Monday, July 6, 2020

Connecting My Kids To Their Food: Meeting Pigs and Making Sausages #FoodieReads


Somehow A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France by Georgeanne Brennan* ended up on my suggested Kindle reading list. It's not a mystery, really; the book is right up my alley - personal memoir, set in another country, and rife with food! And Amazon's algorithms are usually right on, disturbingly so. This 'buy-it-in-one-click' thing is truly dangerous! It's still less expensive than physical books...and until my library opens back up, this will suffice. However, I still prefer real paper and books that I can touch and smell.

On the Page
image from amazon.com

I was not familiar with Georgeanne Brennan's work, but I was immediately drawn into her book as she begins describing her family's adventures of moving to Provence in the 1970s and starting a traditional fresh goat cheese business. A Pig in Provence is part travelogue and personal memoir. But it's really a love letter to Provence and all its foods. Brennan paints a delightful picture of the culture and the people of the region. Those "long meals, composed of simple, fresh seasonal foods and local wines, savored under the cooling shade of sycamore or mulberry trees in warm weather and in front of a cozy fire in cold weather, are the essence of the good life, well lived" (pg. 123).

Brennan writes, "I recognized that food was central to life, not for reasons of hedonism or sustenance, but because it was a link to everyone that had gone before me. It was a link to the land, a link to friends and family around a shared table, and a link to future generations to come. In a fragile, unstable world of change, food is a constant."

My family and I have been talking recently about connections over food. It's one of the things I miss the most as we go into our seventeenth week of being sheltered in place during this coronavirus pandemic: I miss having friends and family around my dinner table for a shared meal, libations, and seasonal food prepared with love.

That is a constant theme - shared meals - throughout her book. She writes, "Our social life, like everyone else’s, revolved around food. We lingered over lunches and dinners, went to the open markets where we met friends for an apéritif or coffee, took picnics to the beaches and lakes, and went to restaurants and community feasts. We steeped ourselves in the tastes of Provence—olive oil, wild herbs, fish, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, grilled lamb and sausages, fresh cheese, and fruit of every kind" (pg. 123).

As Brennan lives and eats through the seasons there, she details what she's eating and what she's learning. After she learns to identify and forage mushrooms around her house, she describes, "I carefully sliced our chanterelles into long, perfect sections and sautéed them in olive oil with a few shallots, salt, and pepper. As they cooked, they scented our little kitchen with an unfamiliar aroma, slightly musty and rich. When they became tender, I poured a half-dozen beaten eggs over them and sprinkled on parsley. I let the bottom of the eggs set, then flipped one half over the other, cooking the omelette until it was firm, but still soft in the middle. I quickly made a salad from greens I had picked earlier that day, and we sat down to our first home-cooked meal of gathered wild mushrooms"(pg. 70).


When she writes about truffled eggs, I began counting the weeks till the season and wondering if the world will open back up in time for me to head to my favorite Italian restaurant and purchase some truffles. "'You keep them and the truffles together in the jar. The smell of the truffles goes into the eggs. In two days, even three, break the eggs into a bowl, clean the truffles, and grate them into the eggs. Let stand a little, add some sea salt, and then cook the eggs in butter to make your oeufs brouillés. Ahhh.' He kissed the tip of his fingers with a smack. 'Sublime. Vous verrez'" (pg. 91)

On the other end of the culinary spectrum is a French-style ham sandwich. "Almost nothing tastes as good for lunch as a French-style ham sandwich with a cold beer. The bread, at least one-third of a crusty baguette from a late-morning bake, is cut lengthwise and heavily slathered with sweet butter before two or three slices of thin ham are folded in half down the center and the sandwich closed up. That’s it. Three tastes, three textures" (pg. 169).

At the end of it, I think the food philosophy embraced in Provence - well, in many places, but she is writing about Provence: "Any dish is only as good as the ingredients you begin with" (pg. 176).

But it was her recounting about le jour de cochon, when the people of Provence slaughter their pig that reminded me about why I have always strived to connect my kids to their food sources. I didn't want them to think that meat came on a styrofoam tray wrapped in plastic; meat was once an animal. And to that end, I have taken my kids to farms to meet their meat!

Meeting Pigs

One year, several years ago, we went to visit our CSA (community-supported agriculture) farm. D spotted a sow with a row of piglets. 

“Mommy, look! Babies!” he shrieked, gesturing at the pile of pigs huddled beneath the shade of the gnarled apple tree. The piglets shoved and squealed; they climbed on top of one another. All were trying to get to their mother’s teat. Those who were successful, suckled happily. Those who weren’t, kept jostling the heap. “I like that one,” he pointed excitedly. “He’s cute. Which one do you like?” 

“Oh, I don’t know. You think they’d make good pets?” 

“No, silly Mommy. They’re for bacon… or ham!” he declared.

Okay.

Brennan writes about this: "At one moment the pig was a living, breathing, heaving animal, one I had known for the last year as I helped Marie feed him, and in the next moment he was an inanimate object, ready to become food. With the release of blood, I saw his life slowly leaving and his eyes beginning to fade. My heart was pounding and I turned my head. When I looked back moments later, it was over and the transition from life to death completed. It was time to begin the transformation of the pig into pâté, sausages, and hams" (pg . 48).

Making Sausages   
  
A couple of years ago, one of our favorite local chefs was opening up his restaurant for a sausage-making class. I scooped up two tickets immediately, thinking that it would be a great date afternoon for me and Jake. But as the event inched closer, a project deadline was looming for Jake and R, so I ended up taking my Enthusiastic Kitchen Elf with me instead.


I think it worked out for the best anyway. Some kids have a favorite band or favorite musician. My kid has a favorite chef and it's Chef Brad!

As we were driving up to Soquel, D wondered if the pig was going to be intact, meaning with a head and entrails in place. He said that he needed to mentally prepare for that, but I'll write more about that when I showcase Rancho Llano Seco, the ranch that provided the heritage pig for the class.


D visibly relaxed when he saw that the pig did not have a head and entrails. He watched, entranced, as Chef Brad butchered the pig.


We learned about the leaf lard...


 and the coppa.


And when Chef Brad was done, D jumped into the hands-on part of the class: making HOMEmade pork sausage. This isn't a recipe, per se, but I'll share the process we learned. 

They ground the meat - not with the hand grinder, but he did show them that one; they used the Hobart and it was much, much faster.


They seasoned the meat with brown sugar, Maldon flake salt, fennel seeds, paprika, red pepper flakes, and black pepper.


They added in minced garlic, fresh oregano, and fresh parsley.


Then they donned gloves and mixed that all in by hand. Thank goodness the teenagers were game; all the adults were busily sipping beer as the 'pint' part of the Pork & Pint party.


Chef Brad brought out the sausage stuffer, demonstrating how to load the casings on to the tube. Then they stuffed the sausages.


They made links by pressing into the casing at 6" intervals and spinning the sausage for three rotations, alternating directions. Brad made it seem easy. D said it wasn't easy.


And we ended up with some beautiful pork sausages.


Everyone wrapped some and took sausages home. Chef Brad did roast some of the sausages in the wood-burning pizza oven for us to enjoy right then and there.


I cooked ours a couple of nights later - oven-roasted in cast iron - and the little critic said Chef Brad's was better. No doubt.


It's always a treat to connect with food purveyors and local chefs! I'm grateful for these opportunities to underscore that the meat we eat was once an animal and how simple, fresh ingredients make amazingly tasty meals.


*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.


Click to see what everyone else read in July 2020: here.

5 comments:

  1. This is a great post -- combining a book review with a related experience from your own life. Of course like you I can't wait for the world to be safe for out-of-the-house adventures and for travel once again!

    be well... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

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  2. What a great experience for your sous chef, and you! We have our up close encounters with Mr. Piggy fairly often, when they come by looking for a garden to uproot. And sometimes get trapped, and shot. The book sounds like it might be a good selection for our Cook the Books Club. There are certainly a lot of love letter out there about Provence.

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    Replies
    1. While I loved it, some people might find her descriptions about food a little long-winded. Hard to say...

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  3. I enjoyed A Pig in Provence as well. Shared my thoughts way back in 2015 for #Winophiles. https://adayinthelifeonthefarm.blogspot.com/2015/07/a-taste-of-provence-inspired-by-pig-in.html

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