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The Epic Tale of Our Easter Ham

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“There’s a quite a story about how I finally got these hams finished!”  Isn’t that how it should go with all our food, if we are lucky enough to be connected to what we eat?  I’m happy to report that I met those hams as piglets, and it IS a funny story how they ended up on our Easter table.

One day last June I get a call from my sister, “We’re buying piglets from a great breeder and we’re getting a deal, do you want one?”  I wish I could tell you how many of these types of calls I get from her!  “Sure, but can it live at your house?”  My sister lives on a ranch with all kinds of animals, they train horses, raise goats, rabbits, and have a heard of dogs and cats.  It was agreed that my dad and I would share this pig, and she would get 2 of her own (she has 6 kids to feed!), and we would all share the cost of the food accordingly.  She did all the work, though, and I am so grateful!

I believe the piglet cost $70 dollars, and the barrels of food (organic, non-GMO) were about $80, so before processing it cost me about $200 to have my sister raise a pig for us.  They grew quickly over the summer and by the end of fall they were plump and ready.  Here is where the story gets interesting.

It was early November and we were talking about how the pigs were just about ready for processing, and maybe we could even have a Christmas Ham.  Within a day or two, a dog attacked one of the pigs, taking a bite out of the back leg (the ham).  Rather than give him a shot of antibiotics, we decided to send him to a butcher my sister knew.  I said I would take that one, still hoping for the Christmas Ham.  The butcher took the pig and processed the the animal.

The next day, my sister calls me in a panic.  A neighbor of the butcher called her to let her know the butcher’s property had been invaded by SWAT teams and the FBI.  Apparently this old guy had been putting on his retired police uniform, strong-arming drug dealers and stealing their goods, then re-selling them.  He also (allegedly) had meth-houses and was invading and robbing marijuana grow operations.  Seriously! We read about it in the newspaper.  AND our pig was hanging in his walk-in!

My sister knew the butcher’s assistant, and she let her in the shop to find out what had become of our pig.  The place was a dirty mess of alcohol, cigarette butts and pills.  I guess her friend finished processing it and had her take it home before the meat went bad.  However, the ham was in a brining solution, and know one knew how long it was supposed to sit before it had to get smoked.  Who could smoke it, anyway?  We were frantically trying figure out this mess when the butcher made bail and finished the hams.  I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I was removed from this situation, and how insane that we were still connected.  We are peaceful, law-abiding citizens, just trying to go local with our meat!  My sister stepped in and said she would take this pig, and I could pick one of the others.  She felt pretty bad about the whole situation, though who could have known?

The story is NOT over, my friend.

There were two remaining pigs to be processed, and we all agreed we needed to find a new butcher.  The problem was that there wasn’t anyone in our rural county that had a full-service shop (the kill, the processing and the smoking).  We finally found a butcher who had time to process the meat, and he hooked us up with a guy that would come do the “ranch kill”, and then bring the meat to the butcher shop.  I still had to locate someone to do the smoking, because THERE WILL BE BACON!

The guy came with his truck to do the ranch kill on a Friday in January.  My sister was headed out of town with most of the kids for a rodeo, and didn’t want to be around anyway for the killing.  I witnessed this as a five year-old on my cousins farm and I still remember every graphic detail over 30 years later.  The guy had my 16 year-old nephew bury the guts and headed off down the road to deliver the carcass to the butcher.  The next morning when my nephew when out to feed the animals, he saw that a mountain lion, drawn in by the blood, had savagely murdered 2 of the goats and drug their bodies around the ranch, uneaten.  When my sister heard the news, she called her friend who is the “county trapper”.  After he took a look around, he assessed that it was a young male mountain lion who was just beginning to learn to hunt.  He would surely stay around and continue to attack the animals (again, 6 kids live there), so he took off with his dogs to hunt and kill him before he became a menace.  Everything about that was just a bummer.

On Monday, the butcher called and said I better come get the hams and bacon if I wanted them smoked because they wouldn’t keep.  My husband located a shop in the next county that would do the smoking.  I drove way out some oak-lined country roads to the butcher’s shop, which was extremely neat and tidy, to pick up the meat.  He pulled it off the hooks in the walk-in freezer and set it on the stainless-steel table.  We looked at each other.  “Oh, right, I have a cooler!”  I hopped to my car and pulled a cooler out of my trunk.  The butcher looked at me funny, and asked if I wanted a garbage bag.  “Um, sure.”  I guess I didn’t really think out the whole transporting thing.  He threw 2 giants slabs of bacon and a ham legs in some white trash bags and we crammed them in my cooler.  He told me to bring it all back after the smoking so he could finish cutting it, which was part of the $130 fee.  I then drove 50 miles to the next shop.

It was a little weird to wheel my cooler and trash-bags into such a big shop, very professional with so many carcasses hanging, probably weird for the guys working there to see me doing it too.  I got the feeling it wasn’t exactly normal.  But, they wrote me a tag and told me to come back in a week.  So, I did, with my cooler, but there weren’t trash bags this time.  They just dropped those big ass pieces of meat in my cooler, charged me about $30 and sent me on my way, which was 50 miles back to the other butcher shop!

The next day I once again drove out to the butcher shop, which is 20 minutes from my house, and picked up all of our wonderful pork!  We dinned on thick chops, country sausage and of course, our beautiful Easter Ham!

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