This was going to be our first winter without butchering a pig since 2008/09, until a couple of days ago when a friend was given a large piece of wild boar by a local hunter. Specifically, a side and front right leg with shoulder.

Our friend didn’t have the knives to process this quantity of meat, so asked me if I wanted to do it and split the bounty. Not a proposition to turn down, even if you’re in the middle of your annual cold. The kitchen was quickly adapted to suit the purpose:

butchery

Recent guests of écovallée will recognise the bit of work surface which used to be in the outdoor kitchen. (My old butchery surface has been turned into a desk for Her Outdoors’ studio.) This was clamped at one end and secured to the tongue and groove with my last bracket. You’ve got to have brackets lying around. (Preferably where you can find them.)

A few hours later, and the meat has been turned into 7kg of sausages, 2kg of bacon (on the plate to the left of the scales in that picture), what will be a good-sized curry (cooked very long and slow for the sinewy bits) and a rack of ribs for slow cooking with a barbecue sauce.

Interesting to note, the meat was incredibly lean. I think it was more sinewy than our pigs, too, and the tongue and groove was lucky to last the sausage-making process. Imagine one of us putting all their weight on that bottom left corner while the other cranked the handle for all they were worth and you’ll get the picture.

At a guess, I’d say the boar was 70kg when shot. I found the bullet. Which was also very unexpected.

If you’re wondering why Her Outdoors hasn’t featured a lot this week, it’s because she’s been turning this:

chair before

Into this:

chair after

For a client. Not as easy as it looks, I would write – if it looked easy.

But last night she joined me for a mammoth sausage session (I should probably re-word that). I’ve written somewhere on this blog that you should never start making sausages at 6.30 in the evening. So at just after 6.25pm, I started mincing the meat. If you use a hand-turned machine and find yourself fighting with it, stripping it down and getting very upset, I’ve found the following tricks useful:

o Cut your meat into long strips, about 2 x 2 inches across

o Use a table knife to scrape away the meat at the front end every now and then and

o Reverse the direction of cranking (for a couple of turns) quite regularly

I also switched to the holey thing with the larger holes for the second bucket of meat, which seemed easier.

After a long while, we ended up with this:

mixes

There’s mixed sausage meat, unmixed, salami and chorizo. This is the chorizo:

chorizo

A light, late supper of sausage burger later, we mixed and processed all the sausage meat and hung it over the bath. This morning it looked like this (yes, that’s why there are nails in beams in old houses):

hanging sausages

After yet more washing up, I got back into the yurt at 25 seconds to midnight. (Several hours before I finished the first time we made sausages.)

I’ve just put all the sausages in bags in the freezer. Right now Her Outdoors is asking butchers for more, bigger skins for the salami and chorizo. I still have half a day of making lardons to fit in at some point. We have to wrap and hang the ham in the “tractor shed”. And we have enough leftover sausage mix for burgers over the next few days.

Pig Week, dear readers from around the world, is over. Which is a good job, because the weather’s turned cold and I need to re-stock the wood shed. Rain’s possible tomorrow and definitely forecast from Monday, so it’s time to cut wood.

If you might be offended by the idea of cutting up a pig, stop reading now. (The headline’s a bit of a clue, here.)

I have no idea if anyone will find any of this useful – or even find it at all. But I’m committed to blogging our last Pig Week and today was a very big part of that.

As always, the carcass was split down the middle and left overnight in the tractor shed to cool. But because he was a big animal (and I’d lost my helper), the pig man cut through the bone on the two sides, which meant I could finish the cut with a knife, and transport the pig in four parts, on my own, in a wheelbarrow. Here are the quantities of meat I took from the four parts:

Front half 1:

Ribs (into freezer)

1.5 kg lean back filet for bacon (into brine)

2.5 kg of streaky (into brine)

Lower front leg into the curry pot

8.5 kg for sausage (into fridge)

(One thing to note: I find the front part of a pig far more time consuming than the back. This is the first time I’ve butchered the front part first and it does make for an easier back end of the day.)

Front half 2:

Ribs (kept for tomorrow)

1.5 kg lean back bacon (into brine)

4 kg streaky (into brine)

Lower front leg for curry

10 kg for sausages (into fridge)

Back part 1:

4.5 kg ham (into brine)

5.25 kg side for bacon (into brine)

Back part 2:

2 kg joint (into freezer)

4.5 kg side for bacon (into brine)

Boned out leg for prosciutto (into dry cure)

One thing we started doing a few pigs ago is putting the meat with lots of tendons into a long, slow-cooked curry pot. It was taking far too long to strip out the tendons and, if put to sausages, was jamming up the machine (which is very annoying – it’s a hand-turned machine).

A few other cuts, like the filet mignons, kidneys and pork steaks are not on this list. Please excuse the lack of details. To describe everything I did today would take far too long, and it’s already been a long day.

For various reasons, some of which I’ve already touched on, we’re taking a (possibly permanent) break from pig keeping. To give you the benefit of our experience over the last five years (and to remind me what I’ve learnt for future reference), I’ve decided to blog our final Pig Week in some detail.

If you are a vegetarian, you might want to unfollow for a couple of weeks.

One of the most troubling parts of rearing pigs for food, for me, especially early on, has been deciding when it’s time for them to leave for the Great Sty in the Sky. Actually being the one responsible for ending a life throws up many emotional and spiritual issues. Fortunately, weather, availability of helpers and other factors, provides a very small window of opportunity. That window has just opened.

Tradition has it that you should only process a pig (my term for killing and butchering) in a month with an “r” in it. Thanks largely to human activity since the industrial revolution, September and October were far too warm this year. Earlier this month, I took advantage of a cold evening to say goodbye to our second-to-last pig – and I’ve just booked someone to come and help me with the final pig. I won’t tell you exactly when. Just that it is soon.

The pig in question is about 18 months old (as compared to factory line pigs that are killed at about six months, I understand) and has spent his life in our woods. He probably weighs around 150kg (I’ve read some UK abattoirs are refusing to process pigs heavier than 100kg) and his size alone will present me with a number of challenges. He has cost about €10 a week while he’s lived here but cost very little to begin with. In all, we’ve probably spent about €800 on the pig and are looking forward to many months of “free” meat.

Our plans are to use one leg for prosciutto, one for a ham stored hung in the air, streaky and back bacon (smoked and unsmoked), sausages, chorizo, salami, some joints and curry. I’ll explain all the details as we go.

I saw something online yesterday about a farm offering courses on a “Pig in a Day”. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall also offers courses like this. We’re going to demonstrate how long the process actually takes (in reality, well over a week) to provide some balance. As you’ll see from earlier posts, we’re not novices. This will be the 12th pig who has lived on the smallholding. I have personally killed one and butchered nine and a half of those.

If you’re still with me, I hope you will find the following posts helpful, educational and, above all, respectful.

One of the reasons the tree bog has taken longer than planned is that we took advantage of a cold night to kill one of our pigs. If you’ve read the butchery posts from previous years, you’ll know it takes about a week to process the meat for ham, bacon, sausages etc. This year, we also got into smoking.

I say “we”; what I really mean is Her Outdoors, who built this:


The half hot water tank at the bottom is our barbecue, on which is a rack holding damp sawdust and wood shavings, over which is a hood we took out of the chimney when we gutted the shack, from which is some chimney tubing I scrounged off a builder friend, which goes into a cardboard box sitting on a found tripod, set into which is another grill, on which is some streaky bacon taken out of the brine a couple of days ago.

The first batch ended up being hot-smoked, which we’ve tried and is delicious. The second batch was cold-smoked. I don’t know how Her Outdoors did it, as I was working on the tree bog, but it would be a safe bet to say trial and error.

(I’ve only just realised how negative that expression is. Trial, error and success might be better. Reminds me of when I met someone last year who has loads of experience of low-tech living. I was complaining about how we have to do everything at least twice, because the first time doesn’t work very well. ‘But you have to do it like that,’ he said. ‘If you got it right the first time, you wouldn’t learn anything.’ A great attitude.)

Total cost of new smoking habit: €0.

I know I said in an earlier post that I can attach the nozzle to the front of the sausage machine to speed up the whole process, but I think I should ignore that next time. I think I might find it easier – and less effort, and certainly less sweary – if I mince the meat first, then add the breadcrumbs, herbs etc, then put it back through the machine into the skins. I’ll let me know how this works out.

Also, I don’t think I should worry too much about stripping out the tendons at the hock ends of the legs. Any bits that look like a lot of work can go into a delicious slow-cooked, fall-apart-in-the-mouth curry. Or rillettes.

Oh yes – I should cut the flare fat away before leaving the pig overnight. Makes things a bit easier the next day.

I probably shouldn’t bother with the lean pork chunks – it makes for a fattier sausage mix. And while I’m on that point, I mustn’t forget to put some belly aside for the sausages. I know bacon is delicious but recipes are recipes. And get some mace next time!

10

It’s worth taking a moment to look back at the last week, to see what lessons can be learnt for next time. Which, weather depending, won’t be too far off. (Vegetarians and vegans click away from the screen… now.)

Tuesday
A friend came round in the morning after school drop-off and shot the pig. I ran over and bled the pig straight away, so I knew she was gone quickly. (Backing up a second, I had thanked the pig for what she was about to give us before my friend shot her, which made the whole process – spiritually and ethically – much easier.)

Almost immediately, we realised how heavy she was. (Lesson here: Another person or two would be useful for pigs over, say, 60kg. She was probably over 80kg.)

In the tractor shed, we had huge difficulty hanging the pig up. Again, the weight issue. (Lesson: I must install a pulley system before the next pig.)

My friend was very busy, so I skinned and gutted the pig on my own, which took a surprisingly long time. I then had to lift two halves of pig above my head to hang to cool. I don’t need to mention the weight again, but let’s say I was pretty tired by lunchtime, around 2.30pm. (Oh, lesson: A proper butcher’s saw would be handy – it takes a while to cut through bones with a hacksaw.)

Wednesday
The weather suddenly started warming, so I butchered half of the pig. Just taking the side off the hook in the tractor shed reminded me how tired I was already. I was planning on butchering both halves, but this first half took longer than I hoped. (This happens with most things around here. It’s been mentioned more than once that I have an unrealistic way of looking at time. A clever person could probably write an equation for it.)

Her Outdoors made pate while this was going on and I listened to a lot of Radio 4 (the News Quiz – superb – Sandi Toksvig – like a female Stephen Fry, only funnier). We also roasted bones for the dog, who is fussy about eating them raw.

In the evening, I decided to look for butchery videos on youtube and found the link in the previous post (see below). (Lesson for me: See, you’re not allergic to research.)

Thursday
Butchered the other half of the pig much faster, thanks to those videos. Already started looking forward to cooking ribs at the weekend. Almost forgot the head, but took off the cheeks and put with other eat-soon items in the fridge.

Friday
Can’t remember the morning. I think I re-set the pig fence and separated the remaining two pigs and did some fro-ing, stripping and digging work on the new outdoor eating-area-to-be, had some fruitless meetings. Cooked pig cheeks in red wine, then washed up all the sausage-making stuff and started mincing meat at around 9.00pm. Her Outdoors, exhausted from labouring on the land (building a new rabbit run, digging a field by hand, moving compost, planting etc.) reminded me that it was late and we said we weren’t going to do this again. (Lesson: Don’t start making sausages after, say 6.00pm. It’s silly.)

Got to bed late. (Another lesson while I remember: Mincing meat, then adding breadcrumbs, seasoning etc. is not much more work than doing it all in one go, and the consistency’s much better.)

Saturday
Bagged up those sausages and stashed them in a friend’s freezer. Then had the day off, making a two cubic-metre compost bin and tidying up around here so we don’t look quite so shabby. Took a hand and a couple of hocks out of the brine to hang over the bath. Ate a lot of ribs for dinner.

Sunday
Woken up very early by Boy throwing up, having finally succumbed to what they call “Le Gastro” around here. A bi-annual viral thing we’ve all had and you don’t really want to know about.

Made the rest of the sausages, starting much earlier in the evening, and hung them over the bath.

In summary, then: Half a day to kill and hang the pig; two half days for butchery; two half days for sausage making. That’s realistic, and allows plenty of time for manual labour. (Although we’re both tired at the end of it, and it’s not even a full week, it doesn’t feel particularly out of the ordinary.)

At some stage, I will be posting videos from écovallée including, perhaps, such unforgettable gems as: “How to climb a ladder”.

But not today.

Today I will be posting the first in a series of excellent and informative videos I found on youtube last night. (They just saved me a load of time processing the second half of the pig we said goodbye to on Tuesday.) Follow the links for the rest in the series which, bizarrely, aren’t all numbered. Unless you’re a vegetarian. Obviously.

Butchering a pig

The vegetarians have had a few weeks off pig talk (during which time one of them has reverted to carnivorous mode). But as we draw near to the end of processing our second and third pigs, I’d like to share a few thoughts before they slip my mind in favour of walling, carpentry, ditch-digging and other skills soon to be coming my way.

In no particular order, then:
o If you pick up your pig in two halves, head off and heart, lungs etc in a bag, you should realise that half a 90-kilo pig is still not half heavy. And a bit slippy. Not all that easy to take up the narrow stairs to the spare room. It’s probably worth having a strong friend round to help – or having your pig cut up into more manageable pieces that will fit easily into your car.
o Allow a week to process each pig from kitchen table to freezer. Bollocks to Hugh’s ‘Pig in a day’. His pig arrives cut into handy sized pieces. You’re doing it all yourself. Admittedly, this week includes slicing bacon, lardons and making sausages, but let’s be realistic. With our first pig, we ended up going to bed at 3am to finish doing the sausages – not great on a school night.
o Note to self: Process the abats the day they come back from the abattoir. Don’t wait, thinking there’ll be time in the next few days. There won’t. (Same goes for processing bacon that comes out of the brine.)
o There are some pieces of equipment you will need ready:
– a butcher’s saw
– a large machete-type knife
– a medium knife and a small boning knife
– a knife sharpener
– lots of medium to large hooks (suddenly those old nails sticking out of beams in country houses look seriously useful)
– an unfeasible amount of sausage skins (say, 30 metres per pig) and access to more at short notice
– half a dozen trays and/or washing-up bowls
– a six-foot section of kitchen side
– anti-bacterial cleaner
– an apron
– lots of freezer bags (mainly medium-sized)
– a plastic dustbin full of brine (allow half a day to make the brine and a day to let it cool)
– freezer blocks to keep the brine cool
– a bacon slicer
– a sausage machine
– a few wooden wine boxes for prosciuttos
– salt
– mace
– breadcrumbs and other sausage ingredients
– a serious weighing machine (going up to at least 10 kilos)
– butcher’s string, medium thick
– lots of freezer space
– and someone who’s done it before – at least the first time.
o Do not try to process more than one pig at a time. Especially during the half-term holiday. Even if you’re mostly making sausages – one front leg takes one and a half hours to bone out. Tunnel boning for dry cured hams even longer. Just don’t do it.
o When a recipe says: “Simply cut the head into four using a saw”, ignore the “Simply”. You’ll never want to be an Elizabethan ship’s surgeon again.

All the lessons learnt can’t be put into one post. I’ll just say that, our next pig will be killed on the land and processed immediately. Probably starting on a Monday morning towards the end of the year, during term time.