Of Pigs & Life

This post is not for most vegetarians or vegans, or anyone easily shaken by reality. Graphic images and musings on the cycle of life will be presented with impunity.

This post is for those who:
~Love bacon;
~May ponder the ethics of eating meat, perhaps even to the point of reading such books as The Omnivore’s Dilemma;
~Think we’re crazy for doing such monumental tasks ourselves, instead of going to the grocer or butcher like normal folk.

Before getting into the boring stuff, let me start with a virtual standing ovation and huge ego-stroke to MY MAN!

That’s one giant hog for one middle-aged mere mortal!

And, just a bit of backstory for nostalgia’s sake. Mama Chop and Papa Chop were our first pigs. They are Red Wattles, a heritage breed that we bought from friends as a breeding pair about 7 years ago. We would’ve kept Mama Chop as a breeder indefinitely, except for one major problem—as sweet as she was, she kept squishing her piglets, no matter what we did to try to prevent it. And, try Hubby did, repeatedly, for several years, to no avail.

Something else peculiar about Mama Chop, which I have not noticed with any of our other pigs: She smelled fantastic. I’m talking about her natural aroma, not her cooked flesh full of seasonings, which is also proving to be delicious. I mean her living self—just being in the vicinity near her—she smelled like maple syrup. That may sound crazy, but it’s absolutely true.

Fortuitously, Mother Earth News has a feature story about this breed in their current issue. “Grandma and Grandpa’s Red Wattle Hogs” by Amanda Sorell.
“Red Wattle hogs are immense, reddish pigs with fleshy appendages that dangle from each side of their necks. Their up-turned noses and upright ears with drooping tips give them a friendly demeanor that matches reports of the breed’s charm.”

“According to The Livestock Conservancy (TLC), this pig’s gentility lends itself well to small-scale, independent producers, and its foraging skills make it suitable for pasture production. Further, this hardy breed is adaptable to a wide range of climates, and it grows rapidly—usually reaching maturity between 600-800 pounds, but individual hogs can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds.”

Red Wattle Hog Stewardship – Mother Earth News

That’s a whole lotta pork!

Thank you for our blessings, Mama Chop!

We don’t know how much she weighed in at slaughter time, but here’s Hubby’s approximation of her results:
150 – 200 pounds of meat for our consumption, that is approximately:
25 # chops
40 # sausage
36 # ham
20# bacon
15 # hocks
20# stew meat
10# in pressure canned
2 gallons bone broth
3 gallons rendered lard
Plus dogs get ~40#s of scraps…..skin, lungs, ears, liver.

Wow, right?!

But, it’s SO MUCH WORK! He is one man in one small kitchen with one unskilled helper. That’s me. I’m the equivalent of his Girl-Friday (aka Galley Slave) — on call, doing what I can in wrapping and cleaning and cooking. The bulk of the work falls on him and he does it like a true stoic.

But what about the bang for the buck? Most folks who raise their own pigs don’t do their own slaughtering, for myriad reasons. It is a highly-skilled process that requires significant strength and time and at least some basic equipment.

It’s now 10 days since she was slaughtered, that makes: 2 days to hang, initial butchering one day, hams and bacon curing for 5 days, a day for making and packaging sausages, a day for smoking, a day for roasting bones, making broth, canning meat and broth.

However, it’s not only costly to go to a professional processor, it’s also a lot more stress on the pigs, as you’ve got to load them into a trailer and drive them quite a distance, sometimes as far as 2 hours away, plus reserve your slot months in advance (whether or not your pigs are ready), all which can affect the final flavor of the meat. We’ve heard many complaints from friends about this process.

Another significant drawback to this expensive convenience is typically, depending on the processor, you will forfeit many valuable parts, including the organ meats, the leaf and regular lard, the bones, including all the trimmings that go to the dogs, not to mention to the vultures, coyotes, and the bugs and soil as the entire animal never leaves our land.

Such is the cycle of life and this makes so much more sense than concentrating carcasses and waste in one place. We, and our neighbors and friends and pets and land are the direct beneficiaries of our labor, and that degree of skill and self-reliance makes me super proud. And when I’m proud, Hubby’s pleased, and so it goes the bitter-sweet circle of life!

Homestead Happenings: To Be, or Not to Be, That Neighbor

You have to get pretty far out in the boonies to get the most tolerant neighbors. I think that’s a good thing. Usually.

Life has gotten even quieter here in the boonies in the last few years. The popular hype would have it that city folk are moving to the countryside in droves. While that may be so, the evidence is still wanting, at least around here.

It would seem the weekenders have less time, or energy, to practice their Sunday “Guns for God” rituals that used to attract them to these parts at regular intervals, in search of target practice.

In this, and other tolerance-mandatory moments, I have not always been as tolerant as the situation has required, I admit.

One time I recall a pick-up truck of ill-mannered miscreants, rifles in hand, showing up at our gate while Hubby was at work and announcing they would be hunting wild hog at the creek which is our property line, and I should let them come in through our gate for that purpose.

I put on my best ‘down home girl’ accent, which most likely fooled precisely no one, and said, “Ain’t no hogs down there darlin’s, creek’s nearly dry, can’t ya see!”

I so wanted to take that opportune moment to educate my derelict audience in the practice of deliberate drought by weather modification, but in reading the room, I decided against it.

“Best y’all get ya’s further down the Trinity valley,” I offered instead.

I know it wasn’t the fake drawl, and I had no gun on me, so I’m figurin’ it was my no-nonsense demeanor that got to ‘em. Not only did they not get through our gate, but they must’ve moved their shindig to other parts, ‘cause they moseyed on, I expect to more cooperative (aka, tolerant) locales.

Ain’t seen ‘em back since.

And then there’s the dogs, always the dogs. Owners are always losing their hunting dogs, even with them fancy tracking devices on ‘em. One time one frightened cutey found his way here and I trapped him, gave him a nice lavender bath ‘cause the poor dear stunk to high heaven, and waited for the owner to come a callin’, which he did, commenting on the dog’s unwelcome new fragrance.

Some assholes actually drop off the dogs they don’t want on our country roads. Can you believe that?!

And as if that’s not bad enough, sometimes your own neighbors are the problem.

When you lose half your flock of chickens to a sneaky dog your neighbor adores, and you caught him red-handed on candid camera, but the neighbor still insists it’s ‘your problem’, tension tends to develop.

Especially if you are me.

I’m like an angry, barking squirrel when I lose my patience, I get that. I’d try to correct that clear character flaw if it weren’t something I was proud of and have worked at developing so consistently.

But still, I can’t stand by and witness hypocrisy, even, or maybe especially, if it’s my own.

And now, it comes around, as our neighbors, few and quiet as they mostly are, have our livestock guard dogs, who think the entire county is their personal protection zone, annoying them with border barking patrols, all night long.

Let sleeping dogs lie? Hardly! The whole county gets a taste of their actions after midnight!

I want to send them an exasperated message—I’m so sorry—they are not respecting their boundaries! We don’t want to be ‘that’ neighbor, really!

But in our defense, not even the electric fence stops them! We are at our wit’s end trying to solve this issue!

Thank you for your patience!

Thankfully for us, our neighbors are so tolerant they don’t even have the decency to complain.

And as if that wasn’t enough. All my best laid plans of goats and cheeses are dwindling.

Summer, herd queen, always taking the high ground, with Phoebe and Chestnut cowering nearby. A definite love-hate relationship.

The goats have declared mutiny. We already had a misfit crew: Summer the Eldest, herd queen, a belligerent, bossy bitch who terrorizes the rest of the herd with her monster horns, yet who they follow everywhere; Chestnut the Crazy, who is super-skittish and a first-freshener and more moody than a teenage girl; and Phoebe the Squatter, another first-freshener, who is the most stubborn goat on earth, I’m certain.

These horns were meant for knockin’, and that’s just what they’ll do . . .
“But, but, but . . . can’t you see how cute and innocent we are?”

I’ve been watching YouTubes and reading up for months now and I can say that not one goat I’ve seen can match Phoebe in out-right belligerence and deceptive tactics. She’ll jump right up on that stand, give you a singular taste of cooperation, only to . . .BAM . . .lay right down on the job as soon as I get my bucket in position.

And go figure, that is not among the prize characteristics showcased at the 4-H or any other of the breeding clubs.

My goat guru offered the most obvious of advice, “You must be more stubborn than the goat!”

Honestly, I thought my stubbornness to be among my most obvious and enviable characteristics, inherited from my mother. I then deliberately married a very stubborn man, who also inherited his stubbornness from his mother. We’re like five generations of stubborn in one.

And yet, we are like the impetuous novices in comparison to truly goat-level stubborness. I must humbly admit, I’ve been defeated. My cheese-making days are on the wane, maybe for many more months, just when I was really getting into the swing of things.

Alas, the simple life is really not that simple.

Good bye fair cheeses, may we meet again!

Homestead Happenings

Some happy snaps and random updates this post. There’s the alien eggs that come to find out, are not alien eggs after all. Some cute critter pics. Some ill-placed political memes. Some exciting for me, but boring for you, cheese news.

Basically an unorganized hodgepodge of a post that you should probably just skip unless you’re bored.

Totally unrelated to this post, I just like it and haven’t found a better place for it.

The New Normal weather whiplash continues. It seems even the leaves aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

Two maple trees we planted about 5 years ago. Of 25 total there are 7 still alive.
We’ve had similar results with the pecans and all the orchard trees.

We are getting some yummy mushrooms—the upside of so many dead trees. Mushroom pizza tonight! I’ve also been wanting to try making pickled mushrooms and it looks like there’ll be plenty for that, too.

And the mysterious eggs aren’t alien after all, big surprise. Katherine of EdenUnlocked blog was right, stinkhorns.

And Kath in the UK then followed-up with her friend who is a mushroom expert. He is probably right on the type, phallus hadriani, but we’re not getting full development on them in order to tell for sure.

(Thanks y’all, I so appreciate your help! Isn’t the internet so awesome for such connections?!)

We’re still checking our phallus circle daily and they keep trying! One egg will ‘hatch’ but then it falls over.

Could it be a kind of ‘phallus shrinkage’ due to weather whiplash?? 😂

The goats are gorging on acorns and scarfing down the fresh greens Hubby planted for them in a former garden space. The kids are happy because I put them all back together again. They went right back to nursing even though they are nearly as big as their mamas already. And, I’m still getting a half-gallon of milk a day, so it’s a win-win.

The goat cheeses are coming out great.

Aged chèvre wrapped in maple leaves and one in plastic cheese wrap for taste comparison

The pigs are getting fat and happy again foraging for plenty of acorns.

And ending with another meaningful but ill-placed commentary just because I like it and don’t have another place to put it.

WTF Photo

The curiosity is killing me!

I must appeal to the precious few—do y’all have any clues?!

I saw these two bizarre emerging ‘eggs’ two days ago while mushroom hunting. Today I took a few photos, they are more exposed than when I first saw them. The whiteish surface is kinda slimy.

Any expertise out there, or just some random guesses??

Nature’s Myriad Mysteries

Every day on the wee homestead brings some new mystery, most of which go mostly unsolved. No need for UFOs, Jesus’ image on your morning toast, or Big Foot sightings around here—we’ve got baffling bees, mystical mushrooms, and unexplained murders.

I’ll start with the most dramatic. A rancher neighbor was terribly shaken up and recounted a recent disturbing event at their place, meaning to warn us. They found two calves bleeding, one dead, one still barely alive, which they had to put down, the injury was so severe.

She had been crying, as I would’ve been as well, and told me in their nearly two decades here they had never seen such a thing and had no idea what creature had done it. It wasn’t any kind of injury they recognized or have had to deal with before. Each one had a single tear right up its undercarriage, with the entrails spilling out, and nothing eaten. Coyotes being our typical predators around here, I inquired along those lines and she shook her head, clearly, not this time. We do hear stories about panther sightings on occasion, I myself thought I saw one once too. But again, the gnawing question, predators don’t just kill calves for the fun of it. Two calves killed, no markings or traces of a struggle, and nothing eaten. That is a mystery I prefer not to think too much about.

So, quickly, on to better stories!

I have an update on the bizarre ‘mushroom blob’ from a recent post. Over the last weeks it has developed into typical bracket or crust fungi. While now at least it is generally identifiable, the mystery still remains, because bracket mushrooms grow on trees, not under vines in regular garden soil. There is not even wood mulch on the top of the bed where it’s growing.

The fungi when I first found it above, and again today, below.

My only guess is that the mycelia network is coming up from below this raised bad. We threw a bunch of wood chunks down before piling on the soil. But, that might be a stretch, as I’ve never heard of these mushrooms growing on anything but living or dead bark. I just don’t know.

Mushrooms being my second favorite mystery after bees, we end with a sweeter little story.

This bitternut tree was all abuzz with activity this morning. It’s hard with photos to get a sense of how many bees were working it, so there’s a short video clip below for the sound effects.

We couldn’t help but think it was such odd bee behavior, because nothing on this tree is blooming—no pollen, no nectar. Yet the bees were clearly eating something off the leaves. So, we licked the leaves, and they taste sweet! I have no idea why this would be, but the leaves seem to be exuding some kind of sap. The bees have been all over it all day, so it wasn’t just morning dew.

This sounds like the simple sort of mystery a local arborist could solve for us. If I find out, I’ll be sure and let y’all know, so you don’t loose any sleep over it! 😆

Homestead Happy Snaps

High 90s again this week—will it ever end?!

Kinda hard to stay motivated when we’re melting!

Luckily as mood boosters we have Hubby’s homemade sparkling wine coolers. It’s his own concoction, made from our own ‘new’ wines—pear mixed with wild grape—complete with bubbles! It’s really tasty, not too sweet, and a lovely color. And bubbles!

Delicious!

The goats are still impressively darling and annoying and belligerent at once.

Beautyberries and mist flower don’t mind the late summer heat.

The garden still has many happy visitors, but I’m not one of them!

You’ll find me inside with the air conditioning, an icy wine cooler, and a pile of books and movies to attend to!

Mushroom Abundance

While just two hours away Dallas was getting flooded, we got a measly two inches. Certainly not enough to fill the pond or raise the creek or get the ravines flowing again.

But it was enough for a crazy number of mushrooms!

I was collecting mushrooms for several days afterward, including some first-time-finds—a choice edible and the weirdest mushroom I’ve ever seen.

The ‘Giant Blob’ mushroom? These are all through one of our raised beds planted with sweet potatoes, scattered throughout the vines.

Mushrooms popping up everywhere.

And now on to the good stuff!

Foraging for anything is just about my favorite thing to do in decent weather, and mushrooms especially. But in hot, sticky weather there better be some bang for the buck, as the saying goes.

Especially because the chiggers thrive here when it’s hot, wet, and humid, so shorts and sandals are not an option.

Last year with our very wet spring we had chanterelles all summer long. We’ve had very few this year, so this nice haul has been a real treat.

“Chicken” mushroom — Laetiporus sulphureus

Hubby found this ‘chicken of the woods’ on a rotting Oak tree while feeding the pigs. It’s a first-find for us here and is considered to be a good “Beginner’s” mushroom, because there are no similar mushrooms to it which are poisonous. It’s very tasty in cream of mushroom soup and does indeed have a texture similar to chicken breast.

Another new find is considered to be “choice”—related to the shiitake mushroom—Lentinus lepideus.

Found on rotting pine, which there’s loads of around here, so it’s surprising we don’t find them more often. I’m going to try to cultivate them!

We got a marvelous wild harvest right in the back yard. These “Pink bottoms” (Agaricus campestris) are very common and closely related to commercially cultivated mushrooms in the grocery stores.

They resemble another common yard mushroom that fools a lot of folks—the toxic Chlorophyllum molybdites —including me once when I was a beginner. It was an excellent lesson considering spending the night hugging the toilet has made me a much more cautious mushroom hunter!

These two often grow together as well, preferring the same conditions, sometimes in ‘fairy rings’. When they are very young the gills of both look white, while still mostly closed.

As they open, the good ones have pinkish gills that change fairly quickly to chocolate brown. The toxic ones have greenish gills that get a grayish-olive tone with age.

The ‘campestris’ after a few hours on the left and another fresh from the yard on the right.

And to make matters more confusing, once a little older and browned they could also be confused by a novice with another yard mushroom, the ‘magic’ mushroom, the common psychedelic Psilocybe cubensis. The very bitter taste will be enough to figure that out.

And now, for the grande finale . . . the most perfect specimen of Macrolepiota procera I’ve ever seen! A delicious edible, fairly common wherever there’s been ruminants wandering, like quite a few other wild mushrooms.

Fun With Goats

No, I don’t mean Goat Yoga, that’s just dumb.

Really, yoga’s not enough torture for you, you need hooves to the spine, too?!

We love our goats, but not inside, duh.

New screenplay idea: Goats Who Stare At Men!

Because of the heat and drought the best forage is close to the house, where we are regularly watering. It’s good for the goats, and for us it makes for better entertainment than most TV. There are drawbacks though. Like they eat pretty much all the plants, not just the ones we want them to eat.

And they tend to follow me around, waiting for the extra special treats I bring them from the garden, like their favorite, sweet potato vines and morning glory.

Feeding frenzy

And they want to climb on everything.

Going out on a limb
Just out of reach!
“I’m too sexy for this grass”

Our once somewhat peaceful morning coffee now attracts a team of show-offs. (I don’t think Bubba approves, considering what they do to his bed.) They do giant leaps off the deck, too, that look a lot like the tricks snowboarders do, but not on cue, unfortunately.

Please feel free to enjoy 2 minutes of Chez Kensho programming!

Homestead Happenings

Time to wine!

It’s hot. It’s dry. It’s miserable. Every day we enter the garden and the orchard knowing we’ll find something else dead.

First it was the tomatoes, then the salad cucumbers and cantaloupe, now it looks like even the tomatillos are giving up before ever producing well. The squashes are all struggling and the peppers and figs are mostly stalled.

I wish that meant it was time to rest on our laurels and have some long, slow and sweet indoor days of movie marathons and Kombucha cocktails.

But no such luck, because it’s time for making wine!

Our painstakingly cultivated Muscadine grapes are not doing well, we expect a minimal harvest, at best.

But, the native Mustang grapes are a lot tougher, apparently.

So, fortunately! We’re still able to make some wine and jam.

Did I mention it’s really F’ing HOT? And dry?

I’d whine a lot more, except I keep going back to the miracle of all the critters and plants who can take it so much better than we can. Though, I know they are struggling too, and are just less whiney than I am.

And just for those keeping track, the ‘chemtrails’ have not abated.

Rebel Canning?!

Drama in the canning community? This sounds serious. Especially now that it’s coming home to roost.

Or is that roast?

Yes, now that Hubby has enthusiastically taken up canning, there’s trouble brewing in Kensho paradise.

It’s not only that he dominates our small kitchen for hours on end, heats up the house with his fancy pressure canner, or is filling every conceivable space with his jars. It’s not even that’s he’s far better at it than I ever was.

No, I’m generous that way, perfectly willing to share in the glory.

I am, however, growing weary of his methodology. His modern, high-tech, USDA, strictly by the book, precision style is beginning to conflict with my laissez-faire, look how the old timers did it, just wing it attitude.

I suggested we try the ‘Open Kettle Method’, which for the record is taken directly from my 1933 Kerr Home Canning Guide.

He quips, “No way, it’s not approved.”

Huh?

And I’ve just learned we’re not alone in this clash. There’s some fiery online debate—wouldn’t you know it—as in politics, so in the kitchen.

They call themselves the ‘Rebel Canners’ and that’s got me quite intrigued. Those rascals are daring to question The Official Science! They must all have a death wish. Clearly they have they never heard of botulism.

It was no sooner than Hubby and I had a tiff over water bath timing that a YouTube video hit the top of my feeds.

How did they know?

A rebel canner, in the flesh.

She doesn’t look nearly as crazy as I thought she would. She brings up the Amish, who never pressure can.

Never! Not even for meat.

It’s positively scandalous.

Hubby tries to block out the insanity coming from the speakers. I tell him I want to try it. Meat, my dear, imagine, meat water bath canned!

Let’s go for it!

He looks at me with the same look as when I try a new foraged mushroom without proper identification. And I know just what that look means.

I can repeat the sentence for him, I’ve heard it so often.

“You go ahead, sweetie, someone has to live to tell the story.”

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