Bringing Home The Bacon
Historically September is a month in which you can be assured of several of life’s certainties. There’s the drop in temperatures and the first misty mornings; an increase in commuter traffic which accompanies the new school year. Jumpers and coats get dug out from the back of the closet where inexplicably they managed to mate and produce random unpaired gloves. And of course there’s the inevitable disappointment of being a Boro fan which kicks in after a brief few weeks of hope.
This year there are some new events to add to the list. The first is my vegetable harvest. Now, I’m not one to blow my own trumpet. As Bill Hicks observed, there’s at least one vertebrae in the way for a start. I have to say though…my veg is bloody amazing. Most of you won’t have experienced them, since I’m tighter than a gnat’s chuff when it comes to sharing but believe me when I say that if you’d tasted them, you’d die happier than a Belgian with a British passport. The stuff you buy in the shops is the equivalent of a droning French poem about French poetry in comparison to the Shakespearean sonnet that is my potatoes, carrots, parsnips and assorted legumes.
This year we used no fertiliser or pesticides and just experimented to see what would grow. Granted, like back in ’90 when my brother successfully cultivated a number of marijuana plants on his bedroom window having persuaded our mother they were a variety of rare fern, it turned out to be a particularly good year for the weeds. However, we also managed to get 2.5 bushels of potatoes, roughly 300 onions, beans, turnips, parsnips, carrots, mesclun leaves, more Romaine lettuce than a gypsy with five hands could steal, spinach, swiss chard, bok choi, cabbage, curly leaf kale, broccoli, melons (OK, they were tiny small but yeah baby! melons! Try growing those in the north-east of England), courgettes, acorn squash, enough tomatoes to bury a small Italian village and a few beetroot that the rather snobbish mice in my fields discussed but finally ruled as unfit for rodent consumption by five votes to three.
In the interest of full disclosure, my peas and garlic were an abject failure and I lost most of the strawberries, gooseberries and rhubarb to the weeds, but I’m confident that the soft fruits at least can be saved now that the tangle of grass, spikeys and big sprawly things are in retreat. My mate Shawn The Hunter has left his bush whacker complete with its optional 10-inch steel blade and it’s the Chuck Norris of weed control machines. I can’t wait to have a go and hope to not amputate my foot in the process which would be unfortunate to say the least.
As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Emma process those tomatoes. She started the month happier than a school girl in Team Edward but as the weeks have gone by and the volume of untouched tomatoes continues to grow, I’m sensing a certain air of “ask me about those tomatoes mother fucker and you’ll be plucking them from a special place about five seconds later”. Given I’m quite protective of my special places, I’ve decided to not press the subject of the half-dozen bins of ripening tomatoes in the garage, or mention the other four or five sackfuls still on the vine. It’s a self-defence mechanism most married men are born with.
The second event that I’m adding to the September List is livestock processing. When I worked at Accenture there was a phrase used after each performance review of being “counselled out”. What it basically meant was the person had been judged to have reached the end of their useful life and was deemed not good enough to progress further with us beautiful people. Those counselled out were ejected faster than a lightweight Belgian in a bar crawl and we all tried to not speak about them thereafter. It turns out that “livestock processing” is basically the same thing except it’s a good deal messier and you can’t re-apply a year later.
Our four Long Black pigs and almost 60 chickens were taken to slaughter and “processed”. Despite our neighbour Nelson The Farmer offering to take the pigs when he did his, I chose to do the job myself. These were our first meat animals and it felt shabby and disrespectful to let anyone else complete what we had started especially since I’d decided the day they were to die. So, we borrowed a trailer from Big George, which was about as road-worthy as my Expandable, Foldable, Portable Dog Basket but did the job and didn’t cost us the $2,500 a new one would have required. In the dark at 5AM, I caught and loaded up the birds into chicken crates which was no mean feat since each bird weighed around 8lbs live and there were eight in each crate. Running against the clock, I only just managed to get them all loaded up in time to set off at 6:30AM. We used a local poultry abattoir called Berube Poultry in South Mountain, ON, that I’d highly recommend. They were friendly, no nonsense and the birds were done within minutes of arriving.
I’d expected the pigs to be a nightmare. I loved having those pigs and while I didn’t make the mistake of regarding them as pets, it was still hard to order their deaths. It helped that we’d pre-sold at least two of them and I crave proper English back bacon. The Gods of Small Agriculture were certainly smiling on me because I’d expected to have a real struggle getting all four into the trailer but instead three went in willingly for a bucket of feed and the fourth followed after a gentle nudge with my knee. Unfortunately the abattoir I took the pigs to wasn’t as good as the poultry one. It’s currently being sold and the man running the place didn’t share my desire to treat the animals with utmost respect. He didn’t butcher them the way I asked, kept the offal despite my instructions and also charged me 60c per lb to butcher despite his price list showing 50c per lb. When I called to complain I got a grudging acknowledgement that he owed us the offal and a lot of attitude from him. Given the escalating price of feed and unexpected butchery costs meant the pigs came close to costing us money, it was such a disappointing way to end what should have been a hugely rewarding experience, especially since the pigs turned out to be much bigger than we’d expected and there was more meat to go around. Needless to say, I’ll be taking Nelson’s advice and travelling the extra distance to try out his butcher next year.
Despite those final problems, in addition to the vegetables we now have two freezers full of chicken and pork not to mention the barrel of honey and unending supply of eggs. There is cured back bacon in the fridge and we bought ourselves a meat slicer to cut the perfect rasher. If the vegetables taste divine, then the meat we’ve produced is out of this world. The chicken has flavour and substance, the pork is rich, dark and fatty. In the next couple of weeks Shawn The Hunter and myself are going to have a crack at building a smokehouse to cold-smoke the hams and bacon and I’ll bring up the subject to more processing with Emma and try to make some sausage. September was a crazy busy month, but it’s been worth it to to see the culmination of the effort we’ve put in. We’ll be celebrating with some close friends on 5th November, it’s just a shame I couldn’t get a batch of beer brewed in time. But then again, I need to leave at least one big project for next year.