In Praise of Friends

In Praise of Friends

In the same vein as yesterday’s post about learning from each other, I felt compelled to write about the random wild afternoon of yesterday. After a long day of sewing, I drove out to Delaware to pick up our pig from the butcher. I have hilarious conversations with people when I say, “I’m going to get our pig.” Most anyone that knows me will ask if we’re actually getting a pig, like a live one, that we’re going to raise (not yet). What we actually mean is we’re getting a pig that has been raised by someone else and gone to the butcher. But we seriously get the whole thing, head to tail.

As we have for several years now, we get a pig from Sovereign Soil Farm and split it with friends. We take half for ourselves and split the rest with three other families. Yesterday I drove out to pick everything up, loaded the whole mess into my car, and drove back to find one of my friends arrived before me and had been out in the yard collecting eggs with her not quite two year old. We quickly unloaded everything onto a tarp in the garage and set about the business of counting everything and dividing it into even shares, while her son climbed all over our tractor and got into all the random things in my very not child proof garage packed full of farming implements, wood working gear, and drying herbs, beans, onions and garlic.

We’ve been getting a pig and a half cow annually for about five years now. This works into our annual food budget in that it is literally the only meat we buy all year, not counting chicken, which we get from a farm up the road. We pack the freezer full and that’s just what there is. If we run out of something, too bad, have to wait for next year’s animal. It has led to a really unusual (by current normal standards) way of meal planning. I have a running list of what’s in the freezer, and I look at it (or look at what’s on top) and decide what we’re eating that week. Everything has to be thawed, so there are very few spontaneous meals. And everything has to be regulated, so we don’t run out of bacon (there is not a lot of bacon from a single pig) in the first month and get stuck with a million roasts. We usually do the pig in the spring (we were late this year) so we have sausages and ham steaks through the summer, and then the cow in the fall, so we have roasts and ribs for the winter.

This means I’ve had to learn how to order a cut animal at the butcher. I was vegan for ten straight years, and before that barely knew how to cook, much less divide a pig in a way that is sensible to split between four families. After epic amounts of trial and error (the year we got one of the hams whole and I had to go back to the butcher and have it split so it would fit into an oven), I think I’ve mostly got it down, but we’re still puzzling. I never get tenderloin, and I don’t know why. It’s because I don’t actually know which cut that is. It’s along the back, I know that because I’ve cut the tenderloin out of a deer, but what do I not order so we get tenderloins? Do we actually want tenderloins? There is still so much to learn. (I think it’s because we get chops instead.)

There’s also the bit where we get the big pile of trimming, fat, organs, the head, feet, and other miscellany that will become sausage and scrapple. I was so tickled about finally getting the organs (they left them out a couple times) that I kept showing them to everyone, much to their displeasure as, as the old saying goes, you don’t want to know how the sausage is made. In this case literally. I make all of our sausage and scrapple with the help of a friend with a proper commercial kitchen, a grinder and a sausage stuffer. It’s an adventure, to say the least.

Aside from the joy of having a packed freezer (and the struggle of trying to fit half a pig plus a whole head into your freezer), I was more than a little giddy at the process of distributing everyone’s share. We all were there at relatively the same time, which is unusual, standing around the tarp I spread over the floor of our garage, drinking beers and talking. I counted everything out and everyone helped packed coolers, boxes, and cars with the meat. And we all chatted and caught up and the baby ran around with a black eyed susan from our garden trying to get everyone to sniff it. It felt like what life should be- community, and coming together over food. After the meat was packed up we walked out to my gooseberry to try and determine the problem (spider mites) and watched the hummingbirds fight each other over the feeders.

I felt- whole. We will have food for at least six months. The garden is overflowing with tomatoes and kale and peppers and beans. I harvested another pumpkin. And I have friends who I may not see as often as I would like, but who will come together and drink a beer while sorting out the animal we’ve all shared, that will feed all of us. Friends who do not mind in the least when I drag them around the yard looking at plants, who in fact left the garage mid pig sorting to go out and look at the prairie garden, which right now is at it’s height, full of milkweed and monarda and rudbeckia and boneset and towering bluestem grasses. I wish we could coordinate schedules in a way that we did this all the time, and did the canning and the harvesting and the collecting together, but we do what we can with wildly different work schedules.

I kept thinking the baby, who was scrambling over the meat totally unconscious of what he was stepping on, will get to grow up with this. With gardens and chickens and amazing quality meat from down the way. With learning how to ride tractors and put up food. With a father who will teach him how to identify trees and a mother who will teach him how to make jam and her famous cobbler.

And I am blessed with friends who will share all this with me, and go in on a whole pig, and not think I’m crazy when I decide to make scrapple from scratch. And laugh at my joke that we must have had a mutant pig because they gave us five hocks (seriously, where did the fifth one come from??). Thank you all, and I look forward to having you all over for ham.

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