well pigged, will benefit enormously. It is the way to bare-fallow land. If you like you can grow a fodder crop and put the pigs into that, or you can put the pigs into your potato patch after you have harvested it (the pigs will find the last potato) or you can just bare fallow. On a small enough area the pigs will destroy every weed, if you leave them there long enough even the horrid perennial weeds like spear grass or twitch. They will bring valuable elements up from the subsoil, they will heavily manure the land, and they will leave it twice as valuable as it was before. Don't ring them. Let them dig. Don't expect a couple of pigs to do much good to half an acre though, concentrate them.
Meanwhile you have got to feed them something as well as what they can find for themselves. While they have plenty of milk (skimmed milk is just as good for them as whole milk would be) milk mixed into bran or other wheat offal is all they need. Milk and barley meal are very good too, but unnecessarily expensive, if you can sell your barley or have to buy it. In the fattening stage milk and barley meal is the finest food you can give them. If you can't give them milk then you will have to buy in some protein. The easiest thing to do is to give them proprietary cake; 'outdoor pig nuts' are the easiest. They are big and won't get trodden into the ground easily. Just throw them down at half the rate recommended on the bag and let the pigs hunt for them. Or you can buy fish meal and mix it with any kind of meal at the rate of about ten percent fish meal. Or twenty percent beans in a mash will give them enough protein: feed them as much as they can clear up in twenty minutes and squeal for more.
You can give the pigs all your small or misshapen potatoes. You can often buy 'stock feed' potatoes at very little a ton, or spoiled carrots (but if these have been washed they won't keep) or other spoiled food. Kitchen swill is always fine for pigs. I know a man who buys tons of stale bread from a bakery and his wife has to spend hours pulling the wrappers off sliced loaves. (Ugh!) Fodder crops you can grow specially are fodder beet, carrots, potatoes, kale and greens of all sorts and, most important on light land anyway, Jerusalem artichokes. The latter are marvellous; they grow in the roughest and most weed-infested land, their foliage smothers everything, and the pigs thrive by rooting them up. Take the pigs to the artichokes though, not the artichokes to the pigs. Let the pigs do the work. Or plant a special pig field, a field you want to 'pig' anyway, to clean it and fertilize it. Plant, say, a strip of Jerusalem artichokes, one of fodder beet, one of kale. Give them a little of all three. Then, when they have cleared that up, move them on. Variety is the spice of life.
Always keep a pig bucket in the scullery. When we have a pigless period we don't know what to do. What do we do with that lovely greasy rich washing-up water? Criminal to throw it down the sink. What do we do with the celery tops, the potato peelings, the carrot tops, the waste food? Out in the garden what do we do with the bean and pea haulms, the sweet corn tops, the scythed nettles, the pulled-out weeds? If we have pigs they will either eat it or tread it into the soil as good compost.
As for how much concentrated food to give your pigs, give them as much as they will clear up quickly. If there is any left after half an hour give them less next day. Keep them a little hungry for concentrates.
As for housing, if pigs are running out of doors they will need the minimal, but they will need some. They will need a dry place and some shelter from the rain. That is all. What form it takes every man must decide for himself as long as it is the cheapest and easiest, and the most mobile, for you will be dragging it around with the pigs. You can buy Pigloos.
Now for sows and pig breeding. I will say very little about this, only that sows thrive out of doors, provided they are not overstocked on the same land for too long. At a high rate of stocking I like to move pigs on to fresh ground at least once every six weeks, otherwise a worm infestation builds up and the pigs suffer. Let loose in a wood pigs do wonders. If you give them two pounds of pig nuts a day when they are dry that will do them. After they have farrowed though you must give them from six to eight, depending upon how much other food they can get and how many piglets they have. All this business of feeding animals is common sense really. You can find pages of complicated instructions and tables and starch equivalents and all the rest of it in the text books but if you just keep animals, and watch them carefully, and note whether they are growing or not, are hungry or not, and use your common sense, you don't need a whole lot of scientific gobble-de-gook.
As to housing and management of breeding sows, there must be a shelter—no matter how rough (and it doesn't matter) but more or less waterproof—available for a sow, for her sole use, when she farrows. That is all. The books will tell you to put no litter in a farrowing pen. We put as much litter in as the sow thinks she needs. Throw straw or bracken or what have you outside if you like; before the sow farrows she will carry as much as she needs in herself in her mouth. We then leave the sows completely alone. Don't go near them. We have never worried about farrowing rails (although there's nothing wrong with them) nor infrared lights, or any of the rest of it. In eight years at the Broom we kept sows all the time, up to six of them, and our losses of piglets were as nearly nil as it was possible for them to be. In eight years I seem to remember burying two piglets. Once you start to interfere with nature, with sows, you've got to interfere more and more. Keep them too confined and they get worms—so you have to confine them even more, on concrete. Keep them on concrete and they can't get iron, so you have to inject the piglets with it or they get anaemia. Farrow them in a confined space with plenty of straw and they get confused and smother the piglets.
So you give them no straw. They then lose their natural chain of instinctual actions—nest-making and all the rest of it—so they lay on, or eat, their piglets. They are mixed up. So you confine them in a farrowing crate where they can't move at all and attract the piglets away from them with a warm infrared light. And the piglets get virus pneumonia. So you go in for embryotomy. You kill the sow and take the piglets out of her belly in aseptic conditions and bring them up in sterile boxes. This is actually being done on a large scale in America and more and more in England. Pigs are now being kept, all their lives, in total darkness except when they are fed, and in tiny wire cages like battery hens. Where do you go from there?
Right back, I should say, to keeping sows under the most natural conditions possible, allowing their proper chain of instincts to work itself out. We used to get a pound a head more for our piglets than other weaner producers because the fatteners knew they would never get virus pneumonia. They had spent their lives running about in the open air, and getting what minerals they wanted straight from the soil, and they were as tough and hardy as wild boars.
In most parts of Britain at least there is a public slaughterhouse somewhere in the vicinity; although these get fewer and fewer and further and further as the great philosophy of the twentieth century—Bigger Means Better—has its sway. Where at one time a bullock was quietly walked a mile or two to the village slaughterhouse, rested in the butcher's paddock for the night, and knocked on the head next morning, now he is crammed into the back of a huge cattle truck with thirty others, banged and lurched, terrified, over up to a hundred miles of roads, forced bellowing into a blood-reeking meat factory and eventually slaughtered. All in the sacred name of Progress.
However, if there is a slaughterhouse not too far away you can send your pig, or pigs, there and have them slaughtered for a fee. You have to get them in there though, pay for the job to be done, and go and fetch the meat back again. You make, in other words, four journeys. It is therefore very much better, if you can, to slaughter them yourself.
In most real country districts there is at least one man who will kill you a pig for a small fee. He makes it part of his living. Or perhaps there is a friendly village butcher who will do it for you. If you can entertain such a man with friendship and home brewed beer he will do it the more willingly, and be the more likely to come and do it again. Pig killing may seem to the townsman to be a brutal and grisly business, but in fact the occasion can have a kind of boozey, bucolic charm.
I kill my pigs with a .22 rifle, which I claim is the most humane method there could be. I have killed three pigs a year for sixteen years and only once (when I first began) did I have to use a second shot. I lure the pig quietly out of his sty into the cow shed with a little food in a bucket (he has had no supper the night before) and put the food into a dish. As the pig starts to eat the food I shoot him in the brain. Anywhere in the head will stun him actually, but I always shoot him in the brain. Draw a line with your imagination from his left ear-hole to his right eye, and from his other ear-hole to his other eye, and where the two lines cross, shoot him. You could not shoot him thus with a humane killer because he would not stand still for you. As soon as you put the humane killer near his head he would move away. Therefore if you use a humane killer you will have to rope your pig (getting a slipping noose in his mouth and round his snout) and he will squeal and struggle, and his last moments will be violent and unhappy and not perfectly peaceful as they should be. The .22 is by far the kindest way to kill a pig. One moment he is happily eating—the next moment he is in Heaven.
lmmedlately after you have shot him, stick him in the front of the neck. The place to stick seems easy to see in practice. Suffice to say that you should use a shortish knife (6 inches is long enough), stick it two inches in front of his breastbone at an angle of 45 degrees from the horizontal line of the pig and keep it dead central. You can easily feel the breastbone if you are in doubt, then remember, insert the knife two inches in front of it and at an angle of 45 degrees up towards the back of the pig. Thus will you cut both the carotid arteries and the jugular vein. Two things will happen. One is that blood will gush out in great quantity and now is the time for your wife to be at hand to catch it in a basin if she wants to make black pudding and has a stronger stomach than most people's wives (our blood goes down the drain I am afraid), and, secondly, the pig will begin to kick as though it is trying to win the Grand National. Let it kick, and remember it can feel nothing—its soul is in Heaven playing a porcine harp. If your wife has caught the blood, incidentally, she must stir it or whip it immediately otherwise it will clot.
We thereupon haul out pig up on a tackle, to make sure that all the blood drains out. Most people don't bother.
Some people drop their pig into a huge half tub containing scalding water. We used to but now do not. We went through a phase of pouring methylated spirits over the pig and lighting it and letting it burn like a Christmas pudding but have given that up too. Now we do what all the local Pembrokeshire people do around here, we let the pig lie on the concrete floor and pour the scalding water over the pig. The object of this is so that you can scrape the bristles off the pig. Now great skill is needed for this, and this is one of the arts that you had better learn from your local expert.
The water must be from 145° to 150° F (63° to 66° C) and no more. If it is too cold it won't get the bristles out; if it is too hot it will 'fix' them and you'll never get them out. The local wise man will know whether the water is right by looking into it (as a brewer does). If he can see his face in it it is right. Or he will put one part of cold water into three parts of boiling water. That is as good. You must have plenty of hot water ready—ten gallons is not too much.
Pour some of the scalding water over part of the pig—slowly—then keep plucking at the bristles. Suddenly they will come out easily in your fingers. Now is the time to start scraping. Don't scrape with a knife, the lid of a tin is ideal, or a tin coffee-pot lid. Don't cut the skin. Just scrape until the bristles come out and if the pig started off by being a black pig, it will end up as a white pig. Colour, in pigs as in humans, is not even skin deep. Meanwhile your wife/mistress/home-brew-drinking neighbour is busy pouring more water on a different place. Scrape away. Put each trotter right into a jug of scalding water, pull it out, scrape it, and yank the horny hoof off with a pair of pincers or a hook. In a very short time the pig will be clean. Do his head too—every part of him. Suffer not a bristle to remain and mar his beauty. Besides hot water you need plenty of home brew to go with this operation.
Now 'hock' your pig, or ham string him, that is cut behind the tendons (ham strings) at the back of his hind legs just above the hoof. A glance at a pig carcase in a butcher's shop will show you how to do this. This tendon, although slender, is amazingly strong. Put the ends of a gamble through these tendons. A gamble is a spreader: a metal or wooden stick, maybe fifteen inches long, hung from its middle by a block tackle, and with flattened out and curving ends for hanging a pig on. See them also in any butcher's shop. Now split the breastbone of the pig with knife and chopper. Do this immediately. Haul the pig off the ground with the tackle.
We always cut the head off at this juncture. I think it simplifies things to do so. Some people leave the head on and split it when they split the pig, but you cannot do this until next day. We cut the head off at the first vertebra and put it where no flies can get to it (but normally we kill pigs in the winter when there are no flies, and I do not recommend killing them in the summer anyway) and now we gut it. This takes skill, and common sense. Get on a chair behind the pig and encircle its anus with the point of the knife. You do this so that the bowel will drop out when you get the guts out and not tear, leaving the anus behind where you don't want it and spilling excrement all over the place. You very carefully cut the actual anus, or arse-hole, of the pig right round so as to separate it from the rest of the pig. Before you cut the last bit you grab it with one hand, cut it away completely, haul the bowel out a few inches and get a friend (it seems a little indelicate to ask your wife) to tie a piece of string round it. This is, as I hope you have guessed, to stop any excrement coming out of it. Now you let it go and the weight of the rest of the bowels pulls it down inside the pig.
This grisly business over you get down, and round to the belly of your pig, and you very carefully insert just the point of your knife in the middle of the belly just about where our solar plexus would be. Only let the knife just cut through the skin—you are not Jack the Ripper. Then insert your forefinger in along the back of the knife and move the knife upwards (i.e., towards the tail of the pig) with your forefinger acting as a guard to prevent that unforgivable happening: shoving the knife point into the paunch or guts and thus fouling your meat. Cut right up to where the two hind legs join. Dissect out the penis and urethra and bladder if a male pig, and bladder if a female. Now as you open the belly the paunch and guts will try to get out. You now see why you were told to split the breastbone while the pig was on the ground: if you had not done so the guts would be hanging down out of the pig and you wouldn't have been able to.
Let the guts flop out into a tin bath.
Carefully remove the pluck. This is the liver, heart, and lungs, with a few oddments, all hung together on the windpipe or trachea. Cut the gall bladder out, very carefully so as not to splash gall over anything at all, and throw it away. Stick a hook through the windpipe and hang the pluck up in a fly-proof place.
We always chuck a couple of buckets of cold water into the eviscerated pig to wash the blood out of it. Some experts might tell you that this is not a good idea. I think it is though.
Then go and finish the rest of the home brew. You deserve every drop of it, you and your companions. About the only part of the pig that is fit to eat for supper that night is the liver.
Next morning go back to your pig. He has been hanging up all night, we hope, in a nice cold draught, where neither rat nor cat can get at him. Cut a score down his back, through all that back fat, from his tail to where his head used to be, right along the central line. You can feel this for part of the way with the finger, but much depends on a good eye and judgment. Next take a light sharp chopper—not one of your vast axes such as beheaded Mary Queen of Scots—and chop the backbone right down the middle. Split your pig right in half. Now obviously when you pull one half of that pig off the gamble the latter will tip up and deposit the other half on the floor. You must allow for this either by tying the other half up, or getting somebody stronger than your poor wife to take it off while you take your half off. And half a large baconer is very heavy indeed let me tell you.
Lay your half on the table and cut it into suitable joints for curing. Our plan is to lay the side skin-side down, put the knife in under the tail (or where the tail should be) and with the blade slanting towards the head end of the pig cut a good generous curve until you hit bone. Then start at the belly side of the pig and do the other half of the proposed generous circle until you hit the bone again. Then a few strokes of the meat saw (or any old saw) will cut through the bone and complete the job. Like this, as you started under the tail, you miss the spine of course. You now have what looks very much like a ham. Cut the trotter off but below the first joint, so that you have plenty of leg to hang the ham up by.
Cut the pig straight across, at right angles to its back, about nine inches from the tail (at the point at which the spine suddenly curves upwards). This odd bit of meat, which is good, we use as a roasting joint in due course. It is an awkward shape for salting though.
Now inside the side of the pig is the belly fat, which makes the finest lard, and this we rip out. All fat is cut into little pieces and put into a big crock, with a little water, and put into the slow oven. Do not overheat it as it will burn. From time to time pull it out of the slow oven and pour the liquid fat off it, and put it into basins; but more of that anon.
Now pull the kidney out, and then carefully cut out the tenderloin: that strip of lean meat inside the carcase near the kidney. This should be baked in due course draped with the caul of the beast: that thin membrane with dollops of fat all over it on which the small intestines were hung. With onions it is quite delicious.
Separate the forequarter from the side. To do this cut right across the carcase between the 4th and 5th ribs, just behind the shoulder blade.
You will now have a ham, a forequarter, and a side. The side is a big one. Maybe you will prefer, for ease of handling, to split it right down the middle, sawing through the ribs, so as to leave a back and a belly. The belly will be poor tack: a thinnish sheet and mostly fat. We used to roll this and put it in a wet pickle, but it is good for sausages. You can dry salt it, only don't leave it in the salt for more than a week. You also have a couple of good roasting joints from where the loin was. You can cut the forequarter into joints and roast it too if you like, or you can salt it like the ham. First cut the blade bone off if you like, and use that fresh as a joint.
There are scores of methods of curing ham and bacon, but I will give you the simplest and most widespread, in England and Wales at least. I will just describe what we do, and what most of my neighbours do (or such as still cure their own bacon).
We have a big slate salting bench. We dump some dry salt on this (you will need at least forty pounds of salt to do a pig in comfort. If you wish to be more economical with salt you will have to be a lot more careful and take a lot more trouble. We just use a lot of salt and bury the pig in it). Lay a ham on the salt. Sprinkle as much saltpetre as you can hold between your finger and thumb on the cut end of the ham. Take a handful of soft brown sugar and shove that on the cut end of the ham. Rub it, and the saltpetre with it, in hard. Then rub salt in, and rub in hard. Then treat the skin-covered part of the ham the same. Now I know that all the books tell you to weigh the saltpetre, and mix it thoroughly with the salt, etc., but once you have to start messing about weighing dribs and drabs of this and that the meat will go bad while you are fussing. The method I have described has worked for perhaps a hundred hams with me and they have all been excellent. Bury the ham in salt. Do the same with all the other joints. Add enough saltpetre just for the merest sprinkling. The saltpetre is supposed to preserve the colour of the meat. I have a shrewd suspicion that if you didn't use it at all the ham would be just as good but I don't know. You needn't use sugar, but most people do, particularly for the hams. It makes them sweeter. Squeeze the hams hard and a gout of blood will come out from a certain vein. See how much of this you can squeeze out.
Then every day, for three days, take the joints out and rub them hard with salt. See that they get dry salt in contact with them all over, and put them back again, probably upside down. After three days just leave them be in the salt. Take the bellies out in a week, the sides out in a fortnight, the forequarters out in a fortnight to three weeks depending on how big they are, and the hams out in three weeks to a month (three weeks if they are just ordinary sized hams). Rinse the salt off them and hang them up in an even temperature somewhere and let them dry off for a week or two. We hang ours straight in the simnai fawr. The simnai fawr is the big chimney over our fireplace open to the sky. There is a bend in this chimney so part of it is not exposed to the rain, and there are pipes up there as a rack. I hang the meat up there, high above the fire, where it gets the smoke and does not get too hot. It must not get too hot, or the fat goes rancid. It wants to be a good ten feet above the fire. If you haven't got a simnai fawr you can build a smoke-house, and this I will describe in a later installment. Smoke for a week or a fortnight, depending how often you have the fire alight, and then take down and store. Smoking preserves meat and gives it a fine flavour but it is not necessary. Plenty of people around here don't smoke.
We store ours by just hanging it up. Many people bandage their hams and hang them up or, better still I believe, wrap them well and store them down in a chest buried in dry ashes, or dry bran or oats, but you must watch for mice or mites with the latter. This prevents the hams from drying out. If hung it should be hung in the dark, and in fresh air.
When you need a bit of bacon, cut a big slice off one of the sides, bone it (troublesome—but watch a grocer do it one day), and slice it as you need it. But it is saltier than shop bacon (which is not meant to keep) so soak the slices in fresh water for up to half an hour before frying it. If you wish to boil a lump of it soak it for twelve hours first.
Keep the hams, if you can, a full year. Scrub well, soak all night, put in water with plenty of pepper and simmer (not boil) for 25 minutes for every pound of ham. Let it cool in its own liquor. Eat cold.
There are plenty of sweet pickles for hams. These generally involve plunging the fresh ham into a brine made with such things as beer or cider mixed with treacle, sugar, spices and salt. Keep turning it in the pickle for, say, a month. Here is a typical cure, such as one of our Suffolk neighbours used to recommend:
1 qt. old ale
1 lb. brown sugar
2 lbs. salt
1 oz. peppercorns
1 qt. malt vinegar
3/4 oz. saltpetre
1 oz. cloves
Boil it all together, cool it, soak the ham in it for a month. I tried this but found I needed a lot more pickle. The ham was very good though.
Curing bacon and ham is much simpler than people think, and if you follow the above simple instructions for the ordinary dry cure you will have no trouble and not go wrong. (But don't blame me if you do—and don't try it in the summer!)
Now what has your faithful wife been doing while all this has been going on?
Why, the very first day she has taken the stomach and large intestine, hereinafter called the chitlings, down to a clean brook if she has one, or in the sink if she hasn't, opened them and carefully washed the excrement out of them. She has then cut the large intestine into six-inch lengths (if she doesn't want it for sausage), put it and the stomach, also cut up, into a clean bowl, taken them back to the house, scalded with boiling water, washed in cold water, and then filled the bowl with brine. She changes and charges the brine every day for a few days, then she boils the stuff for two hours, lets it cool, and fries it with onions. It is perfectly delicious.
Another fate waits the small intestines, and maybe the large too. These, as soon as the pig is killed or at least the next day, are separated from the fat that clings to them and unravelled. One end is put on the cold tap and the tap turned on, whereupon they writhe about like a snake, but eventually all the excrement is washed out of them. They are then turned inside out on a smooth stick, which is easier than it sounds. They are then laid flat on a board and scraped with the back of a knife. This gets the gut lining off them. They are then coiled down tight in dry salt and put away until they are needed as sausage casings.
The bladder is washed out well. A small funnel can be poked into it and hot lard poured in. The lard cools and the thing is hung up as a storage vessel for lard. As for the rest of the fat, as the days go by you will render out more and more beautiful white lard which you can pour into sterilized jars or bottles, cover well, when it will keep for some time. If you have a deep freeze put some of it in that to keep longest. You will have free cooking fat for a very long time indeed.
Now for that grisly memento mori, the head. As soon as you have time, that first day, shove it in a big crock and fill it with brine. Let it soak for two or three days or more until you have some leisure. Then the bath chaps (which are the cheeks) can be cut off separately and hung in the smoke and cured. They are very delicious boiled and eaten cold with plenty of mustard. Whether you do this or not shove the head, with or without its cheeks, in a large boiler together with the trotters and any other gristly bits and simmer for four hours or so. Pull it all out and take all the meat off the bones. Cut the meat up small (you can mince it if you like), mince six large onions, put plenty of pepper and other spices on the meat (the more the merrier in my opinion), skim the fat off the soup that you boiled the meat in, put the meat back into the soup and simmer for two hours, or until the liquor is reduced to what common sense tells you it ought to be. Pour the stuff hot into basins and let cool. You now have a delicious brawn, which will keep for a month or more in a cold winter, and for ever if you bag it and put it in the deep freeze. Or you can pour it boiling into kilner jars, boil the jars for 20 minutes, and seal.
English and Welsh home-cured bacon and ham is as good as any in the world, but there is one thing that the British have never cottoned on to, and that is the Continental-type sausage. The whole idea of this is that it is a way—and a delicious way—of preserving meat. Our English sausages are fine to eat fresh, or to keep in the deep freeze, but it is an enormous advantage to be able to make a big glut of meat into sausages that can be hung up from the ceiling, and left for months, and one hauled down whenever you feel like it, and sliced and eaten raw. If you have bread and butter and that kind of sausage you always have a sumptuous meal waiting ready for you.
We have tried dried sausage (if one can call such a delicious thing by such a pedestrian name) with casings from the small intestine of the pig, and these are fair enough but are too small to keep moist for very long or to provide conditions necessary for producing that succulent thing, a true, smoked, spicy and garlicky Continental sausage. To make such a thing you need the large intestine of the ox, if you can get it, or the sheep if you can't, or large intestine of the pig, which you must treat in the same way as I have described for treating the small intestine above. You want to produce a sausage as thick as your wrist.
There are a hundred different recipes for producing what I must call, for want of a better word, Continental sausage. Some of them are contained in a very useful book: Charcuterie and French Pork Cooking by Jane Grigson (Michael Joseph). All such recipes call for an ounce of this and half an ounce of that and it all sounds terribly complicated, and of course by making small adjustments in the ingredients you can make small differences to your resulting sausage; but the principles of the thing are simple enough, and if you keep the principles in mind you can make what sort of sausages you like, and very good they will be too.
You need some lean meat and some fat. The lean of course will be from the 'cheapest' cuts of your pig. You can put beef in too if you like. We used to use one part lean pork, one part lean beef, and one part belly fat of pork. Two parts of lean pork and one part of fat are a good mixture. Bacon fat will do too.
For every three pounds of lean-and-fat you need:
1 oz. salt
2 tsp. of pepper
2 or 3 cloves of garlic
As much spice of whatever sort you have
Some people like 1 Tbs. of brown sugar
If you haven't marinated the meat in wine a glassful of any kind of wine is useful, or liquer.
A big pinch of saltpetre
Mince the lean meat and cut the fat into small dices (it is the latter which gives the cut sausage that white-speckled appearance). We have always marinated the lean meat for twelve hours in elderberry wine and it works very well. You should really, of course, use grape wine. Or you don't need to marinate at all. Try both.
Whether or not you marinate, mix the whole lot up together and stuff it all, raw as it is, into your casing. Tie the long casing off into sausages of the length you fancy, hang up in a warm dry place—this is important—not warmer than 70° F (21° C). A steady 60° F is what you should aim at. If you have an Aga that never goes out nearby that is ideal. Now if you have a big open chimney, or any other kind of smoking device, hang the sausages up in it after say a week of drying and smoke them for a day and a night. Take them down and hang them in a well-aired dry place and forget them for six months. They will grow a white mould over them. Hooray. Give them at least six months (if you can wait) to mature. Eat them raw.
But the meat will shrink a lot, and if you use large casings you will have to squeeze the meat down hard into one end of the casing once or twice during the drying to keep it tight. Then tie the skin off to keep it tight. It is a good thing also, with big sausages, to tie them round with string like Malvolio's cross garters, and to tighten the strings from time to time to keep the sausage compressed. I have seen fine sausages made like this using the pig's bladder, and I think this would be a very good use for the bladder, rather than filling it with lard or blowing it up like a balloon and giving it to the children to clown about with.
If you don't like so much fat don't use so much. If you don't like garlic don't use it. The casing is important: you can't use plastic, for the reason that it cannot breathe and the meat could not dry out. Bacterial action of a benign sort takes place within the sausages also and that needs the controlled transpiration that natural animal membrane can give. Remember: nothing is cooked. It is all raw. It may seem an insuperable obstacle that you have got to find animal large intestines, but if you go to any slaughterhouse they will give you guts galore, and all you have to do, remember, is turn the guts inside out, scrape the lining off with the back of a knife, wash well, and pack down in dry salt until you need them. Pack down close and away from air.
Our getting a deep freeze, and a bigger farm, put paid to our Continental sausage-making activities. It is so much quicker to shove everything into the deep freeze. But there is nothing to touch well spiced and smoked and well matured Continental sausage: it is perhaps the most delicious food there is. And next time you see some in a shop just inquire the price of it—per ounce—let alone per pound! And it is very easy to make after all; the biggest trouble is mincing the stuff and for that you must have a good mincing machine. Kenwood has a mincer plus sausage-filling attachment.
Your true porker is a much smaller pig than your baconer. A baconer can be nearly a year old, a porker say four months. If you have a deep freeze, to kill a porker is all very well (you do it in exactly the same way as you do a baconer), or also if you make Continental sausages. But it is better to take your pigs on to bacon weight and then get what pork you want out of them before baconing or making sausages of the rest. Pork, like all other meat except offal, should be hung in a cool draughty place for several days before either cooking, or putting in the deep freeze.
But about this time it is more than possible that the Methodist parson will pay you a visit. It is remarked in America that these gentlemen are attracted by the squeaking of pigs, as the fox is by the cackling of the hen.—William Cobbett, Cottage Economy.
At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).
You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.