Last night I ate the first ham steak I’d had since, well, like, forever. Foodies may be appalled, but my recipe is a sure fire Boxing Day winner: hack off thick, hand sized hunk of ham, pan fry in butter with a pineapple ring (from a can) until golden, serve with leftover salad. Delicious.
Why was I tucking into ham-delights a week before Christmas? Leftovers from a festive dinner hosted last Saturday. Problem is, we go away on Friday, only two days left to finish Bogus.
‘This ham is amazing,’ claimed one diner.
‘We raised it,’ I replied. Said diner looked alarmed. So I didn’t go into the fact the swine in front of him had had a short but happy life often dining on: overripe pineapples, persimmon and pawpaw from the fruit shop and day old jumbo muffins and wraps from the famous Vudu café.
‘Did it have a name?’
‘He was called Bogus.’
‘Eww,’ said the diner again.
If Christmas ham munchers prefer their ham shrink wrapped, I’m fine with that, as long as the porkers weren’t raised in pens. We’ve raised 6 weaner pigs of exotic breeding over the years. To date I’ve enjoyed the fruits of my slop-hauling-labours. Succulent roasts mid-winter, nestled on beds of thyme, mustard, apple and cider (which reduces to an amazing jam-like condiment). Crispy pork belly crackling that pops in your mouth. But raising Bogus and Beans almost did this pig farmer in.
I collected them as weaners from Stu, a Gore farmer. We met at the Municipal Pools car park, Alexandra, 11am, April 2011. A wool-pack tied with binder twine, squirmed and squealed on the back of Stu’s pickup.
‘I hope they’re going to fit,’ he said, standing tall in his navy blue overalls.
‘So do I,’ I said, re-positioning the hay lined dog kennel on its side in my stationwagon.
Stu undid the sack, reached in and pulled the first not-so-little porker out by its rear trotters. ‘Guide the head and front legs in,’ he instructed. Ger-plop down went the first piggie. Stu grabbed the second and we repeated the procedure. They were cute. Berkshires. Black, with gingery bits.
I handed over my cheque for $160 then high tailed it back to Queenstown. They were blasting at the Nevis Bluff with waits of an hour; I didn’t want a boil-up kicking off in my boot.
‘We’re not going to eat them,’ I told husband, when we unloaded them. ‘Best Pig in show,’ I declared, staring into Bogus’s one ginger eye. ‘I’ll train them.’
Husband was right, of course. The initial crushed-barley and warm milk feeding period is fun. Then before you can say, pork crackling the little blighters have turned themselves and their home into, well… a pig sty.
The May rain came. I donned gumboots and an old ski jacket and hauled slops. Bogus always stood waiting in the trough on his hind legs screeching, then he’d drop down often sending putrid gloop face-wards, next he’d press a trotter into each concrete corner, obstructing his brother while he hoovered the tastiest morsels. Beans trotted back and forth, outsized and waited for the muddied remains. You always get a fatty and a skinny with pig pairs. Fatty for ham and bacon; skinny for chops and roasts. Bogus’s appetite dictated his destiny.
Whoever said pigs are clean was definitely confused. They tend to use one corner of their pen for a toilet, but Bogus and Beans didn’t bother. They could multitask in fact: drink water and wee at the same time. The ground froze in June, they kept warm lying tummy to tummy, snout to snout inside hay cocoons in their A-frame; munched through kilos of veg and leftovers and got bigger and bigger. I did not admire their growing hams, as advised by Little River Cottage Pig Farmers dvd, I tended to porcine bedding and dietary requirements and longed for spring. All the while Bogus stared at me for MORE, with his piggy ginga eye.
When I collected the boys in plastic wrapped bits from the Omakau Abattoir, the back of my car sunk on its axles. 118kg of frozen pig.
A year later, we have a bag of chops and two pickled hocks in the freezer, as well as Bogus’s last leg. Someone needs to publish, ‘50 Shaves of Ham – a recipe book’, I thought at 7.05pm. I was stuck for another ham-meal idea. I ate the kids leftover broccoli salad then made the perfect ham sandwich: soft white bread spread generously with butter and a smear of Dijon, stuffed with several slices of freshly carved ham.
It seems whatever way your ham gets to the table; even feint hearted diners come back for seconds.
Merry Xmas ham lovers!