I've always liked pork: pork chops, ham, good country sausage, and oh my goodness, bacon.
I can hardly get scrambled eggs down without a bite of bacon for every bite of egg. And then there's that delicacy of pork, the tenderloin. Marinated, roasted and then sliced and stuffed in my homemade buttermilk biscuits and served with stone ground grits and a salad is a family favorite, with leftover stuffed biscuits frozen for quick breakfasts. Can't be beat.
I recently bought two pork tenderloins packed together in a pack where normally I only buy one small one. It was on sale. I tried a recipe out of Elizabeth Bard's book Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes, Pork Tenderloin with Apples. I marinated it overnight in garlic cloves, thyme, rosemary, apple citer vinegar, red wine and olive oil.
After drying the meal well and browning it all over in butter and olive oil, I put them on a platter and sautéd apple quarters and shallots, put the meat back in the pan and added a cup of apple juice as I didn't have the hard cider Bard called for.
And I added a lot of yellow fennel flowers because I read somewhere, can't remember where, that pork and apples love the addition of fennel flowers.
After the pork finished roasting in the oven, I put all the solid pieces on a platter, covered it with foil, then added a couple of tablespoons of brandy to the pan juices. I didn't have the Calvados the author called for. I adore Calvados, used to buy a new bottle every fall to use for my white fruitcakes, but then the stuff went to over $80. Even my brandy was from the tiny bottles Santa Claus puts in my Christmas stocking so no way was I going to put out $80 for a pork dish.
That reduced sauce was out of this world! I put it in an old USA creamer that was from RH's mother's dishes and then added a sprig of fennel flowers for garnish to the platter.
It was all excellent, it really was, the meat flavorful and tender and the apples like the very best homemade applesauce. But I couldn't face eating much of it or the leftovers.
Maybe because it's summer? Maybe I'll crave pork chops when frost comes just like I'll crave chili when we have the first really cold spell?
Could it be because of this recent Goodwill picture coming home with me? Surely not. I jokingly told this cute little family that I loved them but it didn't mean that I was going to stop eating bacon.
Right underneath them were photographs of my father, a man who knew how to grill the best pork, beef and chicken ever, and my mother's father who had his own butcher shop. I reminded my new little Oink Family that I was from carnivorous lineage.
They didn't give me the evil eye, I don't think. The little shoats kept on frolicking, Mama Sow didn't get up from the mud she wallowed in and Papa kept on watching over the whole pig sty.
I've grown to love their black spots and their curly little tails.
Does this mean I won't ever again eat ham or country sausage--or bacon? Probably not.
My pork philosophy is that hogs are food for man just as cattle and chickens are. I think I'm just not as comfortable eating it the way I always have, bought at the average supermarket. Not when I keep seeing stories about how resistant these chains are to committing to the Gap Animal Partnership (GAP) standards that stores like Whole Foods are adhering to.
Even better would be knowing that pigs and cattle and chickens had had a decent life before becoming my dinner.
Richardson Wright, editor of House & Garden for decades, wrote this in one of my favorite books, Gardeners Bed-Book, back during the Depression:
When they first arrive, I delight in their cute tricks, their squealing and running around the sty. Through the summer, I rejoice in their sensuous mud-wallowing. With Autumn my thoughts turn to size and weight. Their ration includes Corn, with an occasional bucket of windfall Apples for dessert. Soon we shall start feeding them Peanuts as they do in Virginia, to add (so I hold the childish faith) a nutty flavor to the meat. Like condemned men awaiting execution, they are given a rich and abundant cuisine.
Yep, I guess I am a little hardhearted like Mr. Wright was. Pigs are for meat, even for me, depending on how fond I might become of the future grandpig I keep hearing I might have someday.
I don't really have a fight with their purpose. I do have a big fight with how they are mass produced and crammed into cages while awaiting my dinner table.
My father grew up on a farm that his father sharecropped. He and his six brothers and sisters worked hard to help their parents feed the family. They ate seasonally from what they grew or produced, bought very little in a store. When something was finished for the year, it was gone except for what my grandmother and aunts had preserved and canned.
When cold weather came in November it was hog butchering time. My father, being the youngest, didn't help with the actual butchering. But he did help his mother render the lard. He told me: "That's where the cracklins came from. Mama wouldn't have what she called compound shortening (Crisco) in the house. The best cornbread was when we had cracklins in it."
His family didn't even get to keep all the pork they ended up with. They sold the hams. They kept the shoulders, made sausage and then canned jars of it, covered with grease. It was spiced plentifully with Grandma's dried hot peppers.
I imagine everything but the oink was put to use. I remember seeing my father eating pickled pigs feet out of a glass jar when I was a child so I know his mother must have pickled those trotters.
The real treat of hog butchering day was the tenderloin. My grandmother cooked that fresh that very day, according to my father. Maybe she had it with homemade buttermilk biscuits. If so, that was probably one fine meal.
That tenderloin that my father and his siblings ate that day was a cut they called "hog killing meat." That's realism for you.
Farmers are tough. Most don't keep pigs for pets. You can tell that from this family photograph that I call our Grapes of Wrath family portrait. My father is the young teenager in overalls standing up behind the others.
I probably won't stop eating pork but I would like to have it only occasionally and then only from a store that adheres to the Global Animal Partnership.
Here is a link to more information about that.
Perhaps by the time my granddaughters grow up and have their own families there will be enough stores participating in this that large chain stores will have to comply too, which means that producers will be forced to comply.
I'm not asking for pork to be eliminated from the national diet. I just wish that the pigs could have a decent life before they become pork for the table.