Raising pigs for meat and lard

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Our pigs at around 12 or 13 weeks old. Healthy Wessex saddleback boars, raised in the forest with portable electric fencing.

How much time does it take to raise pigs on the homestead for meat? How much of a commitment is it? What do you need to get started? How much does it cost?…

I write this partly for myself to read next year, so that I remember how it all works, partly for others who are considering raising pigs.

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Cutting up a pig without a saw

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Before our pig kill (see this post) we had discussed what we wanted to do with each part of the pig. To keep costs down, we just had the mobile butcher here on one day to do the kill, hair removing, gutting, and sawing the pigs in half and leaving them to hang for a day before we would cut them up ourselves. If we wanted him to cut them into pieces he would probably have to come back another day.

We’ve never before cut pigs up ourselves, and how we handled it is a bit different to the process I’ve seen elsewhere because we didn’t have a saw. Every other instruction around is for how to do it with a saw, so I will write about how we did this using only 6” (15cm) boning knives, and maybe a firewood axe and a good aim (depending on how the spine has been cut).

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Pig day

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Our 6 month old Wessex saddleback boar pigs

The next few photos are of the pig slaughtering process, with commentary, to help others who want to raise their own meat or understand a process that has mostly been forgotten in modern times.

Our pigs have lived happy lives in the paddock above for the past few months. They have been able to express their pig-ness, and have enjoyed a diet of acorns, whey, scraps, and local gmo-free grains. Their natural behaviour is to search for roots in the ground with their snouts, turning over some of the soil in a gentle way, and also manuring it. They feed the soil life and prepare the ground for new plants to grow.

Vegetarians might want to stop reading this now.
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Spiced Elderberry Oxymel (a herbal cold and flu medicine)

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Here is a simple way to make a healthy medicine for the cold months ahead. I can’t say enough good things about elderberries, and this way of preserving them for the winter can be used either as a daily boost to health to prevent colds and flus, or as something taken when you are sick to relieve the symptoms and get rid of the cold or flu quickly. This recipe is cheap to make, using stuff that’s always in my kitchen.

You will need:
Elderberries
Optional spices (see step 3)
Raw apple cider vinegar
Raw honey

1. First you will need to find an elderberry tree in fruit. I found these in the first month of autumn and in the garden of an old homestead we were visiting. Sometimes trees are on the side of the road, or branches are hanging over someone’s fence. Elder trees are beautiful to look at and many people have them growing in their garden as ornamentals that don’t end up being harvested. They’re supposed to be quite easy to grow, and the leaves and branches are good goat food.

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Photo credit: here

2. Carefully harvest the bunches of fruits off the trees, gather as much as you’re likely to use. I started with around 2 litres of loosely packed bunches and ended up with around 1300ml of oxymel.

3. Wash the berries and gently strip the berries from the twigs into a cooking pot, it doesn’t matter if a few small twigs get in too. Mix in a small amount of water (for around 1200ml of berries at this stage I added half a cup). Add some spices now if you wish, I added 1/2 inch of grated fresh ginger, a pinch of ground cloves, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.

4. Bring the berries to the boil with the lid on, then remove the lid and continue to cook, while squashing the berries with a wooden spoon to extract the juice and evaporate some of the water. Do this for 10-20 minutes, being careful to not evaporate too much of the liquid, until it looks like you’ve squashed the berries as much as they can be squashed.

5. Filter the juice through a fine mesh sieve, then continue to squash the berries into the sieve to extract the last of the juice. Pour the juice into a measuring cup or jar to see how much you have. I ended up with 400ml of juice. Allow the juice to cool down to a blood-warm temperature.

6. When you can put some of the juice on the inside of your wrist without it hurting, pour the juice into a mixing bowl and add the same volume of raw cider vinegar and raw honey, so that you have 1 part elderberry juice, 1 part cider vinegar, and 1 part honey.

7. Pour into sterilised jars and store in a fairly cold and dry place. Take 1 tablespoon at a time, either on its own or mixed with water. It’s also good mixed with boiling water as a hot drink.

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Zucchini Pickle

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There’s not much that gives a feeling of abundance like zucchini does. It grows easily and prolifically, some people complain that it provides too much food, and then end up gifting some of their harvest to me. I end up picking most of mine before the flowers have dropped off, eager to make all kinds of zucchini cakes, zucchini gratin, minestrone and other soups, and making this zucchini pickle to accompany cheese and cold meats for the year ahead.

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Ingredients
1.3kg zucchini
200g onions (2 small-medium ones)
150g salt
Water for rinsing the salt off
5 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon dry turmeric or 3 teaspoons freshly grated
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
85g honey (around 2 tablespoons)
500ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

Grate the zucchini and finely dice the onions. Mix with the salt in a bowl and set aside for at least half an hour, or overnight. Drain the liquid, rinse the vegetables, and then drain again, squash them into a fine sieve to remove as much liquid as possible.

Sterilise some jars and lids and keep them warm.

When the vegetables have been drained and rinsed, put them in a pot with the spices, vinegar, and honey. Bring to the boil with the lid on, reduce the heat, and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another ten or twenty minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onion tastes cooked. Put into the sterilised jars, put the lids on, then turn them upside down for a few minutes. Turn the right way up again and leave them to cool.

This pickle will taste best after it’s been in storage at least a month. It keeps for around 12 months in the cupboard. I’ve opened ones that were two years old and they were still good.

One day I hope to have enough zucchini to make this recipe and this recipe. This year we’ve had two plants, next year I think we will have four or more.

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Nostalgia

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We’ve moved into our house in the forest. We haven’t built the mud room/wood storage area yet so every morning I tromp towards the door in my muddy boots and leave bottles of fresh goat milk on the doorstep before taking my boots off.

During my husband’s childhood milk was still delivered each day in glass bottles, a layer of cream would rise to the top. The bottles would be washed and returned, reused again and again. In my childhood memory is milk still being delivered, but by then it was homogenised and in plastic-lined cartons. The old system of reusing the glass bottles was not done with any thoughts of sustainability, it was just the way things were. It made sense to reuse bottles rather than throwing everything into landfill, or throwing it in the recycling pile to be melted down and turned into another single-use plastic item with the use of a lot of energy. At some point in time it became so cheap to simply make new things all the time, and it became so easy to just throw everything in landfill without a thought that the culture of reuse stopped. This happened more recently with a raw milk farm we were buying from, the farmer decided it was taking too much time to clean the bottles and started using single-use plastic bottles. No thought is given to how much time it took for the oil to form in the earth to make this plastic, how long it will take to break down in landfill, how much time it would take to create these bottles if the specialised bottle-making machines were to break down, or what the end result will be of all the tiny particles of plastic seeping into our soil and water, all that is thought of is the inconvenience of washing something versus the perception of an easy and quick solution.

One of the earliest lightbulbs ever made still functions today. The businesses that made lightbulbs quickly realised that they would make more money if their products had to be bought again and again, rather than being made to last.

The other day I saw an advertisement on an ice cream fridge for a new flavour of ice cream. I could only see half the name and thought it said “red vegetable”. The corporation had become so desperate for new and exciting things that they were now trying to make vegetable flavoured ice creams, to appeal to people seeking new things for the sake of the newness of things. It turns out it wasn’t really red vegetable flavour, but I’ll remember it because it prompted some nostalgic thoughts about the amount of foods around when we were growing up. We had treats sometimes, but it was usually in small quantities, and it usually was a particular thing or another, to be eaten as a treat, rather than eaten because it was new and we had to try it. I don’t remember there being any overweight or obese children growing up in the 80s and 90s.

Autumn leaves now drift gently down from the trees while cold winds stir the evergreens, bringing cold gusts of air while the sun radiates the last warmth of summer. Night falls earlier and earlier every day. Soon our wood stove will be ready and our nights will be warmed with fire.

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Autumn Leaves and Hearth Fires

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The leaves are falling off the trees today. The wind isn’t particularly strong, the day not much different from the last few, it’s just a combination of things that tell the trees it’s time to go to bed. My oldest son climbs up the apple tree to harvest apples, I never see him happier than when he’s harvesting fruit and vegetables, he used to harvest potatoes with me and would jump up and down with excitement whenever one was unearthed.

Today we’ve lit the fire for the first time this year. It’s only for the warmth it brings to this house and the wonder of watching the flames dance and hearing the quiet roar of the fire. There is nothing quite like working with wool on the couch with the flames in the background and listening to the noises that it makes. In the house we build fire will be more important, it will cook our food and heat our water, as it did for our ancestors in more sensible times.

I am working on a jumper for the son I wrote of earlier. I’ve never knitted a pullover before, or anything in the round, or anything beyond the simplest of patterns, but the body of it is finished and I’m part way through the first sleeve, learning this from books. I learned to knit through internet videos and library books, and it gives me hope for other traditional skills, that if we put our hearts and minds to it there are enough resources around to teach us how.

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