in which we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

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Hmmmmmm. Is it really St. Patrick’s Day already?

What should we talk about?  Irish Soda Bread?  NOBODY will be writing about THAT.  Irish Stew? Ditto. Irish ham? Colcannon? Guinness? Whiskey? The Corned Beef that actual Irish people don’t eat?  Yawn.

I have been working on some whole grain/wheat projects and spent a couple of weeks learning about and baking some authentic Irish soda breads. So far, one big thing I have learned is that aside from brief curiosity, my taste-testing friends prefer their Americanized fiction of Irish traditions much more than the real, farmstead and/or poverty-born deal.

Which fact has annoyed some enough to create an entire Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread with a very entertaining website and Facebook page.

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Call me odd, but I love the rustic character of irish soda bread. With very few ingredients, the freshness of the wheat flour is critical.  A perfect trifecta of  substantial whole wheat, rich, homemade butter & summer fresh peach jam. Who needs raisins?

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The real beauty of Irish farmstead food is that yes, it is simple, but because the home-raised and/or foraged ingredients can be so pure, fresh, wholesome and full of flavor, everyday food carefully prepared can be sublime.

Of course we know that Ireland has had her struggles with shortage and famine.  Simple things we Americans take for granted, like raisins and sugar for your soda bread  would have been special luxuries for too many Irish.

The last couple years I wrote about some pretty serious Irish topics, but really, who are we kidding? St. Patrick’s Day in America is just an excuse to misbehave, have celebrations, skip school, get rowdy and drink beer. Green beer. Lots of it, right?

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You first; No you!  It’s A Pig-Jam!  everyone’s afraid to jump off the trailer after a move. No point in rushing them, pigs operate on their own time. One day later, they’re jumping on and off with gusto. 

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Around here, those best able to devote themselves to the proper celebration of St. Patrick’s Day are the pigs. I know, I’ve been delinquent about filling you in on all the recent porky details, it’s true.  Raucus? Bawdy? Chaotic? Enthusiastic? Lawless, Loutish, Wild, uproarious, Unruly, Disorderly, Calamitous, Boisterous, Unrestrained and Pure-Gleeful-Mayhem?

I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you know how to use a thesaurus without my help. Let’s just say there’s face stuffing, racing in circles until they fall down, snuffling, brawling, barking, chasing, stealing, biting, snuggling, and some general rooting, mayhem & destruction.  Then, revelry over, the pile of snoring pigs catches up on their beauty sleep.

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Do not disturb:  A snoring pile O’ pigs

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Next comes the big, greasy morning-after breakfast (remember those?) to be followed by another power nap. The best nap ever they tell me. The restorative power of that grand nap gives them the energy they need to get up and do it all over again.  Every. Single. Day. It’s rough being a pig around here, I don’t know how they do it.

‘Tis shameless they are.

just passed: the law against common sense

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Okay eagle eyes, I know 37¢ stamps are a little behind the times

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What? A law against common sense? You didn’t know?

I’m pretty sure it was.  Of course it’s secret. Voted in a closed-door session, announced quickly late on a Friday afternoon then completely ignored by mainstream media.

I’m talking about the Food Safety Modernization Act, but you can probably insert your own business or industry since there is so much crazy flying around who can be in the know about all of it?

Like all common sensical infrastructure we depend on for our very lives,  we know frightfully little about food AND food safety. But it must involve lots of plastic, right?  

I’m a little smitten with a phrase I read recently in the Small Farmer’s Journal: Civilian Agriculture. That’s right, Civilian Agriculture. Let that sink in for a minute. I’ve been chewing on that for several days.

It’s time for civilians to stand up and pay attention. We’re being distracted and disarmed by non-essential bickering and we need to get our focus back. The engagement of citizens is the missing element that can reverse the craziness.

Let’s shake off the Facebook glitter and Virtual reality goggles and roll up our sleeves. Write some letters. Pay attention. Dig deeper. Ask why. Go outside. Get dirty. Wonder.  Learn things. Do stuff. Help out.

At the moment, as in immediately, it’s time to do a little reading about the new Food Safety Modernization Bill. Sure it sounds like a good idea to have safer food systems. I’m all for it.

But does this new Food Safety Modernization Act deliver safety? Or is it one step closer towards life 4.0, the hermetically sealed edition?   Irony of ironies, methods organic farmers use to build healthy soil are the items being restricted. Synthetics? Safe, but of course. And gaping loopholes allowing a pass for some very risky industrial practices.

And, seriously. Fencing wildlife out of entire crops to prevent any pooping in the field?  Have you any idea how much that will cost? And what about our horse-farming Amish farmers who raise so much local produce? Diapers? Sigh…

The FDA and USDA have not been enforcing laws in a manner that gives me confidence in their ability to be reasonable, informed and fair. Not sure? Ask Linda Fallaice of Mad Sheep infamy, or heritage breed pig farmers in Michigan. Or maybe the Dean family of Pasture Maid Creamery… 

Giving them the ability to shut down at will farms and artisan food makers, impose large fees on farmers and producers, impose costly weekly lab testing and a policy of shut down & confiscate without proof will be the final straw for many small farmers and food processors.

There is no unified guideline, so enforcement will be a little wild-wild-west  with every official able to interpret as they see fit. I’m not in any way suggesting that small farmers be exempt from safety practices and regulation. Though I am in favor of not killing small sustainable farms for the sins of massive industrial ones.

And, let’s face it. The government agencies are not staffed to handle it. Our USDA offices are being run with skeleton staff. I’ve read a variety of estimates that only between 1 – 15% of foreign imports are actually inspected by the FDA because of understaffing.  And, of the foods inspected, inspectors have only around 30 seconds to spend per item.

To underscore my point, as I write this, the government link for comments, regulations.gov has been shut down due to temporary difficulties. Are you kidding me? It’s time to hit the big guns people, PEN & PAPER!

Sustainable farming is a low profit labor of love for most. The cost of land and equipment guarantees we are on track to have fewer and fewer farmers in the near future. The profit margin of the average small farm is about 10% – very low compared to other industries. Implementing the new Food Safety Modernization laws will cost a small farm an estimated 6% of that 10%.

The result is that the burgeoning small farm movement is in danger of being cut off at the knees. Of which the FDA is well aware and has stated is expected.

Odds are because  you are here, reading this, you already know this and have likely taken action. But maybe we can all, in these final days before the November 15 deadline, spread the word to as many unaware people as possible.

Time is literally running out. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has done a great job hustling up letter writing events an easy to follow guide to help you navigate the process. Check it out here.

The Cornucopia Institute has also published a useful white paper if you’d like to learn more. They are staunch fighters for the organic standard, and do their best to keep Corporate Organic on their toes.

This is a heavy season for food-centric deadlines, let’s not let it pass unchallenged.  Now, get out there and mail some letters  – ready, set, go, write! What are you waiting for? Hurry!

Am I missing anything? Let me know if you have a good source of information to share too.

This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday.

It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food, fresh food production, consumption, activism, and awareness… not to mention a rant here and there…

You really should check it out:

10 reasons you need a freezer full of ratatouille

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Last call all ye wannabe preservers.

Soon enough, we’ll be forced to choose one of our off-season options for our veggies. If you’ve been a busy preserver Ant, your winter veggies are already tucked away in jars, freezers or root cellars.

If not, you Grasshoppers can still get something put by if you hit it now. As in today.

And, if you think you would never eat vegetable stew on a regular basis, you need to work on your biggest kitchen tool of all; your brain. Not because you’re not smart, but because we’re usually too rushed to the take time to consider familiar things more deeply.  When we do, we often find there’s usually a lot more “there” there. At least it is with this vegetable stew.

The key to becoming a Jedi leftover-ninja is stocking your pantry with flexible basics.  Ratatouille is a chameleon of a staple that freezes up nicely and does lots of useful tricks:

  • Use ratatouille in omelets or frittatas
  • Pizza topping: puree to your favorite degree of chunk, add a pungent accent like capers, olives, anchovy, or hot sauce, top with grated cheese and yum.
  • Blend and use as a sauce for pasta, fish or meats – add cured black olives, nice!
  • Switch up your salad: serve room temperature ratatouille drizzled with vinaigrette over a bed of greens
  • Dip/sandwich spread – pulse in a food processor and add one or more pungent flavors like mustard, vinegar, capers or hot sauce.
  • Soup base: puree until completely smooth, then thin with your favorite stock. After that, throw in whatever else or absolutely nothing. Need I mention cream?
  • Quiche – mixed with egg, Gruyère, Parmesan and milk and baked into a crust. Mmmm, old school fast food…
  • Quesadilla – schmear Rat topped with shredded cheese between two tortillas & toast until crispy. What kid questions the Quesadilla?
  • Hand Pies/Empanadas – mix some with beans and cheese and tuck into a circle of dough. Bake or fry, or even better, tuck some uncooked into the freezer for a quickie later.
  • Quick, comforting, simple main dish: warm Rat served over cooked pasta, grain, polenta, gnocchi or noodles tossed with a little butter or oil. Top with a grated pungent cheese.

Don’t believe me? Even Thomas Keller says so.  Check out his post on the LA Times sharing some of the ways he uses ratatouille. He says:

“With a little imagination, a pot of ratatouille can be a door opening onto a whole world of dishes.”

See?  Tomorrow we’ll get busy with my favorite (lighter) ratatouille recipe and a system to make sure your freezer is filled with ooey, gooey, summer-vegetable goodness all winter.

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Today?  I just want you to think about how seriously this can make your winter better and figure out how you’re going to get your paws on the ingredients.

This is a call to action… I hope you’ll accept the challenge.

Already on board the Ratatouille train? I’m dying to know how you do Ratatouille – let us in on your ratty secrets by commenting below…

hay there!

hay bales

stocking the pantry

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Hay is for horses, right? Horses, cows, sheep, goats, pigs and more types of livestock than I can think of in a quick minute. Yet, like bees, as crucial as it is to our food supply, most people don’t know much about hay nor do they care to.

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I mean, what does a bunch of tall grass, mowed, packed into bales and fed to livestock have to do with our high-tech busy lives anyway?

Food prices have been creeping up for a while now, mostly by prices staying the same while the boxes and bags quietly shrink. Do they think we don’t notice?

Here’s the  funny thing about farming cause and effect: the price impact at the grocery store is slow to follow a disastrous farming event so when prices go up, we don’t remember why.

Maybe we tuned out that farming story on the news – nothing to do with us, right?  Or, what worries me more, many farming events aren’t covered on major news outlets at all.  When they are, reports are at best brief, oversimplified and skewed towards Big Ag as if alternative methods did not even exist.

This void of information about such a crucial piece of infrastructure we cannot live without is frightening.  I know farming isn’t as fascinating as the Kardashians, but honestly, it is a pretty action-packed and intrigue-filled industry once you start doing a little reading. Here’s a good place to get started. It’s  one of my favorites packed with  beautiful and memorable photos and essays.

Fatal Harvest Image

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And all ye Pittsburghers, guess what? There’s a copy at the Carnegie Library. You are using our amazing public library system aren’t you?

Once again in Pennsylvania, it’s hay time. Of course things have been dry as a bone for weeks. But, now that it’s time to mow my hay, Murphy’s law is coming on strong. Rain, dark skies and spotty bad news on the weather channel.

Last year, the first time I ever remember such a thing, we had no second or third cutting of hay. That may not mean much to you, but many years, some farmers get as many as four cuts in a season. Around here, you can count on at least two cuttings with the second & third cuts being generally considered the best quality.

What’s a cut? It’s one harvest of mowing, raking and packing the hay into tight bales. If you’d like to know more, here’s a good post explaining some of the intricacies of making hay from Baum Farm in Vermont.

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My neighbor Mike mowing hay

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Last year, after being mowed once for first cut, the drought-stunted regrowth was so thin, mowing and bailing wasn’t worth the price of the gas needed to get the tractors and equipment out. Hayfields were producing a fraction of their usual generous number of second and third cut  bales. If you missed first cut, you were out of luck.  And guess what? We missed first cut.

Remember Business 101 when we learned about supply and demand? Supply goes down, demand goes up. When demand is high and supply low, prices go up. So it is with hay, corn and soy at the moment.

For this farm,  hay prices this past winter were at least five times higher than the winter before.  What that means to you is that animals who eat hay, corn and soy and use straw for bedding increased their cost of living by at least five times if not more. It’s only a matter of time before that fact begins to show up in the grocery store.

You probably didn’t pay too much attention to the drought talk on the news because rainy summer days spoil your fun and prices on items like pork, hamburger and chicken stayed stable or even went down this winter.

How can that be?

Mainly because farmers were busy dispersing their breeding stock – animals farmers normally would never part with – into a buyer’s market to stop the fiscal hemorrhage of having to purchase feed for the winter. You had plenty of hamburger because expensive-to-feed dairy cows were being “retired” way before their time.

Now, herd sizes are lean. There will not be as many cows, pigs and chickens. And prices for hay, straw, soy and corn are still higher than ever and farmers are scraping the bottoms of their coffers to hang in for another growing season.

A third challenging growing season in a row will have harsh consequences.

Back to basic supply and demand, groceries are bound to go up again. Milk, eggs, cheese and meat will be creeping up.  In the butcher shop where I work, our largest chicken supplier went out of business without warning. Chicken prices have suddenly jumped from $3.09/lb for boneless, skinless chicken breasts to $3.89/lb and chicken tenders cracking the four dollar mark. In one week.

Big difference.  What does this all have to do with my tiny farm?

Like many small farmers, I don’t have my own haymaking equipment, and rely on neighboring farmers to cut and bale my hay. Last year, my farmer didn’t get my first cutting mowed in time, and I just told you there was no second or third cut.

So, I had to purchase hay.  It was a real blow, let me tell you. And I am well aware that I was one of the lucky ones. Out west it was much, much worse.

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My hayfield: cut, soon to be raked & baled

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Not a total bust –  grass did rebound in the fall and the hayfield kept the cows fed well into the winter so I did not need to feed dry hay for as many months.

Since the thrifty Devon cattle eat nearly half the amount as some other breeds, I also didn’t have to purchase as much or find super-rich and super-expensive special quality hay, and the cows as usual stayed healthy, fit and satisfied on simple, ordinary first cut dry grass hay.

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the experts conduct a tasting: their verdict? Three hooves up

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So we survive to do it again this year. Today, the hayfield is tall and thick and ready for harvest.

And, as much as I appreciate a good spring rain, this week, our fingers and hooves are crossed for some nice, dry, sunny, breezy days.

What’s happening with food prices where you live?

Update: Hay’s in! Thank goodness because if you live in Pennsylvania, you know we’ve had rain nearly every day for over a week, and more to come. We made it by the skin of our horns, and yield is still a bit lower than usual, but the hay is beautiful. We will be buying a bit more, and/or making second cut, but the larder won’t  be bare. Whew!

M is for cream pie

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This post is brought to you by the letter M

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Don’t be mad letter C, I know I wouldn’t have cream, coconut or cantaloupe without you. But mMother’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day all start with the letter M. And, they all happen in the second half of the Month of May.

Something special my mother really likes is coconut cream pie. So I make coconut cream pie for her birthday. See?

Anyway, I’m really appreciating the Food 52 site lately. And this recipe from em-i-lis for coconut cream pie was, though I didn’t know until I found it, something I’ve sorely needed.

Not too sweet, rich and creamy with a dense, real custard filling – no gelatin, tapioca or other textural trickery. Pure, true and perfectly coconut. Thanks em-i-lis & Food 52 for making my day.

Even better? There’s a two-fer in this recipe. A homemade version of sweetened coconut flakes that’s so much more delicious and healthy than store-bought sweetened coconut. If you never ever make the pie, do yourself a favor and make the toasted, sweetened coconut.

I had no idea how many things were in need of a sprinkle of toasted coconut…

Bob's Red Mill coconut flakes

This is not a paid ad, I swear…

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Thanks too, Bob’s Red Mill for these amazing unsweetened coconut flakes. I like a rustic, chunkier texture which I realize not everyone will prefer, but these larger flakes toasted are unique and special.  If you favor a more delicate, finer grind, Bob’s has that too.

I know. Coconut is not local to western Pennsylvania.

While I’ve dramatically cut down on my dependence on non-local products, I still live in a world where lemons, oranges, almonds, avocados, olives, bananas and coconut are everyday items and they are sometimes impossible for me to resist too. Nor, as long as they are produced in a fair and clean way, do I see any reason I should.

Moderation, man. Moderation.

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Cantaloupe from last summer’s garden, pureed and frozen

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So, inspired by my coconut cream pie success, and cleaning out the freezer to make space for this summer’s booty, how could an idea be any more perfect than this: cantaloupe cream pie?

Em-i-lis’ recipe can easily be adapted for any pureed fruit, as long as the thickness of the fruit puree is right.

Aiming to match the texture of the coconut milk called for in the recipe, I took four cups of cantaloupe puree from the freezer and reduced it to about 1 1/2 cups, which worked out perfectly.  It doesn’t have to be exact, just pudding-thick.

Then, I followed the recipe exactly, except for these changes:

  • I replaced the coconut milk in the custard recipe with my thickened fruit puree
  • I did not add fruit puree to the whipped cream. I did use the sugar
  • I did not add flaked coconut to the cantaloupe custard
  • I kept the toasted coconut garnish since I thought it went well with the cantaloupe, but may not suit all your fruit flavors. It does add a nice texture
  • I used my favorite butter crust recipe, though em-i-lis’ crust method is pretty intriguing. If you try it, do come back and let us know how you like it

Success! Now I have a flexible, mix & match cream pie method for the juicy fruit bonanza  coming soon.

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 no weepy, runny fillings or soggy crusts need apply

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Peaches, plums, berries, cherries, pumpkin, squash… hurry up and get here already!  How about you? What’s your favorite cream pie?

worth every dirtied dish: walnut waffles

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Beautiful waffles, my favorite slow morning treat. Warm, sweet, their crisp-yet-tender pockets puddled with farm-fresh (whipped!) butter and (real!) maple syrup.

Mmmm…

Or maybe not swimming at all; the right kind of waffle is pretty darn good dry, eaten out of hand and on the fly too. And trust me, these are definitely the right kind of waffle.

As much as I love eating waffles, my brief dabbling in making them led me to the conclusion that many things are more delicious when homemade, but waffles aren’t one of them. I never could master that delicate crisp exterior that makes a waffle worthwhile.

Were the waffles holding out because they knew I didn’t enjoy making them? Who knows, but they just never gave me their all.  I decided it wasn’t worth the mess, effort or the calories when they were so easy to get at the diner down the street.  I made my no-waffle decision years ago, and I’ve never once so much as looked at a recipe for waffles since.

If you’ve been following along, you know  I’ve been working my way through Liana Krissoff’s Whole Grains for a New Generation with From Scratch Club’s cook-along book club.  And, from my very first riffle through Liana’s book, I was smitten with her recipe for walnut waffles. —————————————————————————————————————–

Wafflemaker,  food processor,  small saucepan, two bowls, hand mixer, cooling rack, dry measuring cups, liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons… dirty, dirty, dirty.

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Now, I will not lie.  This recipe exceeds the number of procedures and dirty dishes I’m willing to take on most days. This may not bother you, but ask me to dirty more than one appliance and I consider that a deal-breaker.

So, while I love waffles, and this promised some dreamy results, this recipe sat earmarked, admired, but untried. Until today that is. And guess what?

Not only am I very glad I made these waffles, I will be making them again soon. They are rustic in the very best way, perfectly crispy and delicious. The flavors are deep and rich and plenty (but not too) sweet and the walnuts are subtle.

My local diner can’t even come close to making waffles like this…

The trick of beating the egg whites together with the sugar strengthens the batter so it holds up as you cook one waffle at a time, AND makes the waffles nice & crisp.  Oh yes… the secret is revealed.

The whole grains have not a whiff of bitterness and there wasn’t a single sacrifice – I’m eating these waffles because I love them, not because they’re a cardboard stand-in for the waffle I really love…

What’s the other reason I kept coming back to drool over this recipe? It fits perfectly with my quest to fill my freezer with time-saving, extra-ordinary, home-made convenience food.  Here’s a link to the printable recipe.

If you’re going to dirty up all those dishes and appliances, do yourself a favor.  Do it up big and double the recipe.  The waffles freeze very well and you can simply pop them straight from the freezer into the toaster or a baking sheet and heat in a 350° F oven for 15 minutes.

Note: if you’re like me and enjoy your waffles a little on the dark side, take them from the iron before they are as dark as you like when making them for the freezer. Your waffles will continue to brown as you reheat them and the outside may burn before they are warmed through.

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What’s your recipe deal-breaker?  Is there a special treat that entices you to go for it anyway?

More delicious things I learned from Liana Krissoff:

In which we share a fruity secret
build your real foods pantry: rice
building your real foods pantry: preparing for cookie emergencies

holy pan-seared pork chops: lip-smacking revelation

Oh, Pork Chop. I get it now.

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These are two smoked pork butt roasts. I know it’s not a chop, but this is the best illustration I have. On the left is a heritage breed, pastured roast, on the right the same cut from a conventional, CAFO raised pig. The difference in texture is visible to the eye – the roast on the left was much more succulent, rosy and the meat had a tender, open texture.  On the right, you can see the well defined muscle fibers and the stringy, strongly grained texture. You could cut the pastured roast with a fork, not even close with the roast on the right. Of course, the roast on the left was twice the price, but worth every penny. I knew the pastured pig had a good life and the farm pollutes no one which is worth a lot to me.

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I never understood the big deal about pork chops. How can a colorless, dry hunk of jaw-tiring chewiness with a gristly bone attached possibly be the centerpiece of one of America’s favorite Sunday suppers?

I suppose it’s tasty and tender if baked or braised long enough, sauced & seasoned to the gills – a chef’s art, surely not a farmer’s. A nice steaky chunk of veg, beans or even tofu would make me happier; why torture the pig for such mediocrity?

But now, I see. It’s not us; it’s them. The pigs. Nothing illustrates the wedge driven between our food knowledge and purchasing habits by commercial interests quite as plainly as the maneuvers of the pork industry post WW II.

We’ve forgotten, been lured off the path by all that “pork, the other white meat” business. But, glimmer of hope, slowly we’re remembering. Chops from the right pig, raised the right way are packed with succulent, juicy, rosy deliciousness and make the most beautiful pan drippings imaginable. And it’s so simple. Which is not to say easy.

This is a recipe with very few steps and components so it is important to use impeccable ingredients and be very intentional in the execution. No multi-tasking, chatting on the phone, watching TV or other distractions while you’re about this recipe –  it deserves your full attention.

We rarely think of farming as an art anymore, but trust me: the art of the farmer is just as important as the art of the chef. We’ve just forgotten because it’s so rare these days. An artful chef can make industrial food pleasurable, but pair that same talented chef with an equally artful farmer and your axis will be shifted.

One of my deepest wishes is to help in some small way to restore the reverence and specialness meat so richly deserves. And, I swear, pork chops like these are darn near spiritual. An awakening, a happening, or maybe even a tiny miracle.

Let’s say a prayer of gratitude for the pig.

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Before you start:

The single most important step: buy the right pork chops. Supermarket chops are almost always industrially raised, commercial breeds. Commercial breeds of pigs are bred to be extra-lean and to grow to slaughter weight super-fast which we have been taught is good and efficient. True for the producer – but not for the pigs or the eater. Pastured heritage breed pigs shine, allowed to take their time growing slower, happier, healthier and more delicious.

Buy thicker, bone-in chops. I like mine at least 1-inch thick, even better up to 1 1/2″ but you can go too far. Chops  2” or more begin to behave more like a roast. Do not be put off by the rich, rosy color of heritage breed pork – that’s due to the older age of the pig, the fact the pig actually got to use his muscles and variances in breed.

Two tools that will help tremendously in your journey to mastering well-raised meats are the instant thermometer and an old school cast iron skillet. And keep handy this reference chart from Shannon Hayes, the farmer who literally wrote the book on pastured meats.

Standard temperature recommendations for cooking meats are calculated by the USDA to temper the pathogen loads common in the industrial meat industry. If your meat is from a trusted source, ideal cooking temperatures are much lower.

In fact, there’s no reason to not enjoy your pork a bit pink (shock & horrified gasps!). Since Trichinae are destroyed at 137 degrees, as long as you cook above that temperature, you are well within the safety zone. Well raised pork can be safely cooked between 145 – 150° F maintaining those delicious pink juices, whereas the USDA recommends a dried out range of 160 – 180° F.

Cooking your chops:

Prepare your pork. If your chops are frozen, allow them to thaw gently, preferably in the refrigerator. PLEASE, PLEASE DO NOT THAW FROZEN MEAT IN THE MICROWAVE!!  Bring your meat to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before cooking and blot dry.

  1. Rub a bit of olive oil into the chops, seasoning modestly with salt, cracked black pepper and if you must, rosemary, oregano or other favorite herb. If using, insert your thermometer probe into the thickest part of a chop, away from any bone or gristle. 
  2. Bring a seasoned cast iron or stainless ( not non-stick) skillet to screaming hot (high heat) on your stove burner.
  3. Place your chops in the hot skillet – do not overcrowd. They will give a good, satisfying sputter and sizzle; if you don’t hear this, the heat is too low and your chops may sweat which will cause them to dry out. Very important: resist the urge to fuss & flip to check the browning progress for at least 2-3 minutes. Your impatience and lack of faith will cause the delicious crust to tear which would truly be sad.
  4. Using tongs – do not pierce the meat with a fork – flip your chops and do the other side, for 2 minutes.

Since these chops are so thick, a bit of a braise will cook them through without ruining the beautiful exterior crust. Add a cup of liquid: wine, vermouth, apple cider, beer or stock – I use what I’ve got here, usually stock,  it’s all good.  Also add any onion, shallots, herbs or garlic if using.

Lower the burner to medium-low, cover and simmer until chops are cooked through, about 145 – 150°F.  All ye thermometer resisters; guesstimate your chops will be done in about ten minutes.

Note: If your chops are the standard variety cut to a more common half-inch thickness, this step is not necessary, you can stop at the pan frying, but it won’t be the same…

Resting the meat:

I would not kid you about this; the resting is nearly as important as the cooking. Remove the chops from the pan to a plate. Tent with foil for 10 minutes to allow the juices to re-absorb into the meat.

Crowning glory – the pan sauce:

Raise the heat and bring the pan drippings to a boil, scraping up any browned bits. Stirring constantly, reduce the sauce to a thick, syrup-like consistency. Taste and adjust spices; a knob of good butter, a splash of cream or half & half is a lovely but not necessary addition, as is a whiff of grainy mustard. Keep the seasonings simple, and allow those gorgeous chops to shine.

Go for richness and quality with the sauce, not quantity. It’s better to have a thimbleful of amazingness than a cup of watery gravy.

And that, friends, is the way to properly thank your pig.

How do you honor your pork?