Ramble On

Monday, January 30, 2012

Closing Out on the Butchering, Kelly!

Here's the pork, all packed for the trip
back to Alexandria.  I was burning some
red oak I've been curing in the background.

Today will be my last post about the pig butchering that I was part of a couple of weekends ago.  At least for now.  

Looking back on it, I am remembering some hard work – everyone of us talked about hitting the sack early after the first day’s efforts on Friday.  But as I told David when I got home on Sunday night, something about the experience was very relaxing; it’s not often that I could say that I started the work week as refreshed as I felt that Monday morning after the event.

There is still a stockpile of memories that I haven’t managed to capture in the blog, beginning with one of the tales Mark was spinning during the BS session before we went off to the slaughter.  The rest of the story will come back to me eventually, but the punchline still resonates:  “Well, roadkill is just about all I eat anymore.”

Then there was the comment from my dad about making the sausage (indicating true insider knowledge):  “Were those ‘natural sausage casings’ creek washed and stump slung?  You were born about two generations too late!”

Ted, one of my colleagues at the butchering who took a lot of pictures and shared them with me over on Shutterfly, had this to say:

A view of some of the larger roasts...
in one of the three fridges I'm storing it in!
“From pig to pot to pan to plate, the photos in this album are from last weekend's visit to Luray where I helped brother-in-law Bill and others butcher 4 hogs. … the bulk of the butcherin' took place on Friday; sausage, scrapple, packaging, and clean-up on Saturday; and Sunday breakfast. We used to do this almost annually many years ago and this is the first time for me in many years. Back then, Ann and I would buy some pork, but this year was just to participate in the process for the social camaraderie and metaphysical benefits of doing so. But that demands more commentary, so I'll let it go for now. Thanks to Bill, Jessica, Jesse, Tammy, Mark, Susie, David, Heather, Jim, and Eric for letting me get in the way.”

Among Ted's photos were a couple of shots of the breakfast he mentions.  They served up scrapple - I have to say that his photos of it in the pan and on the plate look scrumptious.  Mary and I will break down and have some soon, but in the meantime, I have enjoyed sharing some of it with the neighbors (a big part of the joy is the opportunity to regale the big city folk with my butchering tale!).

Mary and finally had a chance to enjoy some of the pork this weekend.  I made up some chops on Saturday night and served them up with a nice bit of roasted butternut squash.  There were leftovers (most of the chops are packed in fours), so for Sunday dinner we made a stirfry with some of the cabbage that is still growing out in Mary’s Alexandria truck patch.

Breakfast sausage.  Bob Evans,
 eat your heart out!
Sausage and mushroom quiche!
We also had breakfast sausage this morning – Chris told me they did too.  The simple recipe I chose, salt, pepper and sage, is a hit.  Mary and I had some leftover, so I put it in a quiche with some swiss cheese and mushrooms.  We’ll be eating on that for a few days!

So getting back to the point of all of this.  Some things finally came together for me about our little house out there – Hawksbill Cabin.  Ted’s put it best in his intro to the photos when he mentions the social camaraderie and the metaphysical benefits.  There’s something to all of this, resonating deep in one of the chromosomes that ties us all together.  I can’t wait until next year.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Parts is...parts

As folks took turns stirring the pudding,
there was quite a bit of socializing going on.
As Wikipedia has it:

Scrapple is traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour, and spices. The mush is formed into a semi-solid congealed loaf, and slices of the scrapple are then pan-fried before serving. Scraps of meat left over from butchering, not used or sold elsewhere, were made into scrapple to avoid waste. Scrapple is best known as a rural American food of the Mid-Atlantic States…. Scrapple and pon haus (the Wikipedia article says this is a traditional Amish name for scrapple) are commonly considered an ethnic food of the Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Mennonites and Amish. Scrapple is found in supermarkets throughout the region in both fresh and frozen refrigerated cases.

Mark worked over the meat for the scrapple.
I turned down at least 3 invitations to try some.
The preparations for making scrapple began on Friday evening, as we were winding down from breaking the carcasses up into smaller roasts and other cuts. The organ meat, retrieved earlier during the day (after David’s short demonstration of how to rummage through the gut tub for the heart and liver, I did it myself) had been put aside for this purpose, as had some parts of the head. This was mixed with a bit of lard and other scraps to make the meat basis of the dish.

I was impressed that there was quite a bit of activity involved in making it; there was a very social aspect to it as you can see from the photos, and of course, the cooked organ meat was carefully handled and diced into appropriately sized morsels.

I politely declined tasting any of the “yummy bits” during the process, preferring to defer the pleasant surprise that surely awaits until the dish was fully prepared. Now, with a dozen or so tubs in the fridge, I’m still wondering whether we will eat any…although I have three or four neighbors signed up for tubs, and some friends in Luray are known partakers.

What's cooking?  "I don't know the word for
it in English."
Why the hesitancy? I suppose it is because my family never really ate any of the foods – separately, or in a single recipe – that are part of this dish, so it’s something I’m not used to eating. Maybe salvation lies further on down in the Wikipedia article, though:

Scrapple is usually eaten as a breakfast food, and can be served plain or with apple butter, ketchup, jelly, maple syrup, honey, or even mustard, and accompanied by eggs, potatoes, or pancakes. In some regions, such as New England, scrapple is mixed with scrambled eggs and served with toast. In the Philadelphia area, scrapple is sometimes fried and then mashed with fried eggs, horseradish and ketchup.

Scrapple is a community food - this is only part of
the yield, which was shared amongst all of us.
With enough condiments, one could probably disguise the strong tastes and make it through the first time. After that, my butchering friends assure me, I’ll be hooked.

(Note: It was my plan to conclude the butchering posts today, but there have been a number of comments on Facebook that I think I will compile into a wrap-up. Plus, one of my colleagues from the experience has sent a link to his photos of the two days, and I’d like to share that. So look for that extra post on Monday.)

The Wikipedia article on scrapple is here:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrapple

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sausage Wrangling

Demonstrating that I can handle my
sausage (at least under close supervision).
“To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.”

There is some dispute about the author of that quote, but it’s one you hear quite a bit around here in Washington. The law making process especially has been particularly ugly these last two years, with this Congress and this President, so I figured the sausage making we planned for the second day of our butchering project was likely to be inspirational by comparison.

In some earlier posts, while preparing for the events I’ve been writing about these last few days, I mentioned the research I did before buying equipment, looking into processes, and talking over other aspects of butchering with David. He’d referred me to the Google for sausage recipes, and reassured me that I could figure that part out better once we got started. So I came prepared with the idea of doing some breakfast sausage, chorizo, and bratwursts, and with vague ideas of the recipes.

After we finished the big breaking down, there was a fairly long time that we worked on trimming down the sausage meat. My colleagues had brought along two copies of the sausage recipe book photographed below in this post, and all of them called for five pounds of meat. It appeared that I was going to have enough for four batches: 20 pounds.

Brats:  Before.
Brats:  After.
Still being down the steep part of the learning curve, I figured a quick adjustment of expectations was in order as well, so I decided to focus on the breakfast sausage and the brats. The breakfast sausage was chosen because it is a very basic recipe with only three ingredients besides the pork: salt, pepper, and sage; I chose the brats because I thought it might be interesting to figure out how to work with the casings. Also, the spices were a bit more exotic for this, including allspice and coriander, and the recipe called for some veal, which I didn’t think I’d find in the Valley on short notice.

I bought my spices after we knocked off the first day, fingers crossed (as they always are at the Food Lion) that I could find everything. Except for casings, I was successful; I made two stops on the way back to the butchering shed to find casings – at Fairview Market and Farmers Foods. They were sold out at Fairview, referring me to Gore’s (confirming for in-the-know readers that I was planning to use natural casings)…and inviting me for a chat; but I found what I needed with the helpful butcher at Farmers. Then it was off to the shed.

My first step was to weigh the meat and mix in the spices, which I did. By this time, there were a few more hands working around the shop to help with packaging. They also brought more food, so I’d go as far as to describe it as being altogether festive in the shed on Saturday morning. Breakfast sausage first; after finishing mixing the spices we went to the grinder, and after that I broke it down into one pound packs, ending up with 11 of them.

I had to regrind the brat meat from a course grind the night before to a fine grind, so I mixed in the spices first before feeding it into the machine. The one David was showing me how to use had a nozzle attachment that you could thread the casing onto. He did some practice runs to show me how it worked, and then had me sit down to finish the job.

 Now, I could go into any number of euphemisms here, because in the butchering shed there is plenty of opportunity for them. Suffice it to say that at the end of this exercise, David made note of my expertise in handling my sausage. I thanked him for the complement…the literal one.

Getting back to that opening quote, I found the sausage making efforts quite enjoyable. Maybe I regret that I didn’t get to try any more recipes, but I think there’s a good start here with ten pounds each of the bulk breakfast and the linked brats, and Chris is happy with the haul as well.

But I recently found my mother-in-laws manual sausage grinder, and I’m thinking that this is something that I could practice on in preparation for next year. I fancy that it would surprise everyone if I showed up at the butchering shop a skilled “charcuterist”…

The recipe book:  (Amazon link)
Sausage-Making Cookbook, The: Complete instructions and recipes for making 230 kinds of sausage easily in your own kitchen

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Everything but the Oink

Here's David on Saturday morning after
breaking the loin down into chops
on the band saw.
“We use everything but the oink” was what I was told on the day the pigs arrived back in August. At the time, I was still on that self-styled agribusiness internship working with David at Public House Produce. The pigs were a great addition to the farm, and he was clearly enjoying having them around – he told me about sitting out there near the barn with his daughter on a warm summer night as they thought about names for the pigs.

The experience of “hugging your food” had suddenly gotten very “hands on” for me, and this time it wasn’t just about picking up a two-pound chicken running loose in a pasture. We were turning the animals into pork, a process that would take two whole days.

As we processed the whole carcasses, I was learning how true “everything but the oink” would be. There are aficionados for the organ meat – the heart, kidneys and liver – and there are people who eat these on their own merit. For us, they were mainly destined for the “pudding pot,” where we collected various cuts for use in scrapple that would be prepared on the second day.

Me, holding the "oink."

The meat saw here, hard to see, is used
to break the larger cuts down.
Once the pigs had been moved down the line in the butchering shed, the carcasses end up, usually in halves, on a table down at the end. Here, the loin is cut out, the racks of ribs cut, and the shoulder, ham, and bacon cuts are made. As these large cuts are done, we carried them back across the room to store them out of the way on the big table, since we shared the workspace on the small table and needed to keep it clear.

Here are some of the parts waiting for the
"pudding pot" - a small tenderloin,
and sausage cuts.
Time permitting on the first day, and it did for us, you might take some of the larger cuts and break them down further into small cuts that could be ground up into sausage. I did this with one of the shoulders, but some of the other butchers were taking both shoulders for this purpose. I put together 20 pounds of meat this way so that I could make breakfast sausage and bratwursts.

These are the big cuts that we had at
the end of the first day.  You can see a
ham or two, loins, shoulders, and ribs
in this photo.
So at the end of the first day, we no longer had pigs – we had pork – some of which was already recognizable as something to eat: the hams and shoulder roasts, for example. There was plenty to do the next day, although I was beginning to understand that the work would go fast now that the big physical part of the process was out of the way.

As our activities wrapped up and we were cleaning the shed, other family members began to show up to help with some organization for day 2, or to bring in some food and snacks. There was a good hour or two of socializing and catch up while things wound down. We planned for an 8:00 start the next morning, but I still had work to do, buying some spices and other goods for my sausage recipes.

I got home at 7:00 pm, grabbed a light dinner and some suds. I scrubbed myself down in a hot shower, and turned the lights out at 8:30. I woke up at 6:00 the next morning in the same position I went to sleep in, bone tired the night before, but refreshed and ready to go on a snowy Saturday morning.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Inside the Butchering Shed

The scalding tub, with the big window above.
This is the first stop for the carcass as it
enters the shed.  Note the heavy duty sawhorses
on the table here.
Looking down the line towards the big table.
Note the overhead railing, where the initial
steps in processing are done.
Call it a shop, a shed, or a shack, but the utilitarian little building we spent most of Friday and Saturday in matches all those definitions. From the outside, nestled in among some outbuildings behind a very recognizable house on the outskirts of Luray, it’s not much – just a 20x30 building simply constructed out of concrete masonry. Inside, it’s another story, as it is practically laid out for the business of processing animals into food.

These are the hooks that are used to suspend the carcass
from the rail - longer ones for the head, shorter for the carcass.
Also note the scale just visible in the upper left, it only had a 30
pound capacity...too small for our pigs!
The photos that accompany today’s post are a few that I took before any of the work had begun, even before most of our company had arrived to join us for the day’s work. Heck, the BS session hadn't even started!

I had a few minutes alone to look over the equipment, and with only the imagination of a greenhorn, to imagine what I was looking back. With the first time behind me now, I’m realizing that I don’t have the photographs to tell the whole thing – but there is plenty for the imagination.

Like so many process oriented buildings, this one is simply, linearly, laid out. The animal comes in at one end and moves down a line, progressively evolving from a carcass to a roast. That’s effectively what got done on the first day of our work as well. So here’s my layman’s version of the process.

At the front of the shed there is a large window with a barn door opening that slides the wooden covering out of the way. Below the window is the scalding tub, a large basin that the animal gets placed inside before anything else. The heat in the tub – the water is kept at 150 degrees – facilitates the removal of the hair.

After a “bath” of a few minutes, the carcass is raised up out of the water to the nearby table, and the team goes to work with some tools to take off as much hair as possible. While there was a bloody aspect to some of the work, this part of the job seemed the dirtiest to me: the pig, warmed from the water and with the hair loosened, needs to be cleaned. Along with all the hair, most of the dirt comes off, and is left behind over in this part of the shed. The cleanup begins immediately after, as this space is put back to use once the carcass is broken down.

Next, at the end of the heavy duty table there (it's supported on saw horses made from steel beams), the head is removed and hung on the steel overhead rail. The removal is a straightforward job that I didn’t do, but I did hang them up after the decapitation. Next, a little cut behind the ankle tendons on the rear legs, and the carcass is ready to hang from the rail, with the aid of more hooks and a winch. With the first one hung in this fashion, we moved back to the truck to do it over, until all four of the animals were hanging from the overhead, bodies next to heads.
Aprons and buckets for convenience.
We didn't use 'em.

In approximately the same area as these aprons and buckets, we began the process of cleaning the carcasses. (I do have photos of this activity, but I have decided not to post them yet…I think some readers will find them disturbing. So I may put them into a slide show that I can post as a video with an advisory note. That will take some time to put together.) I’ll talk about this in more detail in tomorrow’s post.

This is the little table - note the
wooden saw horses - where everything
is boken down into roasts
or smaller parts.
From there, the carcass is moved on down the line to a smaller table at the end of the building. Here is where the roasts are separated out – the hams, the ribs, the loins, and the shoulder. We seemed to be making pretty good time, as this activity was underway by late morning. Later the table was used for breaking some parts down further into sausage meat, and then it was used to prepare some of the parts for use in scrapple.

Monday, January 23, 2012

On a quiet and cold morning...

There'd been a hard frost overnight and the world was as barely awake as I was when I hit the road from Hawksbill Cabin to meet up with David and friends in Egypt Bend, just west of Luray near the Shenandoah River.  I was the last to arrive, and after some brief shooting the breeze, we were underway back to the farm, bringing destiny with us in the loaded rifle on the floorboard of David's truck - destiny, not for us, but for the four hogs that David had raised since August, and that I had been watching grow from little squealers into the nearly 400 pound young adults they'd now become.

I've been thinking for a few weeks how I might post about the experience of being familiar with these pigs, and then seeing them killed and butchered, with me doing some of the work. Would the shooting upset me? How much blood would there be? What would be more difficult - the deaths or the evisceration?

For all of my years, I've chosen my pork under the gleaming fluorescent lights of a grocery store, where it is very abstracted from the animal. True, some roasts retain the appearance of some body part, but generally, even in high-end stores, it's hard to connect the meat on display in those cases with the animal that was raised somewhere else and made it to your table after being handled by so many people. Raising a pig with David and friends was a clarifying experience.

When we got to the farm, I looked across at the cows grazing in the early light across the nearby pasture.  They were far enough away that our activities wouldn't bother them, even if they could be distracted from the forage.    And there lay the pigs, sleeping in a huddle against the cold.

We woke them, and they went out into the field to relieve themselves.  Then it was their time. 

It was quick work.  First, the killing shot - smooth, except for the first one, and a quick correction was made.  The rest went down instantly. 

After the death, there is the bleeding.  I wondered to myself why there didn't seem to be much blood, and then remembered there's only a gallon or so in a human, and logically, probably not much more in a pig.  It was bloody, but not the gore fest you see in a bull fight or horror flick.  It was quickly over also; I think everyone there shared my respect of these animals, wanting the quickest and most painless death for them.

So the answer to my questions had come by the time we were leaving the farm - via the new chicken coop where David has the new flock of layers getting started.  I wasn't troubled by the deaths, nor the blood.  I was coming around to how natural this all seemed, how innate it was.

I've included here the early video, shot back in August, of the arrival of the pigs on the farm.  They were only 35 pounds or so back then, but would grow to at least ten times that by last Friday.  I'll follow this post with a few more about the butchering experience.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

News from Glen Highland Farm Border Collie Rescue

I had news from Lillie at Glen Highland Farm that this is setting up to be a busy winter for border collie rescue - she has a record number at the farm and temporarily placed with fosters.  That includes the seven week old female front and center here, "Hayle," pictured with some litter mates that have already been placed.

Puppies are often placed more easily than adult dogs, but if you are in the market for this breed, I encourage you to look at Glen Highland Farm (link:  http://glenhighlandfarm.com/) or one in your area.  There are plenty of dogs looking for a forever home.

I have to admit I was so smitten with the two pictures that Lillie sent me I changed my blogging schedule so I could post them.  Just remember, these dogs are very cute puppies, but even at this age, in groups of three, they're smart enough to rob a bank!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Snead Farm: An Easy SNP Day Hike

There are a couple of forks in the road -
mind the guide posts!

The old Snead Farm barn.

A few years ago, when I was making my way through the easy day hikes in the previous edition of the book I reviewed yesterday, I stopped by Snead Farm on a late spring morning with the intention of knocking this 1.4 mile out-and-back hike along a fire road, with an easy climb. The book also describes a longer, 3.2 mile loop - I've never done that one. 

Exterior of the root cellar.

By the time of year I visited - mid May, if I remember correctly, parts of the homestead were already overgrown with waste-high grass and I imagined I could actually see the ticks in there waiting for me, so I postponed a close inspection of the ruins here for another day.  I planned to come back during the winter, and I hoped I'd be able to talk Mary into it.  So it happened that over the Christmas holiday we went out and did this hike, pairing it with the Lands Run Falls hike I reviewed last week - as it happens, that is the same way I did these two hikes the first time.

Root cellar interior.

The story goes that this 200-acre apple farm was acquired by the park in 1962.  But unlike with many of the old farmsteads, the barn was not razed and you can see it when you visit, although you cannot get in.  There's also an old root cellar; which for me conjures up a vision of onions, carrots, turnips and the like - and a healthy share of winter squash to boot.

Bunkhouse foundation wall.

The tall grass had kept me away from the foundation of the old bunkhouse, but we were able to get a closer look at it during December.  In addition to the old concrete footers, there's an old cistern, and a couple of stairs where the old doorways were.  There's a substantial foundation where an interior stairway once stood, as well, so I assume the bunkhouse was a two-story structure.

Bunkhouse cistern.

On the way in, there are piles of stones, hinting at old pasture walls, and a couple of little springs that you pass.  It's a very pleasant and easy adventure, one I don't mind revisiting now and again.

Bunkhouse doorway steps, with the
old staircase in the background.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Review: Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park

I took a look at the Amazon page for the Easy Day Hikes book I use for some of my hikes - there wasn't a review.  So I edited an old post into one and posted it there.  It's reproduced in full below - also included is a link to the Amazon page for the book.  Enjoy - and if you happen to visit that page, go ahead and check that my review was helpful if you found it was...
While planning a Shenandoah National Park day hike recently I found the new edition of a favorite guidebook, "Best Easy Day Hikes Shenandoah National Park," by Bert and Jane Gildart, which was published in 2011. This is the 4th edition. Since buying a country home in Luray, near the Park's headquarters, I had used the 3rd edition as a guide and hiked each of the 26 routes to familiarize myself with the park. I also kept copies of the little book in Luray and at home in the DC area.

On first review of the new edition, the major difference is the inclusion of 27 hikes, one more than were in the old edition. One of the old hikes was replaced, so there are two new routes in the book. A district by district comparison reveals that there are now 6 hikes in the North District, where there were five; there are 15 in the Central District, the same as before; and there are 6 in the South District, the same number as were in the 3rd edition.

The additional hike in the North District is Fort Windham Rocks, a 0.8 mile out-and-back without much climbing. In the Central District, a second route to the peak at Mary's Rock has been added: "Mary's Rock South," a shorter 2.6 mile out-and-back with less elevation gain than the traditional "Mary's Rock North" route. The entry that combined Betty's Rock and Crescent Rock was deleted from the Central District, and the South District list remains the same.

Shenandoah National Park used to be covered by farms. Nature's inevitable reclamation is one of the features of the Park experience, so the trails change. The Gildarts acknowledge this sometimes with a note that an old viewpoint might now be obscured by a new forest, or they mention unusual flora or fauna that has re-established itself, offering the visitor a chance at discovery in addition to the wonderful views from Skyline Drive.

One section that I enjoy referring to is the list that ranks the hikes from easiest to most challenging. I have my favorites on this list, and at the same time, if the choice were mine, there are a few I might exchange for others - I'm sure I'm not alone in this among those who know the Park well. Despite that exception, this guide has always proven useful to me when I am planning adventures in the Park, and I'm very happy to see that it has been updated.

Whether you are looking to experience an interpretive nature trail, to visit a waterfall or vista, or to check out some of the places where "the mountain people" used to live, you'll find this book a good place to start. It's a handy guidebook well worth the price. For myself, I'm looking forward to checking off the new routes that were added in the 4th edition.


Friday, January 13, 2012

Lands Run Falls: An Easy SNP Day Hike

During the holidays, I talked Mary into getting out on two of the Easy Day Hikes.  We actually did them one after another; Lands Run Falls was the second one of the day.  I'll post on the other, Snead Farm, on Monday.

I found Lands Run Falls in the Best Easy Day Hikes (Amazon link below) book.  It truly qualifies as an easy hike because it is only 1.2 miles round trip, descends about 300 feet total (remember, you'll be climbing on the way back), and it follows a paved fire road for some of the way before it transitions into packed gravel.

Most of the route is through a mature forest with oaks and hickories - the book says that there was some significant damage to the woods here during a tropical storm in 1996, but you'd be hard pressed to notice during the summer when the leaves are up.  There is also a lot of greenstone, one of the Park's ubiquitous igneous rock types, along the way.

The two photos are of the falls themselves, which you really can't get down to - they're observed from a safe spot at the top of the cascade, and it's really not advisable to climb down into the gorge.  I also took a photo of the upstream view of the stream, which spills over little cascades on its way down to the plunge.  To get to the falls, you walk to the spot where the stream crosses under the fire road, and take a little spru trail on the right about a 100 yards. 

There are a couple of twists and turns in the route as you approach the falls, and I've found that disorienting before, since it makes the route seem longer than it really is.  But you start hearing the falls from about a quarter mile away, which reassures that you are approaching your goal.

The book calls it "a nice leg stretcher"...I agree.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pig Preparatory Period

The new butcherin' knives - the name
'Dexter' is purely coincidental.
Yesterday I had a message from David:
"We are getting close, are you getting excited about the 'big butchering' -  and by big I mean some big freaking hogs."

He told me that the folks stopping by Public House Produce to take a look at the pigs are guessing that they are now approaching 400 pounds, and even the smallest one is, well, not so small anymore.

Meanwhile, Chris and I continue our acquisition spree in preparation.  Yesterday, my knives arrived, shown here in the photo.  Chris went on-line to find a big cooler, and was successful at Sam's Club, where he found a 150 qt. cooler. I imagine it will be like this one I found on Amazon, and I am thinking of buying it...

Now, Chris made some calls to his in-laws in Chicago, who happen to work in the meat business.  What he found out from them was helpful, even though Uncle Brian says that the pigs he sees going to market are [only] 280-290 pounds. To which I responded, "Is he dealing in piglets?  Don't they have any master farmers raising pigs out there in the midwest, like we do in the Shenandoah Valley?"
Uncle Brian then tolled off some estimates of what we can expect here: "The head will weigh fifty pounds, each ham and loin about 26 pounds, and the shoulders will be about the same."
He also recommeded that we have the hams smoked along with the bacon.  So I'll need to get back with David to see about coordinating this.
Uncle Brian's closing words?
"Yeah, you're going to have a lot of product."
At this point, I think that is an understatement.  These are big freaking hogs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Once again, I must return to preparation for the pig as a topic.  This time, I'm thinking about how I am going to cook some of the proceeds.

Last month I did a little post about a tenderloin recipe I did for Christmas dinner - something that turned out well enough that Mary said, "We could serve this to company."  So for some of the roast cuts, smoking them is just what I have in mind for preparation.

In fact, here's a photo of my little smoker - I bought this on clearance from Tractor Supply last year and have done a few meals on it so far.  I have more in mind, of course.

There's no shortage of inspiration on the topic.  I get comments and suggestions all the time on things to try.  I've even been given some excellent pieces of wood - in particular a big section of white oak - from friends.  And we have a couple of hickories on the property that I use whenever I can.

The second photo is a small pile of red oak I gathered from a neighbor's tree-trimming effort back in Alexandria.  Our friends at Rocklands use red oak exclusively for their ribs and pork.

Yes, that'll do.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Preparing for Pork

I've mentioned the pigs.  Not to be disrectful of them, but their time is going short.  I've been spending some time thinking about what must be done to prepare for harvest.

David says he expects each of them to be larger than 325 pounds.  It's pretty amazing to think that he's got the better part of a half ton of pork on his hands right now.  But all will be settled soon.

Last night, I placed an order for some butchering knives with Cabela's...spending about $120 on a set of three: an 11-inch cimeter, a 108-inch straight butchering knife, and a 6-inch stiff boning knife (typical manly error that, adding two inches to the size of that knife).  Looking at these knives (the white handled ones in the photo) I probably should have invested in the cut-proof glove as well...I still might do that. That was a bit of an investment - I suppose it means I will likely be part of this again sometime.

Turning from the practicalities of getting there to the ultimate goal of filling the freezer, David recently walked me through what I could expect as far as meat production goes.  Here is a photo sampling some of the output: 

  • loin roast
  • sausage (bulk)
  • bacon
This represents something like only 5% of the total output of the pig - which led to some further concerns on logistics.  There will likely be 20 times this much food at the end of the day, and some of the cuts will be fairly difficult to handle - the hams, the shoulder roasts, and the ribs. 

We are still in discussions about whether we'll buy casings and make link sausages.  And given that there is going to be a lot of scrapple...a LOT of scrapple - maybe 25 pounds, I have been recruiting some Alexandria neighbors to take some.  So far, three takers.

Mary and I have got to get started making room in the freezer.  Fortunately, we're splitting the take with Chris.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Alter Ego, part 2: The New Blog

Back in October, I started a new blog called "Rescue My IRA."  It is linked in the blog roll to the right, or there is a reference link at the end of this post.  As I posted in the profile section of that blog, which will cover an investment strategy I have been using for my IRA rollover account:

"I'm at the tail-end of that generation, but I'm still a baby-boomer. I've been saving and investing a long time, but am dissappointed at what I've achieved in that arena. So, with 2/3 of my work life behind me, I'm trying to turn this boat around. On another note: thank you for reading. If any of the trades I write about here interest you, that's great, but be sure to do your own due diligence - like me, you invest at your own risk."

In any case, here's a link if you'd like to check it out:

I've got a queue of traditional Hawksbill Cabin posts, I'll catch up on those starting Monday!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Alter ego

It may come as a shock to regular readers, but Cabin Jim has a day job.  I guess I have posted about it from time to time, but I had a nice emailed reminder yesterday - actually it was a tweet - that referred me to a link of one of my tradeshow presentations.

There are four short clips here from a talk I gave last March in Baltimore (the "road trips" label includes a couple of these posts.  As a matter of fact, I'll be up there again this March - and I've given a similar talk in Las Vegas a couple of times now.  Here's the link, with a hat tip to my friend Dennis:


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

2011 Recap Part 2 - The "Top 5"

After reviewing the 2011 posts, I selected a group that I consider the Top 5 events that I posted about last year. They’re not presented in any sort of ranking – just chronologically. Some were “once in a lifetime” events – and some were part of an ongoing process. All in all though, at the end of the day, they were just part of life’s rich pageant.

January 2011: Trip to Japan. This was a direct result of success at work. During the summer before, I worked with a colleague to identify and pursue a couple of government RFPs that required marketing, financial, and facility analysis to support construction projects, predominantly for recreational facilities on military bases. Although the celebration of that win didn’t last long (I was laid off in August – don’t worry, as you’ll see, I made the best of it), the Japan trip became a once in a lifetime kind of event.

I went to an Army base at Camp Zama, Japan. The travel experience–the long flight there, arrival at and navigating the airport, and the 90-minute bus ride to the base; and the trip back–with a clear day view of Mount Fuji, plenty of time for duty-free shopping at Narita, and comfortable seating to Seattle; these were great. Being on an Army base for the week was vaguely familiar, after all I was stationed for a year at the Presidio of Monterey…the real treat was the touring day I’d managed to build in at the end, and my trip to Kamakura – there I saw temples and shrines, and the giant Daibatsu Buddha.

I missed seeing any of my USC classmates during the trip…maybe next time. I definitely want to go back!

Here’s a link to the Japan posts: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Japan 

January-April 2011: The Alexandria Kitchen Remodel. Since moving here 8 years ago, in 2003, we’ve been talking about a kitchen remodel, updating the place after its last renovation in the 1980’s. Mary did extensive research on materials – cabinets, counter tops, backsplashes, and even wood flooring—and then she organized and designed the new layout. We moved the door from the dining room to the kitchen to improve the flow in there and provide more counter space, made the pantry more useable, and then changed the breakfast nook/sunroom area so that it is a welcoming place to hang out.

The kitchen project proceeded hastily, and it is a real showcase. We’ve been gratified by all the compliments, but even better – it’s been a great change. It went so well, in fact, that we took on a second set of projects upstairs…

We added a classic knee-wall closet up there, cedar-lined. And we updated the upstairs bathroom, including reglazing the tub from its old ‘80’s era mauve to a new glistening white. These are great changes, but I have to admit by the end of all the construction, I was ready for it to be over.

During this time, we adopted Tessie, our 3-year old Border Collie.  She's visible in the picture that goes with this post, attending with interest to whatever it is that Mary is doing in the photo there.

Links: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/04/kitchen-complete.html ; http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/2011/05/remodel-that-goes-on-and-on.html

May 2011, and continuing: The 75 at 75 Project. Gradually, in early 2011, I became aware that Shenandoah National Park was observing the 75th anniversary of its founding beginning in June. I thought about some appropriate observance of my own for some time and finally came up with a project that entailed hiking 75 miles in the Park during the anniversary year.

The project builds on the success of having hiked the 26 “Best Easy Day Hikes” from the eponymous guidebook and was meant to celebrate the Park that I have really come to know, enjoy and love. I picked a preliminary list of hikes that share a common intermediate difficulty – they each are more than five miles long and include a net elevation change of 500 feet.

When I first made the plan, I had hoped to complete the 75 miles during 2011, but as off today’s post I’ve only completed about 50 miles. I have plans for three hikes to complete the remaining 25 miles, and I hope to finish them by May 2012.

Link to “75 at 75 Project” posts: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/75%20at%2075%20Project

August 2011: The Agribusiness Internship. I mentioned my layoff in the post about the Japan trip above – yesterday I was talking about it to a friend, and I realized I was still pretty angry about the whole thing. After winning those two contracts and leading six projects under them during the early part of the year, and receiving excellent feedback from the client, I was given about a week’s notice that I was to be part of a rather large company-wide downsizing to help make numbers. There was a chance I’d be called back to work, however, and I decided that I would wait for a couple of months before I began a serious job search. (Update: I began my formal job search in October, and had an offer in November. I started my new position in December.)

The layoff allowed some creativity – I’m very fortunate to have befriended so many great people in Page County, and I spoke with David Sours at Public House Produce about joining him for what we called an “internship.” Looking back at it now, I fancy that David really wanted somebody to ride with him over to the Shenandoah Valley Produce Auction in Dayton on Tuesdays, about an hour’s drive, and to enjoy a hot dog and some pie over there while he sold his tomatoes.

On Wednesdays, the work centered on his emerging pasture-raised chicken business, modeled on the Salatin book Pastured Poultry Profit$. The cycle for this part of the process was the chicken round-up on Tuesday nights (I participated in this a couple of times, but I think David often got help from more efficient chicken wranglers), then meeting at 5am on Wednesdays to drive to the processor in New Market. After the birds were “sent on their way” at the processor, we’d head back to the farm for some quick chores – moving the chicken tractors in the field and feeding the birds. Then at 9am, it was back to New Market to pick up the processed birds, and then to deliver them to a local restaurant in Luray.

After delivering the birds, there were more chores and assignments at the farm. Some of them were quite dirty…dirtier jobs than I’ve ever had. I learned a heck of a lot at the farm this summer from all of this, and only can hope that there is no lasting damage to the enterprise over there at Public House Produce from my efforts…

As I am writing this, I am also remembering now that it was because of the internship that I happened to be out at the Hawksbill Cabin for the big Virginia earthquake. That was quite a thing to experience and reminded me for a moment of some of the tremors I’d experience in Los Angeles. But that’s a topic for some future post.

Now, a side benefit of the internship was having an up-close view of the development of “Page County Grown” – a local effort to brand and promote family farms in Page County. It is a great organization that has already earned its share of success, including a big highlight of the summer, the first farm tour and a celebratory dinner at the Mimslyn. What a treat to watch this develop, and I am hoping that I can find a few effective ways to contribute to its growth and success in the future.

Here’s a link to the internship posts: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Agribusiness

October 2011: Trip to Las Vegas. As a professional, I learned somewhere along the way that there is a responsibility for sharing what you know with your colleagues. Starting back in 2007, I have had a relationship with some folks who put on a couple of facilities tradeshows every year; the group had invited me to present in Las Vegas at their October event, which was held at the Mirage (I also present at their annual event in Baltimore, held every March).

Participating in the event is very rewarding and I really appreciate having the chance to share my experience with my colleagues in the field – and it’s doubly rewarding when we get the chance to discuss their own work, which we often do during the Q+A after my talks. Often, the next week brings a dozen or more requests for a copy of my slides, which I am happy to send along.

The Vegas conference also gives me a chance to do some sightseeing: certainly there is the Strip, and a chance to take a look at the casinos and those other things that made Vegas what it is. However, Las Vegas is in the middle of a couple of wonderful National Parks – including the Grand Canyon, which I visited in 2009, and Death Valley, which I made into this year’s destination. High Points, if you will, of that trip, included a fascinating desert landscape, and then recording the lowest elevation yet on my Casio Pathfinder altimeter at Badwater Flats. My watch records the elevation as -150 meters; corrected for measurement errors that is 110 meters. The official elevation was 282 feet below sea level, so my watch ended up being within 10 percent – I thought that was pretty good.

Here’s a link to the posts about Death Valley: http://hawksbillcabin.blogspot.com/search/label/Death%20Valley

So those are my Top 5 for 2011 – some of them have lingering effects and impacts heading into 2012, and there’ll be future posts that reference these events. Certainly, I’ve got some rich storytelling material out of these experiences. All of which leads me to look forward to keeping up the Hawksbill Cabin blog for 2012.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2011 Recap Part 1 - The Honorable Mentions

A once in a lifetime 2011 moment - all 1s on digital clocks!
I know it's blurry.  YOU try catching a once-in-a-century
shot like this!
 Like any year, I suppose, the year that was 2011 had its ups and downs. There were the annual traditions, like the Berlin reunion in February; there were traditions that are trying to gain traction, like the vacation trip to Cape Cod last June; and there were one of a kind events that seemed to drag on an on, like the kitchen remodel in the Alexandria house that morphed into some renovations upstairs.

I thought I make take a few moments to look back through the posts here on the Hawksbill Cabin blog to do a year in review post. Last year I did a month-by-month review, this year I plan to summarize “Top 5” style – even so, this recap is going to have to be in two posts.

The Top 5 most significant stories were easy to choose, and I’ll go into more detail on them in a moment; before I get to that I’d like to make a note of three honorable mentions. I haven’t ranked any of these in any particular order – this is simply a summary of the items that seem most important after a brief review.

Honorable Mention 1: Fibrowatt. While it did not emerge as a community rallying point during 2011, the company Fibrowatt was on our minds, as the governor organized a working group to study how to reduce or eliminate pollution sources in the Chesapeake Bay. At first, it sounded like a victory for Fibrowatt as the working group seemed to embrace their solution for a time. The working group’s efforts ended with a determination that more study was needed and no firm recommendations were made as far as the approach Virginia would take is concerned. At year end, there was news that Fibrowatt was pitching a waste incinerator for Shenandoah County, over in the I-81 corridor. I’ll continue to post on this topic as I learn more.

Honorable Mention 2: Berlin Cold War Memories. Besides the annual reunion we've been having at Blob's Park in Jessup every February, in September, a colleague who was in Berlin for an extended period of time, working as a civilian at Tempelhof Air Base, began converting his old videos to digital format and posting them to YouTube on his own “channel.” Some other friends and I discovered them there – they included videos of the work site I was assigned to for 4.5 years, an underground tour of Tempelhof – which has a rich oral history of old Nazi hideouts and other WW2 lore, and a train trip to a similar site on the old East/West German border which overlooked a favorite ski resort that we used to make a couple of trips a year to. Good memories that, perusing the files he shared.

Honorable Mention 3: Do It Yourself Agriculture. While the topic has quite a bit in common with one of the Top 5 subjects, in this honorable mention post I want to touch on Dan’s Hops, Mary’s Container Garden, and the outdoor musical events over at our neighbor Wisteria Farm and Vineyards. In the first case, I was able to hook up with Dan a few times as he first harvested and then dried his crop of hops – the vines are maturing now in their third year, and Dan had a true bounty to show for it. Speaking of bounty, Mary’s crop of tomatoes wasn’t quite as good as it had been in past years, but it was a good year, and she had plenty success with her new squash and eggplant crops – enough to keep me busy grilling three-vegetable combos for a good part of the summer. And last but not least, we were able to join our friends at Wisteria a couple of times for great outdoor music events and wine tastings; a highlight was a midsummer show with local favorites The Eclectix – but also, the premier of a sparkling Traminette wine that Moussa and Sue are making now. That wine is one I should make a future post about, as a matter of fact!

When I started on this topic, I was hoping to keep my musings to one post, but it doesn’t appear I will be successful. In my next post I will do the Top 5 summary of other posts I’d like to highlight for 2011.