Saturday, December 20, 2008

Slaughter, Part One

The pigs were, of course, raised for food. And to eat pig one has to go through the messy business of killing it. So it was that the next time I saw the pigs, about 4 weeks after I met them, was the day they died.
I didn't sleep very much or very well the night before the slaughter. When I woke up to falling snow I thought (hoped?) that Neil might call and say it was off. He didn't. He called, instead, to ask me to pick up coffee for him and Pete on my way out. Large. Coffee. And whiskey, he joked. They were a bit nervous about the whole thing too.
I parked at Neil's house and walked over to the farm. The pigs, thinking there might be something in the Dunkin' Donuts cups for them, crowded to the edge of the yard, careless of the electric fence. To get to the barn, where I thought Neil and Pete might have been making final preparations, I had to cross the yard. The pigs made this crossing next to impossible. I put one rubber booted foot into the yard followed by the other trying to avoid the electric fence and keep my balance at the same time, which wasn't easy with three pigs attaching themselves to my legs. It was a difficult crossing for another reason too. Not only was I trying to keep upright, avoid the electric fences, and keep from spilling the coffee, I also found myself trying to avoid making eye contact with the pigs.
Physical and psychological hurdles finally managed, I got to the barn only to find it empty. I tried the other barn. Neil and Pete weren't there either. I could only think, then, that they were in the house. And they were. I found them in the kitchen going over the game plan. They jumped on the coffee, thanked me, and asked me how I was. "Kind of nervous, actually," I said. They told me they were too, actually.
Pete showed me the order of events. He had written it down in Sharpie on a large piece of discarded cardboard. Shoot, stick, scrape, hang, cut off the head, score the belly, rip the belly, loosen and tie the bung, gut, score the back, cut the spine. We took a look at the equipment: knives, a spool of yellow twine, and a gun. Neil and I were both taken aback by the gun. We knew the pigs had to be shot, but to actually be in the same room as a loaded pistol was something strange to both of us. "Is it loaded?" Neil asked. "Well, yeah," Pete said. "Does it have a safety?" Neil asked. "No, I don't think so," Pete said. Oh. He then went onto the porch to smoke one of several--and, I'm sure, much needed--cigarettes. "I'll quit tomorrow," he kept saying, "but today I need these."
It seemed we all found ways to delay the killing of the pigs. Pete had another cigarette, Neil decided to change his trousers, I went to the toilet. Maybe Pete did need another smoke. Maybe Neil's trousers were too warm. Maybe I did have to pee. Maybe none of us wanted to see the pigs shot.
Eventually we made our way down to the yard. It was when Neil and I were emptying 10 Guinness into a bucket to give to the pigs that I learned they had not eaten since the previous morning. No wonder they had showed such an interest in me and my coffee cups. Neil had seen it done before--feeding Guinness to pigs before slaughter. It calmed them down, he explained, and made things go a little more smoothly. The pigs were worked up, so, if it worked, why not? Pete had seen it done before too. "Yeah, it calmed one of 'em down," he said, "The other one just wanted to fight." I guess pigs can be mean drunks too. We gave them the Guinness in spite of Pete's cautionary tale and after a while it started to take effect. It was noticeable in the smallest one first, but by and by they all quietened down and became unsteady on their trotters. They mostly forgot they were hungry, but to distract them from the whole shooting-your-sibling-in-the-head thing we put some soy milk in the trough, which they went to readily. As they stood there slopping up the milk, Pete walked up to one the pigs, pressed the pistol to its forehead, and squeezed the trigger.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Meeting the Pigs

It was a crisp November afternoon when I met the pigs. Neil told me to come late afternoon, but before it started getting dark--around dinner time. Apparently pigs aren't altogether that exciting unless they're hungry. I arrived at 3, we had a nice cup of tea, then donned our rubber boots and went across the road to feed the pigs.
There were three hungry pigs, two girls and boy, waiting for us when we got there. They were so eager to be fed that they made it difficult for us to walk across the yard to where their food was kept. (I had heard of the strength of a pig's snout, but never before witnessed it first hand.) Feeding pigs takes more planning than I could have imagined. What pigs live for is grain. So, naturally, you cannot feed them the grain first or they won't eat anything else. First we gave them their veg. They were hungry enough to show some interest in it, but they won't really go for the veg if they think something better is coming. They were far more interested in the stale baguette being broken apart (by me) and soaked in expired soy milk. Nothing, though, compared with the gusto with which they took to the pellets of grain. With a can full of grain in his hand Neil was their A-number-one favorite person on the planet. They were snorting and carrying on and standing in the trough and pushing each other out of the way, even though there was plenty for everyone. These were happy pigs. Happy as pigs in... grain.
This is the story of the pigs as told to me by Pete, Neil and Jen's neighbor and the man on whose farm the pigs lived. Jen had a dream. Jen had a vision. Jen just saw pigs in the farm yard across the street. But there weren't any so she told Pete. Pete was dubious. He had had experience in keeping animals with other people. He had seen such enthusiasm before, but had also seen the shirking of chores, the distinct lack of enthusiasm when it came to actually caring for the animals once they arrived. He knew the difference between the dream of keeping animals and the reality. He said, "No." But the seed had been planted and soon enough P. started seeing pigs in his yard too. One afternoon he went across the street and told J. and N. that he was about to make their dreams come true. They had no idea what he was talking about. But soon enough it was clear that he meant that he was willing to let them keep pigs on his land as long as they fed them, watered them, cleaned up after them, cared for them. And they did. Dumpster diving for veg behind the co-op, rounding up stale bread and out of date milk/soy milk/kefir/whatever became regular activities for N. He did such a good job caring for the pigs and the pigs did such a good job turning over last year's garden that P. is not only going to share the garden with N. and J., he is already talking about next year's pigs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Sorry for the distinct lack of new posts. I've been moving house and have had neither a spare moment nor an internet connection. Hopefully the cooking and posting will resume in the not too distant future. 

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mince pies

Now is the time of giving. Of giving people baked goods they may or may not actually want. But who can refuse a mince pie? Especially one made from scratch right down to the butter in the crust and the candied citrus peel in the mincemeat.
Two weeks ago I did a trial run. I made a 10-inch pie crust not knowing how many pies I would get out of it or how much filling it would take. I cut the bottoms out with a 4 inch round cookie cutter, the tops with a 2-3/4 inch cookie cutter and the vent holes with a petal tip. I ended up with six pies, although I probably could have squeezed out a couple more, and it took just under half a pint of mincemeat.
It is rather a tedious process, putting together mince pies, so it really makes more sense to do a lot of them at once. I have an entire quart of mincemeat in the fridge so if six pies used less than half a pint I have at least 24 pies still to make, which means 4 10-inch pie crusts. And if Jane eats twice as many mince pies as Sally...
But then you get them in the muffin tins and they're so very cute and worth all their tediousness. And then you get to wrap them in waxed paper and give them to people, which is really the most satisfying part of all.