Saturday, May 24, 2008

On the Bright Side...

After last night's complaining I forgot to mention that we have slender spears of asparagus poking out of the ground, the hazelnut trees have little leaves, the strawberry plants are thriving, and the raspberry canes are emerging. My food obsessed brother from San Francisco lent me Pig Perfect, a short book about one guy's quest for piggy excellence. His search took him all over the Carolinas, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, France and Spain. The storied pigs of Spain are finished on pasture and acorns. Two acres of forage per pig! So for us that means two hogs a year raised on pasture, acorns and, in our neck of the woods, apples. I was disappointed to read, however, that I have never tasted real ham. Ham purists maintain that it must cure for at least a year. Those in the states insist that the coating of mold on a properly cured ham is essential. Not so in France and Spain. Unfortunately, I don't think the climate of coastal Maine is right for air curing a ham over the course of a year. Too cold for too long in the winter. Not hot enough long enough in the summer. Not that that would stop me from raising bacon. But it does raise the question of raising animals appropriate to your environment. Which brings me to another thing Peter gave me to read: Sam Hayward of Fore St wrote a story for The Art of Eating about the old Maine practice of raising sheep on the little unpopulated islands off the coast. There are now a few small operations reviving the practice. No fences. No predators. They survive the winter quite nicely by eating seaweed washed up on the shore. Last summer a group of us went out for an island picnic to what was once, no doubt, an island once used for sheep. From the water it looked like any other spruce covered island, but the ring of trees hid a wide open area in the center now covered in tall ferns. Maybe, someday, when food production becomes, by necessity, more local, there will be sheep on that island again. The way things are going someday may be coming sooner than expected.

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