Loverly, Loverly Spring

Miki’s Jam <—click me. You know you want to….

Yesterday morning I went and helped my butcher, Jen, harvest three lambs. She had called me the night before and said that she had an ordee, her daughter would be off the farm and that I could have half a lamb if I’d come help her out; I replied, “Throw in a skin and I’m in!” Without skipping a beat, she yelled, “Deal!” into the phone and added, “Be here at 6:30 on the dot! Bye!” hanging up quickly before I could protest. 6:30 on a Saturday? Geez…So, I went to bed.

I was on time, Jen let me one of her big rubber aprons as we walked to her processing room out across the yard from the barn and she threw a big roasted knucklebone in Baby’s direction to keep him occupied whilst we were busy. We watched in the dim dawn light as Jen’s husband carried the first lamb to us from the paddock, and suddenly, I felt very ill, prickly heat overtaking me as I swallowed hard and breathed through my mouth to stave off any unfortunate vomiting.

Vegans thoughtlessly believe that people who hunt, fish, raise livestock and butcher their own meat find some kind of lusty psychotic joy in killing things. That’s completely untrue. Dispatching any animal, even when its suffering and you know it has to be done, is a horrible feeling, one that never gets better with practise. Thankfully, Jen is an excellent butcher and a faithful steward, and lamb #1 was gone and hanging from a hook in less than thirty seconds without a single cry. And as we got to work, the dreadful sensation of sick gradually subsided. She had two sets of freshly whetted knives laid out on the big steel bench so that she wouldn’t have to stop to sharpen between animals, and she handed me the first skin whilst the lamb was still bleeding into the blood bowl, which I dutifully rolled up fleece side in and put in a heavy plastic bag before setting it aside on a shelf in the walk-in freezer whilst she beheaded and eviscerated the carcass. From there, everything went wicked quick.

This is the first time I’ve ever butchered lambs. I tried to think back; I’ve eaten lamb and mutton too many times to count, and have known many people from childhood on who raised them but, no, this was definitely my first. And it wasn’t bad, either; very similar to dressing veal. Jen asked me if I wanted retail cuts, and I said that I only wanted the shank separated, so we took my half, cut it into wholesale parts, wrapped it in paper, and left it on a sideboard to finish cooling. I said I wanted the head, too, so I peeled off the skin with a filet knife and put it in a vacuum seal bag without removing any of the organs. All the rest of the meat and bones from the three lambs was divided into retail cuts and vacuum sealed within the space of four hours, and we had bleached and scrubbed the room down well before lunchtime arrived.

Stepping outside into the cool sunny air was shocking; my sweat-drenched ponytail dripped down the back of my aching neck, the smell of bleach gave way to sweet, loamy pasture and, taking off the rubber utility apron, I suddenly felt cold. Looking down in the outdoor light, I realised that my barn boots were still splattered with blood, but I decided that I would hose them off when I got home instead of going back into that steamy hotbox of a shop. Jen brought out a box that held all of my lamb parts, lifted her washed knife bundles off the top, we chatted for a bit whilst Baby played with her shepherd, Amanda, and I was off to the German meat shop to drop off my new meat to age in the meat locker I’ve been renting since last year. Wrapped in cheese cloth instead of butcher paper, I’ll leave my little guy to settle and dry for a few weeks before I cut him down and rewrap those pieces to stash in the freezer.

When I got home, I put the lamb shank in the oven to roast in low heat for two hours, and pulled two pig’s feet out of the freezer. When the shank was ready, I put a whole chicken in the oven with the foot-long pig’s feet and two whole, unpeeled onions, turned up the heat to 350°, and set the timer for an hour. Whilst the lamb shank rested on the kitchen table, I butter braised two oxetails and a big bloody knucklebone in my five-gallon steel stockpot until they were well-browned and crispy on the fatted edges, filled the stockpot with three gallons of fresh cold well water, added my freshly roasted shank with a half-dozen bay leaves, and covered the pot to low-boil until the rest of the meat still in the oven was ready to add to the pot.

When I went to bed last night, the whole house smelled like Christmas at my Grandmother Susan’s house; that rich, meaty, warm wintery smell of good food to come. This morning I woke to a beautiful pot of rich, golden stock; the lamb shank and oxetail had all but disappeared, the chicken had broken into soft, velvety pieces and the only part of the pig’s feet that was still identifiable was the thick, wrinkled skin and one lone pointy toe floating in unskimmed fat. The big knucklebone that had once been the ball socket from the hip of a steer had given up all of it’s cartilage and marrow in melted gelatin, and I breathed in the vapour with a satisfied smile as I stirred the pot.

It’s the Great Fast, so I won’t be eating any of this now. After Mass this afternoon, I’ll strain the bones and fat from my stock, and divide it into quarts and pints to put into the freezer unsalted. Most of the meat will be separated and frozen for another soup pot after Easter. The onion remains will go to the chickens, and that fat and bones will be ground up with the remaining meat, salted lightly and fed to the dogs as special treats to nourish their dry Winter skin and coats. Every bit used up, nothing gone to waste.

I realised this morning as I stood at the stove gently stirring the big pot what it is I dislike about the arguments of vegans: my food is honest, theirs not so much. Every time I read another one of these articles about how compassionate the vegan plate is supposed to be, or see a YouTube video of blue-haired SJWs crying over piglets in a farrowing house, I think back to the times I spent cleaning bones, wings and skin and the occasional antlers out of combine harvesters and plough implements. The piece of lamb in that pot? I held him close whilst he was harvested, felt his little heart beating against my chest before it was wrapped up and went into my freezer cabinet at the meat locker. There is nothing more intimate or meaningful in this world when it comes to food than that. My meat didn’t come from the supermarket or a feedlot. I raised the chicken in my pot last Autumn myself, and I butchered her alone on my front porch before she, too, went into the freezer. The food on my plate is not a commodity; it’s a sacred relationship actively cultivated since early childhood when, standing in my Uncle Bill’s cattle yard, I watched two birds (Pheasant? Grouse?) get electrocuted on a power line above, and then later watched whilst my father butchered them and we ate them for supper (delicious); the attitude Daddy passed down not to waste life has never been lost on me. Killing any living thing makes me truly sad, but it’s done with a knowledgeable, deliberate purpose aimed at living a happy, healthy life treading lightly on the earth. And at least I know precisely where it came from, how it was handled and what went into harvesting it; there are very few dietary dictocrats who can factually say the same. To each their own….

Last autumn I made the decision that I was going to concentrate on raising Rhode Island Reds as I build my flock; they were my granddad’s favourite breed, they’re good birds, sturdy, mild-tempered, and my two surviving roosters were both Reds, so I figured that’s where I was headed…I was wrong. Unbeknownst to me, my shrewd hens were hiding all of their Spring eggs in two great piles behind the grain bins in the barn and, thus far, I’ve got two big clutches of baby dinos going. The first are nearly three weeks old now, all Barred Rocks, a few Wyadottes and about a dozen or so Buffs; they went outside this past week when they began their first molt. The younger batch are still in the kitchen staying warm, and there’s not a single full-blooded Red in the bunch, just Red paternity. Murphy’s Law prevails. At least I’ll have a lot more roosters than I planned on to choose from this year.

All is well on the green hill in the little valley….Spring has come! WOOOHOOO!!!

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Roy F. Moore
    Mar 21, 2019 @ 16:07:09

    Another great essay on both Spring and Veganism. Two thumbs up!



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