There is just no ignoring the truth any longer: home-grown ham beats the factory-farm type hands down. Not that I ever really questioned this, but sometimes we see what we want to see, or in this case, taste what we expect to taste. However, this past Sunday there was no denying the vast superiority of my Easter ham. It was that good.
Let me start at the beginning. My sister and brother-in-law like to raise animals. They used to have a mini-farm with a couple of cows (one who had a penchant for jumping the fence to visit the bull at a neighboring dairy farm), some pigs, some chickens, and some turkeys as well as a fairy large kitchen garden. All this on a couple of acres in a small town outside a larger town . . . not acres and acres of farm, just an average-sized country lot for a single-family home.
Sis and Bro moved to a bigger house eventually but started a business and decided not to raise animals anymore, save for the occasional dog–for companionship, not for eating. This past year, I was delighted when I found out they were planning on raising a couple of pigs and immediately put in my order for half a porker.
So, I just phoned Sis to see what they fed these glorious producers of meaty, pink wonderousness (in no way can you compare this to the “pink slime” we’ve been hearing so much about lately). Once she quit laughing, she told me: “Well, some grain. Some commercial pig food, of course. A bunch of fruit and veggies that had been damaged or had gone by at the grocery store that we were able to take off their hands. We also got some leftovers from a pastry company . . . so maybe that’s why the meat was so sweet, haha. But we aren’t going to do that this year because there are chemicals and stuff that really aren’t so healthy in those prepared foods.”
And how did they house and fence in the animals?
“We made a shelter out of an old truck water tank with straw. In the winter, we left a small opening so they could go in and out, but they would dig right in under the straw and huddle up and were fine like that all winter.”
An old, experienced farmer had once told Bro that animals that are allowed to do this in the winter–rather than being coddled in heated barns, are less likely to catch pneumonia and other sicknesses in the spring when they venture out into the cold, wet Maine weather. So far, that old farmer’s wisdom has proved correct.
“We put up a fence so that they could go into the woods in good weather to root around in there. We put the shelter in the woods during the hot summer months so they’d stay cool. Also, we put some sand in their shelter so they could root in that which is where they get some necessary minerals.” Huh! Cool! I thought, imagining my ham snuffling around the cool Maine woods on a brilliant autumn day.
If the pig is getting essential vitamins and minerals and fresh air and sunshine and rooting around in good dirt and under trees, is it any wonder that the meat is delicious? Not to mention, it is probably much more nutrient dense than some bland pork chop raised solely on grain and questionable material from other farm-factories (chopped up animal parts, anyone?) in a crowded, stinky, closed-in pig farm somewhere in the mid-west.
Sis tells me that this year’s four piglets have come through the winter wagging their curly tails, and I am determined to go up to take some pictures. I raved some more about the delicious ham–not to mention the bacon, the chops, and the roasts.
“How did you cook the ham?” she asked.
Here’s how: It was 5.5 lbs. I put it on a rack in a shallow baking pan, and baked it at 325 F for two hours (I might have overcooked a little. Note to self: Use a meat thermometer next time.). I made a glaze from about a cup of pineapple juice, a half-cup of brown sugar, a teaspoon of salt, a sprinkling of ground cloves, and the juice of half a lemon and some corn starch. This I pourrrrrrred over the fat on top, which I had scored. Another fifteen minutes in the oven, and voila! I put the glaze/meat juice mixture in a pitcher, let it sit a minute so I could spoon off some of the fat (one of those gravy fat separators would have come in handy), and used that as a sauce.
But we didn’t really need the sauce because the meat was sweet, juicy, and just salty enough to perfectly balance the mashed potatoes and roasted carrots (from the Crown of Maine MOFGA certified co-op order) and roasted sweet potatoes and steamed asparagus (from the locally-owned grocery store here in town) and the deviled eggs (from Sarah’s chickens down the road!).
Add my mother’s homemade sour pickles and, yes, a Orange Jello/Cool Whip/Pineapple dessert and some jelly beans and chocolate bunnies (who says we have to be PERFECT?), and we had a meal fit for royalty.
Other than the dessert and candy and sweet potatoes, this meal could have been created totally locally. Well, maybe not the asparagus this early. Can you freeze or can asparagus? I’ll have to check. Some boiled onions could have replaced the asparagus. Or some early greens from a cold frame, maybe? The roasted veggies were enhanced with spices from far away lands, but people have been importing spices for centuries. I don’t worry about spices or coffee or brown sugar. We can’t grow them in Maine. That is what fair trade is for.
As we head into spring (and this equinox time of year certainly turns our minds to rebirth and fertility and planting), let’s continue pushing ourselves as far as we can toward enjoying locally-sourced foods. Plant some of your own–even if just a few greens or tomatoes in pots. I’m going to start begging again for a chicken-allowance here in my community. I was also encouraged to see a sign up at the public library announcing a meeting to discuss plans to create a garden at the elementary school!
Exciting things are happening! It is spring. A new beginning . . . Outside the Box.