Autumn at the farm - making cider & bacon

I've spent the last week or so infected with a bad case of New England Autumn. There's something about watching the leaves change up here, feeling the air turn suddenly crisp in the evening, and slushing through the first fallen leaves in the kind of golden light that saturates the air when your start to see your own breath in the evening. It just gets under your skin, and you want to participate in the change of seasons. You buy pumpkins. You unpack the jackets from the winter closet. You lay in a half a forest worth of firewood. You start glancing guiltily away from the rakes stacked in the garage. And if you're me, you bum a cider press off your neighbor.

We had spent the summer haunting one of our local 'pick-your-own' orchards, reveling in the sticky glory of more peaches than you can shake a stick at, fresh blueberries and nectarines warm from the sun. And then one evening, in a fit of England-nostalgia, I was watching an episode of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'Escape to River Cottage' on the web. (I really sort-of love this guy. Ok, so he's a little preachy at times about the whole industrialized society thing, but the challenge of doing things the hard way really appeals to the obstinate, crotchety old man in me). On this particular issue, he had joined up with some old men in the neighborhood to gather spare apples and press their own cider, which they then put up to ferment into hard cider.

Hmm... Hey, honey... I've got this idea....

At first, my plan was to buy a press for my very own (early birthday present to me!). But after some deep reflection (and a "you want to spend what?!" conversation with my bride, who also doesn't understand why, for several hundred bucks, the presses are all hand-cranked. I tried to explain that there's no romance in a button. She is not convinced.), I settled on borrowing one someplace. This is New England. We're just down the road from where Johnny Appleseed was born. Surely there's one out there we can bum for a weekend.

I made some calls, and scored the loan of a press from a neighbor and 20 bushels of apples for next to nothing from our orchard owning source. And we've invited over 10 or 12 friends and neighbors this weekend for a Bring-Your-Own-Jug pressing and pork bbq party. (I also have recently found a great recipe for a Carolina BBQ sauce - I'll post that later). I figure we'll put up about 20 gallons of cider for fermenting, and dole the rest out as sweet cider for the folks that show.

Ah. BBQ. If you've read this blog for a while, you'll know that we have a love affair with the pig. Also, I bought an upright freezer off of Craig's List for forty bucks recently. You see where I'm going here.

With my apples lined up, I started calling around to other farms to see if anyone was ready to sell some meat. My dairy-farming friend (who brought me the cow poop for my garden) answered the phone. He happened to have two pigs still-on-the-hoof that were ready for auction. Whoa, there, farmer-friend! Write my name on those pigs. I'm hankering for some bacon.

What this translates into is arranging for two pigs to be taken to the slaughterhouse (you can only do this at a licensed place, and they book up months in advance during the fall, as I learned). Then arranging to pick up the dressed carcasses (no heads or hooves, please), and bringing them to a local butcher. He'll then cut it into the normal things you'd expect (pork chops, spare ribs, ham, butt roast) and some you wouldn't think about (shanks, belly, skin). [Note: this is the only animal I can think of that I get so excited about getting the skin for. Chicharones, baby.]. Then I have to cure/season/salt/hang things - the butcher promised to teach me to make pancetta. How awesome is that?

This means we'll end up with about 2x 150lbs of pork - one set we'll keep, and the other set we'll sell off at cost to our friends. (I only have room for about 1 pig's worth of meat). My daughter and I are already gleefully planning an afternoon of chorizo & country sausage making. She's also coming down with me to pick up the carcasses and transport them as a part of her continuing "food doesn't come in styrofoam and plastic by default" education.

I used to think summer was my favorite season because of the bounties of our garden, but I'm starting to think that Autumn is going to trump it.

After all, my garden never turned out any bacon or alcoholic beverages (though if I grow more corn next year, you never know...)