The hay is put up and the harvest is over. Everything from the garden has been frozen or canned. We have fresh pork in the freezer and Boone is hunting hard so we will have venison to add to it. Nuts have been gathered from the woods, the wood stack is high and I think we are ready for winter.
We are about halfway through the fall lambing season and I am enjoying the lambs tremendously. They love to jump, run and play. Such curious little creatures. This week is the start of a slower period on campus so I have taken the entire Thanksgiving week off. It is a nice way to ease into the holiday season.
We are having beautiful warm fall days here in Kentucky. After a particularly stressful day at the office this week, Boone and I went for an early evening ride through the countryside to help blow my stress away. It was gorgeous, peaceful and relaxing.
Beautiful old barn
Horse drawn equipment that is now part of the landscape
The bacon has been cured and dried in the refrigerator for a couple of days. It is ready to eat at this point or smoked. I cold smoke my bacon which means that little heat gets to it as I do not want to cook it but flavor it with hickory smoke. There are many types of smokers on the market but we like to things as inexpensively as possible so we used a barrel placed over a hole that had a trench running from it to a fire pit dug in the ground. A fire of charcoal and hickory was started in the pit, covered with a sheet of metal (offset for air to feed the fire), we laid plywood over the trench and then covered it with dirt. The smoke would travel from the pit to the barrel and smoke the bacon. We drilled holes in the barrel right below the top rim and ran a broom handle through it. From there we hung the bacon with wire from the broomstick and covered the barrel with another piece of plywood. It worked really well but was a lot of work digging the pits and trench.
For this batch, we came across an old smoker and modified it. Boone cut out a hole and ran some woodstove pipe from the charcoal holder to the smoker body. Nothing fancy here as he took the door off to run the pipe into the smoker then duct taped around it. I wanted 3 racks and the smoker only held two so Boone just ran 4 sheet metal screws into so I could use a rack from our regular smoker.
I first start a small amount of charcoal in a charcoal chimney. Into the charcoal pit of the smoker I put a handful of unlit charcoal briquettes, then the hot charcoal then some chunks of dry hickory and then a few that have been sitting in water. They will produce a good smoke, the hickory will catch fire and the unlit briquettes will eventually catch fire which means I do not have to check them very often. As long as smoke is coming out I leave it alone.
After about an hour I flip the bacon. I only smoke the bacon for about 3 hours. Then I bring it in for a rinse, pat dry then wrap in plastic wrap, freezer paper and finally into a labeled freezer bag. Oh, I will probably go ahead and slice some so I can have my favorite sandwich – a BLT on my favorite Buttermilk Bread. So good!
I enjoy curing and smoking bacon. It’s a slow process so you cannot be in a hurry and have to plan ahead. For this batch of bacon the curing took about 2 weeks and the smoking was done over a weekend. First thing I do is get my supplies ready:
Cure mix ( I use Morton’s Tender Quick)
Quite a few sharp knives
Gallon size storage bags
There are many recipes out there for making your own cure mix. While it is rare for me to buy prepackaged mixes I am more comfortable when it comes to curing to use an old standby – Morton’s Tender Quick. Around my area, few big chain grocery stores carry it but luckily there is a butcher shop that has a small grocery section that stocks it. I am sure it can also be purchased online.
When we got the meat back from the processor it was already frozen. After the pork belly and jowls thawed in the refrigerator it was time to get to work. I have this great big cutting board that I just love because it has a lip on it that drops down in front of the kitchen counter edge to keep it from sliding. When visiting my son in Chicago some years ago, I picked it up at IKEA for around $12.00. I do not know if they still carry them but they are well worth it if you are in need of one.
The first thing I do is to rinse, pat dry, and then lay out the pork belly, skin side up and trim the skin off. You can either go ahead and cut the belly up into bacon size slabs first or take the skin off first. I tend to cut the belly in half to make it more manageable and then cut the skin off. Pig skin is extremely tough and will dull a knife quickly so I have quite a few handy. Boone is at the ready to sharpen the knives as needed. The trick is to cut close to the underside of the skin because you want to leave enough fat to have nice mix of meat and fat in the bacon slices. Do the same with the jowls if they have skin on them.
After the skin is off, it’s time to cut the belly into slabs. I like to cut mine into a rectangle that will fit into the freezer bag. I save any trimmings to cure. Also, I have an electric slicer so I know about how long the rectangle can be to fit on the slicer easily. My slicer is pretty old, about 15 years or so, and I picked it up at one of the big box stores. Okay so now I’ve got all of the pork belly skinned, cut and stacked. Time to start the curing process.
I have a large plastic container that I do the curing rub part in to help contain the mess. First I set up my curing station with the Tender Quick and brown sugar. There are many recipes online that call for a lot of different spices so it is easy to experiment or straight Tender Quick can be used and is good if flavoring is not desired.
First I weigh a slab and put it in the tub. Boone helps out with this part since my hands are going to get pretty messing with rubbing in the cure. He mixes the correct amount of Tender Quick per each slab weight (1 tablespoon per pound), and equal amounts of brown sugar and or maple syrup in a small bowl which I dump over the pork slab and rub it in good all over it; both sides and edges.
Place the slab that has been rubbed with the cure mix into the gallon bag and seal. Repeat with all the slabs and any extra pieces that are left from trimming. These can be used to make bacon bits or for flavoring beans, greens, soups, etc. Everything goes into the refrigerator. It takes about 7 days to cure an inch of meat. Most of the bacon slabs were an 1 ½ -2 inches thick so I planned on 2 weeks for the cure time. Every day, I flipped the slabs over. The cure mix will start drawing liquid out of the bacon. The liquid will act as a brine to help with the cure. Flipping everyday insures that both sides will cure evenly to the center.
After the cure time is up, I take out one of the slabs of bacon, rinse it well and do a fry test. Using my slicer, I slice off a couple of pieces. We tend to like our bacon a bit on the thinner side so it will fry up crispy instead of chewy. It had great flavor but burned easily, so I rinsed the slab some more as I think it was the sugar that burnt so easily. After the second rinse it was perfect. I find that I have to cook home-cured bacon at a lower temp than store bought.
After rinsing all the slabs, they go back into the refrigerator bare (no bag) to air dry for a couple of days. At that point, the bacon is ready to be frozen or smoked. I keep a few slabs unsmoked so I wrap the slabs individually with plastic wrap, then freezer paper, and then into a labeled freezer bag. When ready to cook, I will partially thaw a slab as it is easier to slice at that point rather than when entirely thawed.
First up was the whole shoulder. I like it hickory smoked, so off to the woods we go to find some fallen hickory. Early the next morning when it was still dark, I got the charcoal going. Boone left to go hunting and must have agitated the coyotes in the woods because in the area he went into, 2 different packs started sounding off. It was eerie and surreal standing out in the dark by the smoker listening to them.
As the charcoal was getting hot, I dropped the chunks of hickory into a bucket of water to soak. The shoulder was so big it would not fit on the smoker so Boone had to hack it into 2 pieces. I do not do anything other than wash and pat dry the shoulder. No salt, pepper, nothing.
The USDA says pork is done internally at minimum temp of 145F. It will pull off the bone easily around an internal temp of 200F. so I do stick a meat thermometer into it to be sure of when it’s done. When the charcoal is ready – into the firebox it goes with some of the wet hickory on top, then the smoker body – fill the water bowl with water, then lastly the grate with the 2 pieces of shoulder. Lid on and we are smoking our way towards some great barbecue.
Being from southeast North Carolina I like vinegar based barbecue. I like the thick tomato based type barbecue sauce but only when making beef barbecue. For me it’s vinegar all the way with pork. On a side note: I had never heard the term “pulled pork” until I moved to Kentucky. Anyway, here’s how I make the sauce:
2 tbsp. crushed red pepper (or more if you want more heat)
1 tsp. salt
Mix all ingredients, bottle and let steep for at least half a day before using. Steeping overnight or longer is preferred for the best flavor. Strain if preferred before using.
I keep an empty cider bottle around just for sauce making time so all I have to do is pour the ingredients in it, shake it once a day and let it steep for a week or so before using. A lot of folks don’t but I like to strain the sauce before using it. The peppers will give the meat heat if you leave it in but we like ours to come mostly from the Texas Pete that we put on the barbecue sandwiches.
Smoking takes a while so I do it on the weekend when I am home all day and can check the smoker every couple of hours, adding water or more hickory as needed. I think I added more charcoal at least 3 or 4 times. Around the 6 hour mark the internal temp was up to 170 so I decided to go ahead and pull the shoulder off, wrap it up in aluminum foil (I took the thermometer out and reinserted after I wrapped them) and slid it into the oven (350F) to finish it off to 200F. When it was ready, I let it sit until cool enough to handle.
It shredded beautifully and since we like chopped barbecue I chopped everything up. I also include bits of minced skin in the barbecue for added flavor. Since we were planning on having barbecue for dinner I went ahead and put some aside and added the sauce to it. The sauce is really thin but when you reheat the meat with the sauce a lot of the liquid will be absorbed.
Since we are splitting the pork with our son, I packaged the rest in ½ lb. freezer bags without the sauce and froze. This way, the smoked pork can be used in different recipes besides just barbecue. The perfect barbecue sandwich for us starts with a warm bun with just a slide of mayonnaise, then barbecue, coleslaw and topped with a bit of Texas Pete. Heaven!
A few weeks ago, the time came to process one of the pigs. Being raised on a hillside with part pasture and woods, the pigs consumed little feed with all the good stuff offered up to them by the field and woods. They are also given vegetable and dairy scraps from the kitchen. We like to offer them a little feed so we can scratch their backs while they eat to keep them tame and manageable. They were started off that way when they were piglets and looked forward to the back scratching. Our goal weight to process was 250 pounds.
The university, where I work, has a small public meat processing facility so that is where I had the meat processed. There are quite a few processors around us so I bought a roll of breakfast sausage from four different ones so Boone and I could do a taste test. The cuts of meat (chop, ribs, etc.) are going to taste the same no matter who cuts it up but everyone has a different sausage recipe. I could have made my own as there are plenty of recipes online but never having done it before I did not want to ruin many pounds of meat to get it right. Anyway, my university’s sausage was the best tasting overall.
We wanted the whole process to be low stress for both us and the pig so we put the trailer in the pig pasture a few weeks before the processing date. That way the pig would be used to the trailer and would hopefully load easily. Boone started putting the feed in the trailer and within a few days the pigs were hopping in and out easily. The actual loading went as we hoped, quickly with minimal excitement and stress.
The cost of processing was $141.00. We received 147 pounds of boneless chops, ribs, ham hocks, tenderloins, sausage, leaf fat for lard, a whole shoulder, pork belly, jowls, steaks and other various cuts. I had talked with the manager ahead of time to discuss the cuts I wanted. When I picked up the meat all was vacuum sealed and already frozen.
I cure and smoke our own bacon plus I had plans to smoke a shoulder to make barbecue, southeast NC style, so we put the pork bellies, jowls and shoulder in the extra fridge out in the garage to thaw. We picked this fridge up off of Craigslist for $50 and it has really come in handy.
This is the dog that herds our sheep.
This is the dog that keeps my husband safe from crazed cows
This is the dog that finds lost calves
This is the dog that loves being a farm dog
This is the dog that lets us know when something is after the chickens
This is the dog that loves to be chased by the rooster
This is the dog that plays with the calves.
This is the dog that loves riding in trucks and considers it part of his job
This is the dog that will ignore me when he is in the truck and on the job
I have tent camped a lot and really enjoy it. After Boone and I took our first camping trip together, due to his bad back, he was in quite a bit of pain the next day. Even though we used a good air mattress, I think it was due to the dampness in the night air. So we resigned ourselves to hotels and such when traveling.
Flash forward 10 years: With all the great mattresses, ceramic heaters and the amenities of a popup camper, we purchased a used one because I really missed camping and wanted to try to make Boone as comfortable as possible. Well, call me crazy but after having it for a while I got to thinking about how we were laying there in canvas just about snack high for a bear. So, the popup was sold (for a profit, yay!) and we were back to hotels again.
Flash forward 2 more years: Due to a very disturbing bed bug incident at a hotel, we put camping back on the table. Knowing that we were going to pay in full and not wanting to put a lot of money into one until we decided it would work for us, I started hunting for a good used camper within our price range. The criteria was it had to be a gooseneck or 5th wheel as Boone is very experienced pulling those, under 20 ft., comfortable sleeping, and a bathroom.
After looking for 4 months, I still couldn’t find anything that met our criteria! Going to town one day, I passed a farm in our area and noticed it had a small 5th wheel camper sitting in front of the barn that was exactly what we were looking for. I told Boone about it and he said he would ask the owner (we knew him) even though it didn’t have a For Sale sign on it. Well, it took the owner about a month of thinking about it but he decided to sell to us. He really needed a larger camper to accommodate all of his grandkids so we motivated him to make that move.
We hauled the camper home (a whole 1 ½ miles) and while it is in really good shape it is somewhat dated as it looks to be mostly in original condition. I decided not to put one dime into updates until we camped in it and determined whether we would keep it or resell. The previous owner had put in a small flat screen TV and a new water heater so those were 2 less items to worry about.
2005 GMC Sierra, 1988 Sunline 1850 Fifth Wheel
On to the trip…..
I plugged in the camper at our house to be sure all the lights were working inside and out and went through everything just to get familiar with it. There was a lot of researching online all about camping in travel trailers but I still didn’t understand all the ins/outs of the gray and black tanks, etc. Luckily, we have good friends that own their own RV’s and use them a lot. They had an upcoming campout planned at the KY Green River State Park and invited us to join them so they would show us the ropes. There would be 6 of us going in 3 campers.
Boone and I met up with our friends and followed them down to the state park, about 1 ½ hours away. Our camper is so light the only time we could feel it behind us was when the electric brake kicked in. It towed like a champ and setting up was easy. We had leveled it at the house so we were practiced in that. We had to borrow an electric cord from one of our buddies because we only had a 30ft. one with us and it wouldn’t reach the service at our site. We thought the camper cord extended to only 6 inches or so when pulled out but it actually extends to about 10 feet. Who knew?
Tip #1: Carry an extra electric cord just in case because at some campgrounds you will actually need two.
Water hookup was easy. The camper water heater is all propane and with a bath house right up the hill from where we were camping we opted not to use it. After getting all set up, we realized we had parked in the middle of the paved site driveway and when we extended the steps we were stepping off into grass. Not that big a deal but it could be muddy if it had been raining.
Tip #2: Park offset to the far side of the drive so you are stepping off onto pavement.
At the house, I tried the TV out and got all kinds of channels. Nice, but we weren’t really planning on using the TV much. Sure enough, the first night we camped it drizzled rain a bit so we all went to our respective campers to ride it out. We couldn’t get any channels at all! Turns out, when you travel you have to reprogram the TV and do a search for the local channels. We use satellite TV at the house so it never occurred to me that was the issue.
Tip #3 – Conduct channel search on TV to bring in local channels.
During the brief rain, I decided to blow up the air mattress and make the bed. Oh my god, that was a feat for which I was unprepared. Because the sleeping area is a loft, you cannot get around to the other side of the mattress. After I had it blown up and had the foam pad on top of it, I had to hold a corner of the fitted sheet, make sure I had plenty of sheet loose below it since I was kneeling on it and basically flop across the bed to reach the far corner and wrestle the sheet on that corner. Repeat on the other 2 corners that were hard to reach and the last one by the open steps was easy. With the top sheet and coverlet, I decided to sit in the bed and arrange them around me. Claustrophobia occasionally hits Boone so we planned on sleeping in the bed backwards with our heads at the steps which made all the tucking in on all the sides that were hard to reach. I was sweating by the time I was done.
Tip #4: I am going to try to partially blow up the air mattress, put foam topper on, put the fitted sheet on, and then finish blowing all the way up to see if that will be easier.
The camper was plugged in the night before we left so we turned the refrigerator on to start cooling down. The next morning we loaded up the camper and frig. This is a small frig so every time we opened the door to grab a drink, we were sucking the cold air out and it starting getting a bit too warm. I had put thermometers in the freezer and frig so we had to stay out of it until it got good and cold again.
Tip #5: Pack a small cooler just for drinks.
We also learned to not sit straight up in bed. Keep a flashlight handy as the camper gets cold really quick so waking up to adjust the A/C or heat is a must. Be careful on the carpeted loft steps because you can shoot right down them if you are wearing socks.
All in all it was a great trip. The camper did great, we slept great, Boone’s back didn’t hurt the next morning, had a blast with our friends and are ready to go again. With lambing season coming up we don’t know when that will be but hope to sneak away for a least a weekend soon. Now that we know it suits us, I am ready to do some updating.
We were given Miss Piggy when she was just a little piglet a couple of months old. Being the runt she was relentlessly picked on by her siblings and needed to go to a new home. We raised her in the garden and she went on to have a litter of her own.
All of her piglets were sold with the exception of Pinky. We decided to keep her as company for Miss Piggy and for a fall market pig.
Last spring with garden season nearing they were moved over to the sheep farm in a small pasture of their own. We ran a hose down to it so we didn’t have to pack water and they thrived well. Lots of shade, grass, plus their water tub was set on a small hillside so it would run over to create a mud wallow for them when we topped it off. Husband was given a small trampoline frame, that comes in halves, and with some roofing metal we already had he constructed their shelter. In the winter we’ll stack hay bales at one end to keep the wind out. Pig heaven!
A couple of weeks ago they were moved out to the big field that had a pond and woods. There was much discussion about the easiest and least stressful way to move them. Turns out when Husband started pulling out their house with the ATV they ran right along with it all the way to the new area!
The woods are thick with hickory, black walnuts trees, underbrush and vines. Miss Piggy and Pinky can fatten up on the fallen nuts, and have a pond to themselves while cleaning up the woods for us. 3 strands of electric fencing holds them.
Husband supplements their diet with vegetables and fruit (at no cost to us!) that our local grocer plans on discarding. He does offer them a bit of mixed feed but has cut the amount drastically since they have little interest in it.
I am honored and delighted to have Frugal Table featured on Catholic Rural Life as one of their top 5 blogs for beginning farmers. Being a transplant from suburbia it has been one fun-filled hair pulling journey that I have thoroughly enjoyed and hope you enjoy reading about.