The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Dreaming of butchers and home smoked bacon

Photo: Sleeping piglets

Photo: Sleeping piglets

Our new organic butcher buys his beef from farmers whose steers graze the fields in the local studs around our village. Something like ox kidney has to be ordered in advance. Last week I invested in organic shin of beef, just £8.00 for 2 kilos. And a large oxtail that was quite a bit more expensive. Some shin and oxtail went into a beef and vegetable soup and the rest was frozen until an organic ox kidney was available to make our favourite Steak and Kidney Pie.

So this morning I motored over to Fordham to collect the kidney and buy an organic free range happy chicken for Sunday. Free range from your local butcher (if you are lucky enough to have one) is much cheaper than from the supermarket and is probably locally sourced too.
“I’m afraid we only have chicken fronts left.”
Neil indicated a diminutive carcass on a hook. It was so small that it reminded me of Mrs Boss
“What’s a front?”
“A chicken without legs and thighs. Just the breast and wings and bones of course.”
“But why?”
“Well once a lady came in and said that she wanted a chicken but she doesn’t eat the legs or thighs. Then a man piped up behind and said that’s the bit that he likes the best so he’d take them.” He gave me a strong look. “We sell loads of fronts They’re much more popular than a whole chicken.”

I could see where the lady was coming from. I only really like the white meat on a chicken. So I bought a front and will be cooking it tomorrow night. Next time I’ll think ahead and add a whole chicken to our order. Small specialist suppliers just can’t just have everything on tap all of the time. Like most people in the UK I’ve been spoilt by the system. Everything available 24/7 but not necessarily the best and happiest of stock.

We don’t make a weekly trip to the Fordham butchers. We buy far less meat these days. So the development of the relationship has hiccups. But I’m gradually getting to know the butcher (Neil) and his assistant (nameless so far) – the latter is young and fun with ear studs and a bit of banter. Neil and I chat about curing meat and share our triumphs and disasters. This is somewhere that I could really learn a lot about home cured ham, sausages (salami and pepperoni) and biltong. The disaster discussions are much more interesting than the successes, Neil is looking for answers and so am I. A failure handled well should reap dividends in the future.

This week I’m going to present them with some of our low salt home cured organic free range streaky bacon that we’ve smoked slowly in the chimney over our wood burner the past two evenings. They sold me the belly last week. I’ll be really interested to see what they think.

The best laid plans sometimes go awry. The wood burner lit like a dream and roared away far to fast for gentle smoking. I sprayed the blazing wood with the water mister that we use for the orchids. Eventually things heated up so well that the doors expanded and I couldn’t open them. Finally I was forced to open the inspection plate in the chimney and pour a jug of water down onto the fire. It spluttered for a bit like a spaniel who has misjudged the depth of a stream. Within minutes it was smoking like mad and still glowing nicely. Ideal on the bacon front.

Tasting and swapping ideas at the butcher’s is what it’s all about. I never thought that I would sit down to a weekend fry up and chose to eat streaky bacon. But we do if we have cured it ourselves.

David, the manager in Fred’s old shop explained why.
“It’s the fat. It improves the meat and makes it scrumptious. If it’s cured well, the flavour’s far better than loin (back bacon).”

When I have a mini windfall I’m going to buy a free range organic loin from Neil. Use our low salt cure and smoke it carefully over an Ash or Beech fire. I reckon that it will be amazing.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Cassie

    Perhaps this year we will try to cook pork (and chicken) over an open fire. It sounds delicious and mouth watering.

    Love the idea of the potatoes.

  2. Here in France it is tradional to use Apple wood to cook pork over an open fire (wrap a few potatoes in foil and chuck those in the embers too – nice crispy jacket potatoes). Use a grill, similar to the sort of thing you use on a bbq. Here they sell special heavy duty ones in the garden centre. The year before last I bought an electric motor to turn a ‘roast’ chicken in front of the fire. Very relaxing. A nice glass of red wine, and nothing to do (I wish) but watch dinner cooking.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hello Magic Cochin

    It’s true. But D’s face flickered when he saw the chicken front as he adores the brown meat. Next tme I’ll order a chicken, the front was fine but I’d prefer to buy a whole bird next time!

    Hi Springtime

    Home cured bacon is the best. A real luxury and well worth making. Our bacon tastes better than anything that I have ever bought and is cheaper than the tasteless ‘value’ brands of bacon.

    If I had to give up buying steak, top quality beef or pork. I’d retain pork every time. Great bacon/ham can light up a day and I never tire of it.

    Hi Z

    Yes, I agree, the thighs are fatty. Even I eat them if they are casseroled!

    My old butcher, Fred Fitzpatrick helped me develop my bacon. We have tweaked it endlessly but now we are producing the sort of bacon the I’ve been dreaming about for years. It’s very easy to make and it’s fun too. Especially when I see how much cheaper it is to make our own.

    Hello Mandi

    I’d love piglets but adult pigs are enormous. And they are sociable beings so you’d need two. They also cost a lot to feed and would trash your garden. But similarly to you I like them. Intelligent and clean – if they are allowed to be.

    The basket weavers that once owned this cottage used to keep pigs (constricted in stys). As they were very poor, I reckon that this was their main source of meat. A properly cured ham (saltpetre and the lot) can last for up to a year.

    I love beavers too. I know that they can do a lot of damage but they are beautiful creatures.

  4. I saw the picture and thought you had added a couple of piggies to the fold.
    I immediately went green with envy!
    Although I sadly have an inherited allergy to all things ginger ( a maternal gene I think) the sight of those 2 snuggly ginger piggies is my idea of heaven on earth, I ask for the same thing every birthday, ‘I want a pig called mildred’ …alas my husband being the sensible one in the family declines my threats…I mean begs and has so far not given in…
    One day ….. I have decided to try a new tactic, I will insist on having an otter for our pond, and then my previous requests of a piggy might sound far more acceptable!

  5. I like the flavour of the dark chicken meat, but the thighs are too fatty for me. Drumsticks are fine, and thighs are in a casserole or pie or something.

    I like streaky bacon best as it has far more flavour. But I so miss the bacon one could buy at any good family butcher in the past, when he’d buy a whole side and cut it for you. It all changed 25 or so years ago, and now even good butchers just buy in the watery pre-packed and sliced stuff.

    A great post Fiona, thank you.

  6. springtime

    Reading your post has made me want to try home-curing bacon! It sounds wonderful.

    It’s anther thing that I am going to add to my ‘really-want-to-try-list’ once we have moved…

  7. magic cochin

    “I only really like the white meat on a chicken”

    FI-ONA! I’m speechless

    Celia 😉

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