Over the years we have helped friends with their pig growing efforts and processing, and were well aware of just how good home grown pork could be, but had never tackled the challenge on our own place. Now in the midst of a porkucopia of bacon, pancetta, guanciale, English ham, pulled pork shoulder and fresh cuts that will last us for the year ahead, it’s difficult to understand why we hesitated so long.
Our first experience of raising weaner pigs was watching them head toward Nundle on the main road after they had breached the portable electric fence on the evening of their arrival. We gently coaxed them back in, and although they would test the tape every day from then on, they never repeated that first glorious dash.
Settling into a rhythm of twice daily feeds and weekly moves onto fresh pasture, the advantages of keeping pigs above and beyond their meat became obvious. They consumed hundreds of kilos of unused Jerusalem artichokes, fruit, prunings, and mountains of greens. The conversion of wormy fruit from waste to ‘windfall’ was the biggest revelation. Fat pigs and a huge fruit harvest thanks to the much reduced fruit fly problem over the fly season.
They were so useful as fruit disposal units that we were reluctant to slaughter them before the season was through. More knowledgeable friends asking whether we were going to breed them, and one in particular warned that ‘as a spider becomes smaller when you kill it, pigs become bigger’.
While we have plenty of affection for our sheep and will always insist that ‘sheep aren’t just sheep,’ pigs are possessed of a little more charisma. And although we swore there would be no names it’s hard not to notice that there is a ‘Miss Personality’ and ‘The Quiet One,’ and it made slaughter day quite different to what we experience with our lambs. But with temperatures dropping, the fruit all gone and confronted by two, now very large pigs, we decided to call in the expertise of John Davis of Big John’s Mobile Butcher. John quickly and humanely killed them and with our extra muscle had them scalded, dressed and hanging in a portable cool room in no time with a total dressed weight of 180kg. We broke them down after the carcasses had hung for a week and then the real magic of pork, salt curing and smoke began to happen. Our sons could not be happier at the sight of an almost bottomless supply of maple-cured bacon, and simple pasta dishes become something else with the addition of homemade pancetta and guanciale.
We’ll definitely raise pigs again, shortening their growing season to balance taking advantage of our windfall fruit, handling smaller carcasses, and hanging meat in the cooler months. Spring will be here before we know it and the cycle will start again.
Pea and Ham Soup
What you need: 40 g butter, chopped, 2 onions, finely chopped, 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped, 2 ham hocks (800 g each), 750 g dried green split peas, 360 g frozen green peas. Sourdough to serve.
What to do: Heat butter in a large saucepan over low-medium heat, add onion and garlic and cook until soft (10-12 minutes). Add ham hocks, cover with cold water, bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook until ham is falling off the bone (1-1 1/2 hours). Remove hocks, set aside to cool, and when cool enough, remove skin and bone and discard. Shred meat coarsely and set aside.
Add split green peas to stock and simmer until tender (45 minutes to 1 hour). Add frozen peas and simmer for 1-2 minutes until bright green. Puree in a blender in batches, add shredded ham hock to soup, season to taste and serve with toasted and buttered sourdough.