Pork Taint – Tain’t So

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Pig water fountain. Can't leave the hose there, though, as he'll pull it into the pen to play with.

Pig water fountain. Can’t leave the hose there, though, as he’ll pull it into the pen to play with.

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.

George Gershwin — Porgy and Bess

I’ve spoken before in my writings of how often what I was taught or told was fact later turned out to be anywhere from slightly distorted to flat-out wrong. I recently had a conversation with my 80-year-old butcher about whether we should use our boar for human consumption. His immediate response was “No, I wouldn’t – the meat won’t be any good even for sausage.” Enter my husband, whose family raised large numbers of pigs in the days before confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Hubby said he’d often eaten meat from boars used for breeding, and reminded me of the wild pig he had shot some years before that was clearly sexually mature and active – the meat tasted fine.

Three little pigs in a row and one outlier.

Three little pigs in a row and one outlier.

I must preface my remaining comments by pointing out that castrating male animals is the norm for many producers. Among the reasons given: decreases aggressiveness, they gain weight better, prevents unintended pregnancy and inbreeding, improves the quality of the meat. Our boar is four years old and has been used for limited breeding. His pen is across an alley from the sow’s, and we turn her in with him when we want her bred. Unfortunately, he has gotten so big that he’s no longer capable of breeding. At 600+ pounds, that’s a lot of meat that could potentially be going to waste.  Never having been one to blindly accept official dictates on any subject, I started digging for information on boar taint – meat that has a distinct off taste, attributed to boars that have been butchered after they have been used for breeding.

Among my findings:

  • Boar taint is caused by androstenone and skatole, naturally-occurring substances found in the fat of pigs. They are not deposited until the pig reaches sexual maturity, and skatole, which is produced in the intestines as a result of pigs inhaling or eating feces in confinement, can also taint the meat of female pigs.
  • Pigs fed primarily corn (corn and soybeans are the common diet in CAFOs) have an increased risk of boar taint, while pigs raised on pasture, milk products — especially whey – hay and other foods have a lower risk.
  • A quarter of consumers are unable to detect boar taint even when it is present and 80 percent of boars don’t have boar taint in the first place, no matter how old. Women are more likely to be able to detect boar taint than men.
  • Pigs of the Duroc breed seem to be more likely to display boar taint, while others — such as Yorkshires — are less likely to do so.
  • Aggressive, highly dominant boars seem more likely to show boar taint.
  • Boars — as opposed to barrows, which are castrated males — tend to put on muscle rather than fat and to grow proportionally longer, which means more bacon per hog.
Baby pigs are just plain cute.

Baby pigs are just plain cute.

So. We have an older boar, used for breeding, that is half Duroc and half Yorkshire. This boar has never shown signs of aggressiveness, even when we’ve been in his pen, and delights in being scratched around the ears and on his back. He’s been fed corn screenings, alfalfa hay, garden gleanings, leftover people food and plenty of milk products since he was eight weeks old. He’s not on concrete, although he has been kept in a fairly large pen. We have never castrated the younger boars we raise for meat — all of which were sired by this boar — and have never had problems with boar taint. I figure my odds are at least 50 percent, and probably better, that we can eat this big guy without worrying about tainted meat. I’ll let you know…

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Slight Hiatus

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Life is in high gear around here this month, what with 4H activities, cleaning up the garden and doing other winter prep chores. Although I’ll try to get something written if I can, blog posts will probably be sparse until the end of the month.

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Old-Fashioned Cooking: Ratatouille

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Photo credit: http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-traditional-vegetable-ratatouille-image24067808

In this modern-day-take-it-out-of-the-freezer-and shove-it-in-the-microwave world, we often lose sight of what real food tastes like. Not too surprising, when you look at the ingredient lists on most prepared foods. Many so-called foods have more chemicals than food ingredients. I figure if you can’t even pronounce half the ingredients, you shouldn’t rely on it as a major food source. On the other hand, just think about beef stew or chili simmering slowly through the day, ready to warm the cockles of your heart – not to mention your cold hands – come dinner time. Or home-made breakfast burritos or Cornish pasties, stored in the freezer for those mornings when you can barely find the kitchen, let alone think up a menu.

Ratatouille might be hard to pronounce, but the dish itself is the essence of ease. Chop up some veggies, douse with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs after you cook it a while. It’s not only old-fashioned; it’s probably ancient, as it was first created by poor farmers in the Provencal region of France. It’s a summer-only dish, wonderful for dealing with the glut of summer squash (originally, summer squash was the main vegetable – eggplant was added later), eggplants and tomatoes we all face once the garden really starts to produce. Ratatouille is flexible – too few eggplants, no big deal, add a little more zucchini. Tiny garlic cloves – shove them through a garlic press unpeeled (you have to clean out the skins after each squeeze). Although some cooks might call it heretical, I’ve added carrots, celery and green onions on occasion. It’s a good dish for a lazy cook – no peeling, just a quick wash, chop and toss, then into the pan. And it cooks unsupervised. Finally, it can be served hot, warm, cold or room temperature. Oh, the word is probably a combination of “rata,” which means “chunky stew” and “touiller”, a French verb that means “to stir up.” It’s pronounced “rat-oo-y.” The only disadvantage I can think of with this dish is that my other half doesn’t like it; however, it does mean I get his share!

 

Ratatouille

Roughly equal quantities by volume of eggplant, tomatoes, onions and summer squash, roughly chopped (classic ratatouille also has sweet peppers in it, but I can’t eat them, so I leave them out. You can add if desired, but I can’t give you a recommended quantity because I don’t know how they’ll affect the taste. Try adding two or three chopped peppers and see how you like it. Adjust from there.)

Olive oil to taste – the amount will depend on how much you have in the way of veggies, but figure ½ to ¾ cup.

Slivered, crushed or chopped garlic – I think crushed is the best choice, because it releases more flavor and is easy to distribute into the dish by stirring. By the way, to get maximum effect from allicin — the immune-system enhancing compound in garlic — press and let rest for 10 minutes before you put it in the pan to cook.

Fresh or dried herbs: parsley, thyme and basil – for a standard 9X13 baking dish (I prefer glass or Pyrex) figure about ½ tsp dried thyme, 1 tsp parsley and 2 tsp basil. If you’re using fresh herbs, make it 1 Tbsp. thyme, 2 Tbsp. parsley and 3 Tbsp. basil.

Mix all the ingredients except herbs in a big bowl, so the veggies are well-oiled. Dump into a baking pan and cook, covered, for about an hour at 350 degrees, or until the vegetables have softened and released a lot of juice. At this point, it looks like soup, but fear not; take off the cover, stir in the herbs and put it back in the oven for another hour or until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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