The title of today’s post was lifted directly from the subject line of an email I received from Farmer Ted this morning. He was bemoaning my lack of a post on his porkers. “Mmm, bacon!” was my default title for this post, but that phrase has been a little overused as of late in the popular media, so we’ll keep things fresh here at the Clueless Farmer.
For those of you not on the customer rosters at Greenbranch Farm, the long-awaited bacon, pork chops, scrapple, ham, and roasts from this year’s free-ranging, woodland-foraging, organic-vegetable scrap and natural feed-eating hogs are indeed available, but selling quickly!
Pigs are considered by some to be a rather filthy and therefore undigestable-worthy creature. That’s probably because they will eat and grow fat on just about anything you put in front of them. There about as omnivorous as us humans, only their idea of palatable includes such delicacies such as rotting vegetable and meat scraps. In fact, one of the self-proclaimed most disgusting things Farmer Ted claims to have ever witnessed was a hog farm here on the Eastern Shore where the farmer still kept his backyard pigs in the “traditional shore way” in a beyond filthy pen next to the poultry house where they dined on the carcasses of diseased birds. (I had to go there, didn’t I?) Their robust digestive systems also emit powerful gases, which is why you want to make sure you don’t keep them too close to your house. That, and their propensity for lollygagging around in the mud, which is usually mixed with their excrement, does make them rather worthy of their common usage in disparaging terms.
How can I insult thee, let me count the ways: fat as a pig; pig out; a pig in a poke; make a pig of yourself; in a pig’s eye; sweat like a pig (actually, pig’s don’t sweat much, that’s why they roll around in the mud, to keep cool); bleed like a stuck pig; squeal like a pig; ain’t fitting to roll with a pig; when pigs fly. And, the expression made famous in the 2008 elections: “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” (Were they talking about Sarah Palin? I can’t remember.)
All this is to say be very very careful where you get your pork. As you can see from the pictures, Greenbranch pigs are free to roam. They roam in fields of green pasture, they roam in snow, they roam in the woods, foraging for mushrooms, grubs, roots, and acorns and other nuts that fall from the trees. And just like other animals that are free to roam and graze in their natural environment, there are health benefits. Such as less saturated fat than their corn-finished counterparts. Here’s some facts on that from a company specializing in “Woody Agriculture:”
“In the earlier days of the USA, it was a common thing to finish hogs by turning them out into the forests to feed on “mast”, a term that includes all the nuts and seeds and fruits to be found there. Typically in American forests, there would be acorns, walnuts, (yes, pigs can eat black walnuts with no problem; they’ve got very strong teeth and jaws!) hickory nuts, beech nuts; chestnuts in Appalachia; and sometimes persimmons, pawpaws, and wild cherries. And more. It was a very complex diet—good for the hogs and, in fact, exactly what hogs used to eat when they were wild. They thrived on it, and in years when the mast was heavy with acorns, the folk tales include years when the pigs got so fat the folds would close over their eyes, making it impossible for them to see.
The fat, the lard, was of course a very important foodstuff in the years before we “learned” that it was bad for us and replaced it with artificially hydrogenated vegetable fats, which turn out to be much less healthy. Even before the chestnut blight killed off the chestnut forests in the eastern US, though, consumers turned away from forest finished hogs. The lard rendered from such hogs turns out to be much softer at room temperature than lard from corn finished hogs, and sometimes it was even reported to be liquid. (This is fact, not folk-tale. One good reference is the book “Tree Crops” by J. Russell Smith.) Housewives were taught that hard white lard was what they wanted for making biscuits and pie crusts, and the practice of finishing hogs in the forests disappeared. There were other reasons why forest finishing declined, of course, including changing forest ownership and other sociological aspects.
Those of you who remember anything from your college course in Organic Chemistry should be perking up your ears right now. Soft-liquid at room temperature? Almost certainly, that translates into “much less saturated fats”. That is, they are probably much healthier fats for humans to be eating.
It turns out that the hogs in Spain that are finished on acorns (pata negra pigs) have had their fat tested. It turns out that, indeed, fat from pata negra pigs is less saturated than regular lard. It even contains the two holy-grails of current fat-fashion, mono-unsaturated and Omega-3 fatty acids. “Olive trees on four hooves” one web site puts it!”
It’s true, the pigs at Greenbranch love nothing better than a good downpour, and we break out the binoculars from our sheltered perches to watch them gleefully rolling in the fresh mud with abandon. And on hot days, they disappear into the shade of the woods to feast of woodland forage, emerging only when they hear the sound of the truck approaching with the day’s leftover organic watermelon, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash. Heck those pigs eat better than most of us do!
When living in Greenbranch conditions, I’d have to agree with Farmer Ted. Pigs are cool! And, Mmmmm, bacon.