Posts Tagged ‘books’

Alert reader Jean Conover sent me an article from The Des Moines Register, “Will varietal pork be the next foodie craze?” In the article, Herb Eckhouse of LaQuercia says we lost the ability to recognize the difference between different breeds when the pig hits the plate (so to speak) when pork production became industrialized. That might be changing now that more restaurants are naming their sources on menus and specialty stores are indicating the breed of the animal on their packaging, however. If “name-dropping a specific breed of hog” really becomes a way to impress your friends as this article concludes it might, Stone’s Throw Farm pork buyers will be set!

Another foodie acknowledges later in the article that it’s difficult to compare taste unless you’re sampling pork from different breeds side by side, such as at a tasting event, but it’s certainly not impossible to sample each other’s food at a restaurant or buy several different packages of bacon and compare them at home.

I know I was impressed when I first saw a clipping about Berkshire pork taped to the display case at Northern Waters Smokehaus here in Duluth a few years back — I thought I was the only one in town who knew that Berks are “Sweeter tasting than most.”

I’ve also been reading about how what you feed pigs affects the taste of the meat in Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them, which claims that finishing (i.e., feeding an animal as it nears ideal market weight) pigs on acorns and peanuts makes for the best pork. We don’t have many oak trees at Stone’s Throw Farm, nor will peanuts grow well in this climate, but I’m planning to grow oats and field peas for our piggies this year and I’m open to ideas.

I didn’t read all of Pig Perfect because I got it through inter-library loan and didn’t get around to finishing it in time, but it was fairly interesting. I was hoping for more encounters with remarkable swine and less discussion about cooking them, but I was amused by the discussion of how pigs became domesticated in the first place. I like the idea that the friendliness of pigs played a part in it:

Pigs, the more I think about them, were born to be domesticated. They are the best converter of plant to meat of any large animal.  . . . Add to this the fact that pigs are friendly, don’t seem to mind being around people (in fact, they appear to like it), and don’t require a lot of management. If there is food around, they will eat it and stay close to home.”

That last sentence could be used to explain the behavior of a lot of people, too.

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Farming is Blackmail

Heard about The Dirty Life? Not dirty as in unmentionable; dirt as in actual soil. It’s Kristin Kimball’s book about Essex Farm, which she and her now-husband (then fiance — the book is subtitled “On Farming, Food, and Love,” but I found the first two topics more interesting) revived and turned into a “whole diet” CSA farm. I recently finished the book and I enjoyed it, but it’s not good bedtime reading, at least not for the farmers and aspiring farmers out there!

Let’s just say many of Kristin’s anxieties about her farm were the same as my anxieties, and though I wasn’t nearly as ambitious as the Kimball’s were their first year at Essex Farm (they took on a lot of animals, for one thing, including draft horses), reading about their exhausting undertaking made me feel . . . well, exhausted. She summed it up pretty well:

A farm is a manipulative creature. There is no such thing as finished. Work comes in a stream and has no end. There are only the things that must be done now and things that can be done later. The threat the farm has got on you, the one that keeps you running from can until can’t is this: do it now, or some living thing will wilt or suffer or die. It’s blackmail, really.”

Uplifting, isn’t it? To be fair, Kristin included plenty of humorous and self-deprecating stories (the time she moved the pigs from one barn to another might have been my favorite: “I thought about how the devil is supposed to have a cloven foot, just like the pig”), and her account of the day when winter gave way to spring gave me hope.

Anyone interested in getting a peek at what life is really like on a farm will enjoy this book, and it should probably be required reading for CSA members. Just remember, all you new farmers out there: don’t pick it up at bedtime, at least not if you actually want to get to sleep.

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The Pig Bug

I’ve been reading Coop by Michael Perry (it’s not as good as Truck or Population: 485, but it’s okay) and his descriptions of the two pigs he raised are making me miss my summer 2010 piggies.

They are absolutely single-minded in their dedication to destroying what I had built, but they are just so playful about it all. Absolutely vandalous creatures, but gleeful in their depredations.”

I also enjoyed Perry’s description of the pigs running:

. . . [O]ftentimes Cocklebur gets so worked up she stampedes herself in tight stiff-legged circles, her chunky body teeter-tottering fore and aft.”


My mom — who has perhaps raised too many pigs in her lifetime to delight in their antics quite as much as I do — seems to have nevertheless caught enough of my newfound pig enthusiasm to want to farrow a couple of litters for me herself. She and my dad got a couple of really nice bred gilts (pregnant females, for those of you not up on the hog lingo) from my grandpa recently. Here they are chewing on ground ear corn in my parents’ barn. It’s not actually snowing in the barn — the camera’s flash just picked up the dust in the air.

My dad fashioned a little hut for them, which helps to trap the gilts’ body heat and keep them warm in the big, uninsulated barn. I didn’t get a photo of the gilts in the hut, but when they finished eating they got right in it and settled down side by side with their noses pointed toward the hut door. They looked snug.

While we were visiting my parents this past week, Elden and I helped clean out the old farrowing house (a building set up for pig birthing) where my parents will house the gilts closer to their due dates — toward the end of February. Even though it’s probably been 15 years since my parents had any hogs on the farm, the teeth cutter, ear notcher, and piglet scale are still hanging in the farrowing house, and the propane space heater fired right up after my dad dusted it off. I can’t wait for piglets!

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I just ran across this post from Julie at Feministe (I know, I know — do some real work, Catherine!) in which she reviews the new book, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. I’m now very interested in reading the book, which according to Julie includes some good factoids, though the author made some “pretty stunning assumptions” about locavores and “hasn’t actually researched any food justice movements.”

My favorite part of the review is Julie’s statement, “You know, this book would have been terrific had it been a completely different book.” I’m taking it out of context, but this sentence sounds exactly like what my mom was supposed to tell her high-school students when they gave her an incorrect answer (i.e., “Your answer would be correct if the question was ….”). Only problem was, my mom was a math teacher. She used to joke that sometimes the only thing she could say to keep with this teaching method was, “Your answer would be correct if every other number in the universe had been obliterated.”

In case you’re wondering what completely different book Julie was hoping for:  she wrote that author James E. McWilliams would have done better “to work with locavores rather than picking a fight with them.” Here’s her review.

Has anyone read Just Food yet?

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