Say what?

IMG_7537Scoby leather! Yeah, I was a bit skeptical at first, too. But really, it’s delicious! I have all these extra scobys from making continuous brew kombucha and I hated to just throw them to the pigs. So after fishing a scoby out of my brew, I chopped it up into small pieces. IMG_7538It was rather difficult to cut through. Slimy and tough. Then I whizzed it up in my blender with a bit of ‘booch to make it go ’round. It took a bit of time to get all that blended smooth.IMG_7539Then I added some agave nectar (or you could use honey) and strawberries. Whiz again and spread on dehydrator sheets. You could also make this on a silpat in the oven set on low. IMG_7540When it was drying it smelled delicious! Like over ripe berries warmed from the sun! And it tastes sticky and sweet, just like real fruit leather! IMG_7546

Continuous brew

I’ve been making Kombucha for years. Not always religiously. One of the biggest challenges was when it is time to bottle and mix a new batch. The crock I ferment it in is VERY heavy. The tea has to steep for a long while. Then cool for a long while. The scoby has to be somewhere while I prep the next batch. IMG_5573Solution?? Continuous brew Kombucha! I’m brewing in a jar with a spigot, so that I can extract finished kombucha, without disturbing the scoby. Then I can simply add sweetened tea to the jar and it begins fermenting again. And because I always leave at least 1/3 of the jar full of finished product the new tea ferments more quickly. I can bottle finished product every 7 days usually, instead of waiting the normal 10 days that it took previously. IMG_5574When there are 7 people clamoring for it, that’s a huge benefit! And I was awestruck, literally, when I saw the size and health of the new scoby that grew on top of the brew. Don’t know the benefits of this fermented, fizzy drink??!! Google it and be astounded!  IMG_5577

How to butcher a hog: part 2

IMG_4930Now this is the fun part! I cannot recommend watching the Farmstead Meatsmith enough if you are serious about wanting to learn how to transform these animals you raise into a delicious meal for your family.  Instead of hacking away at the carcass, learn to gracefully slice and pull. Use your fingers, instead of a chop saw. Never, ever cut meat with a saw. Only use a saw to cut the bone. I broke down this hog with a meat saw, a cleaver (which, honestly, I didn’t use that much) and a 6 inch flexible knife. Jeremie had halved the carcass before chilling, so I tackled this project one half at a time. This was late at night, after the kids were in bed, and it took 3 hours. I hope to get much much faster at this. It was the chops that took me so long. My saw is too big and unwieldy for such a job. I’d like to get a much smaller one for next time. So, first I took out the leaf lard. IMG_4866This is the white stuff right on the belly of the pig. it tears away using just fingers. Then I took out the tenderloin. This runs up along the back end of the spine. Start working your fingers around it from the head side towards the back end. It will come out using just fingers, as well. IMG_4891Now it’s time to cut apart the leg portion. This is what you could cure into ham slices, or preserve as a country ham, or spiral baked ham. The backbone comes down from the tail and makes a sharp angle, going down the back, towards the head. Make your cut right after the angled vertebrae. Then it’s time to separate the shoulder piece. This will be your Boston Butt and the Picnic roast. On the belly side of the carcass, you will feel the sternum. Make your cut right next to that bone and cut straight up to the backbone.IMG_4899 You will need to use a saw to get through the backbone. Next, I separated the chops from the bacon. Looking at the middle piece of the carcass, decide how big you want your chops to be. I wanted as much bacon as possible, so I cut the chops just after the loin. IMG_4915See that circle shape that is a lighter color? That is the loin. You will have to cut this meat side down, so you’re cutting through the skin. You will feel the rib bones. Cut in between each rib and then go back with the saw and cut through the bone.IMG_4922 Thinly and carefully slice the ribs away from the pork belly. This pork belly will be cured with sugar and salt for bacon. It’s gorgeous. The ribs that you cut away from the belly are the “spare ribs”.Now, see the top quarter of the hog? That is going to be chops, loin roast, and back fat for rendering lard and cracklin’s. IMG_4942The back fat peels away from the loin with quite of bit of effort with your fingers. If the skin is still on, cube that back fat and cook it up in a big cast iron kettle outside for delicious cracklin’s. Not to my liking, but everyone else here loves ’em.IMG_4953  Regarding the chops, the only thing to remember is to keep each cut parallel to the last one. The chops will cook unevenly if one side is much thicker than the other. All the chops don’t need to be the same size, but they all need to be uniform. Make sense? Let the size of the animal determine the size of the chops.

Cut them with a knife. Only using a saw or cleaver to get through the spine.

Cut them with a knife. Only using a saw or cleaver to get through the spine.

After the chops are cut, you’ll be left with the rest of the loin. Trim off any excess fat and then it will be a beautiful boneless loin roast.  I’ll discuss piecing out the shoulder and hams in another post.  IMG_4961

Hog killin’

Let’s jump from birthdays to bloodbaths. Nothing is more exciting to me than learning how to process my own meats. Well, a few things are, I suppose. But this ranks right up there at the top. img_4247So when I heard that our local state representative was hosting a hog kiiling, well I signed right up. This was quite a large operation. He had two tractors going, a huge scalding tank that was so big I couldn’t even see into it, a 50 gallon cast iron kettle for cracklin’s, and power tools!img_4248 I’m not so interested in the killing, scalding, gutting stages. I only want to work on carcasses that have no head or innards. But Jeremie and Tommy helped with that part. There were two fires going under the scalding tank to get it up to heat. The scraping process was surprisingly easy. And Jeremie says the gutting was pretty much the same as doing a deer. img_4296Then a sawzall was used to cut the carcass in half. Our host hired a processor from Yoder Bro Meats to come and cut up the halves into useable pieces. He showed us where the bacon, leaf fat, picnic, boston, spare ribs and shoulder roasts were cut from. I tried my hand at piecing out a hog and it was fairly easy and straight forward.img_4352 I’ve since been watching videos from the farmstead meatsmith and hope to learn to divide a hog carcass with more care and finesse. There was a grinder there for making sausage and a sausage stuffer as well. The weather this day was in the single digits and my toes got froze. img_4346People had come from all over the state to join in this tradition. I am so looking forward to transforming some of the grunting, wallowing hogs in our pasture into succulent bacon and chops!

Yes, this is what we ate for lunch that day.

Yes, this is what we ate for lunch that day.

Of course I can

IMG_3119I love canning season! All those beautiful jars of jam, relishes, fruit and pickles. I tried a couple new recipes this year. One is for pickles, from Jeremie’s aunt. This was an old school recipe, not at all approved by the USDA, so hopefully we won’t all die of botulism. Her dill pickles were world-renown, and we hope mine live up to that reputation. Seedless blackberry jam. Hooray for gleaning from friend’s patches! Hooray for steam canners. This was practically effortless. IMG_3123We picked berries from a friend’s patch on a cool overcast day. After steaming the berries, the clear juice boiled into a beautiful, smooth jelly. Water-bath canned for 5 minutes and whew! Out of the kitchen. All this canning went down on a week when our air was out. So I fired up the propane stove and did the canning outside. But the inside kitchen was still steamy with jar lids simmering, jam boiling, steam canner steaming, oven-sterilizing the jars, dishwasher going. But the fruit and berries come ripe when they will, not according to my schedule. Next week the new air conditioning unit will be here, Lord willing, right in time for the bulk of the tomatoes!IMG_3120