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Archive for the ‘cooking’ Category

Baguette for a pillow

Spring is here, and the pigs are beginning to smell. Which means: the pigs are running out of time. I’ve never dispatched a pig before and all week I’ve been feeling a little sick with worry at the thought of it. But my friend, and pig project partner, who is from Alabama, seems to think that hog butchering and eating isn’t anything out of the ordinary. In fact, everyone from the South seems to think that hog butchering is just about as American as the Fourth of July. In the last few months alone, there was a free hog roast on the river by Audubon Park, and next week there’s a benefit for the Hollygrove Market simply called “Roast Beast: A History of Animal Husbandry from Snout to Tail,” a fundraiser for the non-profit where they serve a whole pig.

Hog Roast


Southerners aren’t afraid of a whole hog, laid out on a table in the open, to be eaten by hand. But let me tell you, I had never experienced such a thing in my life. I got to eat the jowl.
Tail!

Tail!

These pigs aren’t going to get cooked whole as I had previously planned. I want to try every different part of them, and I just can’t eat that much all at once. I still hope to share the meat as much as possible, and have lots of bbqs, but I want to be able to know how the chops, hams, ribs, bacon, belly, jowl, feet and tail all taste. And I don’t have the energy for all of that in one day. A pig raised on fine cheese and baguette leftovers isn’t something to be squandered; I want to savor it as much as possible.

So, I’ve got all that sorted out, but now I just have to arrange the killing and butchering. I know these animals, and so the prospect of things not going smoothly or quickly makes me queasy. A good farmer should provide everything an animal needs to live a life free from fear, and I think I have done that. I have given them excellent food, an adequate shelter, and a chance to forage and run around. They have provided me with entertainment value, and soon, sustenance.

Food Trough Pillow

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IMG_5736Whoa! That’s a lot of papayas, was my first thought as we drove up to the house for the first time in almost three months. Even in the approaching dusk, I could tell that there were at least 60 fruit spread among 4 papaya trees.

When you’ve been away for almost three months, you’re grateful for anything left alive in the garden at all, but everywhere I looked, there was something not only alive, but thriving. My sweet potato patch has taken over its corner of the yard, and in the process, swallowed a lawnmower and a wheelbarrow. In addition to the papayas, there are two green clusters of bananas, plumping up on the banana trees, and the grapefruit is bowed down with heavy fruit. There is even about 30 fruit on the three-year-old satsuma tree (a first!). In the garden, there is a melon vine that is still setting fruit, enough basil to stock the freezer with pesto for the winter, and a bounty of eggplants and sweet and hot peppers.

Sweet Potatoes swallowed the lawnmower!

Sweet Potatoes swallowed the lawnmower!

Bounty of hot peppers

Bounty of hot peppers

There is still a lot of work to do (the weeds had an excellent summer too), but I was pleasantly surprised by the rewards present for a lazy farmer.

Or I should say “laissez farmer,” not only because we are in New Orleans, but also because this garden has been left alone, to just be, with little human intervention, for the past three months.

And, with little effort on my part, my freezer is full of rabbit. There’s two does and a buck left to continue to supply us with meat for the future, but thirteen rabbits ended up butchered a few weeks ago and I am benefiting with the most tender white meat I’ve ever tasted. I browned it in a little duck fat left from my muscovy ducks and the results have been marvelous.

Tarragon Rabbit in the Dutch Oven

Tarragon Rabbit in the Dutch Oven


Now that September is here, I’m eagerly making plans for the fall garden, blending up pesto and eating papayas. It’s good to get my hands in the dirt again. Laissez farming clearly has its benefits, but it’s time to get back to work.
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Today I cursed Barbara Kingsolver. And Novella Carpenter. And whoever else has written in a book (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Farm City, respectively) about how they can pluck a duck, chicken, whatever in under 30 minutes!

I roasted the last one of my ducks today. The duck was hastily thrown in the freezer last November, before the skin was cleaned fully. Most of the body was peppered with short, dark black feathers that looked like heavy five o’clock shadow on a very hairy man.

So I set to work with the kitchen tweezers – and the skin ripped, and the tweezers slipped. After about thirty minutes of swearing and starting to feel cross-eyed, I instead concentrated on the skin on the breast, deciding that if there was one part of the skin I was going to eat, it would be this choice part.

Duck plucking - and cursing.

Duck plucking - and cursing.


And it turned out fine. Most of the fine hairs burned off in the oven, leaving strange, ingrown stubble under the duck skin. So I ate it anyway, and, for the most part, it tasted really good – it just wasn’t pretty.

Taste is the part that matters the most to me, but it also has to look decent. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I probably couldn’t pay some of my friends and family to even try to eat that duck with me – there were too many reminders that it had once been a living animal.

Duck dinner

Duck dinner


I picked the carcass clean, rendered the fat, and then was left to stare at the bones. I knew in my urban farmer frame of mind that I should make stock ( ah! what would Barbara Kingsolver and Novella Carpenter think if I didn’t?), but I couldn’t. The heat in New Orleans is approaching 90 degrees now and I couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to be sweating over a boiling pot. So, instead, Albert laid the duck bones to rest in a hole in the backyard, next to whatever remains of its brothers and sisters who were killed by the dog, and near a cantaloupe vine.
Leftovers

Leftovers


Eating the last duck has gotten me thinking about the last nine months in the life of my yard. New successes happen all the time, like the arrival of baby rabbits and the first harvest of blueberries from my plants this year.
First blueberries

First blueberries

And I keep thinking of ways to improve upon, or move beyond the failures (why can’t I still grow tomatoes in New Orleans? Nearly all my plants have succumbed to to verticillium wilt this year – something I never would have even had to look up on the West Coast). Now there’s a fence underneath the house, I can think about more ducks next fall, maybe light-colored ducks that wouldn’t leave such obvious stubble. Or turkeys? Or quail? I’ve been bitten by the urban livestock bug and now I have to find a way to one-up myself for next time around. I’ll mull it over until September.
One-week old rabbit

One-week old rabbit

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