cooking, farming, ham hock, ham shank, ham soup, homesteading

Sometimes Happiness Looks A Lot Like A Pig

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Sometimes things just happen for a reason.   Last fall we had our first set of pigs butchered.  Our first time raising pigs was very rewarding, and all the meat in the freezer was a great reward.  However, I was feeling a little blue without them on the homestead.  They gave me so much joy and without them around things were a little boring.  One day while looking at Facebook, I saw that my neighbor had a post that said there was a pig loose.  We live on the edge of a small village and a pig running around was a first for us.  My son, wife, and I went to investigate, and sure enough there was a spotted pig running around.  We tried to catch him, and soon realized that he belonged to another neighbor who erroneously thought he could keep a pig in a small dog kennel.  Finally we caught him, but he just kept escaping.  I knew that life for this pig was not going to be pleasant so I offered to buy him.  Luckily my offer was accepted, and  I carried the pig like a big baby back to my house.  We named him Houdini because he was an escape artist.  We found out later he was brought home in the trunk of a car. Because of it, Houdini was traumatized. We gave him hay and a heat lamp, but he was so unhappy.  He would just lay there and not move. So after some research, we came to the conclusion that he needed company.  We were able to acquire another pig, and when we brought her home Houdini perked right up .  We named her Dottie (Dorothy was Houdini’s assistant in real life) and after a few days they were inseparable.

I was so happy to have some buddies again.

They warmed up to us after a few more days and would even take apples from our hands.  Keeping pigs in winter was a whole new experience.  We insulated their house with hay and put a heater in their water.  We would find them in the morning buried under hay with just an ear sticking out.   They would often pull the heater out of their water so it had to be checked often.  They did not seem to mind the snow and spent a lot of time outside.

On the coldest days, they would lay right next to each other and just snort at me when I went by.  When the weather finally warmed, we opened the fence into the garden so they could till and fertilize for us.

They grew at a slightly slower rate than the pigs we raised in the summer.  In the end they wound up being about 20 lbs lighter with the same amount of feed.  Soon it was time to go to freezer camp.  I was sad to see them go, but it was much easier than the first set of pigs.  I also knew that more piglets were coming in a few months.  We chose a USDA butcher and ended up with 317 lbs of responsibly raised pork.

These pigs gave us the most amazing pork chops, but that is a story for another blog. img_0576

Again our freezer was full.

We have even been selling some of the pork to offset our costs.  I find the best experiences in life are never planned, and you need to recognize opportunity.  So the next time life throws you a hanging curve, knock it out of the park.  To me raising pigs is a home run every time.

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ham hock, ham shank, ham soup, homesteading, soup recipe

Ham shank and bean homestead soup

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Many nights on the homestead, our dinner comes entirely out of the garden and freezer.  This year, we were blessed to have added pigs to the homestead, and this has allowed us to eat a home grown meal more often.  Everyone enjoys bacon, ribs and pork chops,  but when you have a hog butchered there are many other cuts that you may not be as familiar with.  One of these cuts is the shank.  Shanks are traditionally smoked and contain meat and a lot of connective tissue, which makes them perfect for a homestead soup.  I will admit that our shanks had found their way to the bottom of the freezer, but after making this soup that will never happen again.

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We started the soup in a large cast iron pot by sauteing onions and garlic in olive oil and butter until translucent.  We seasoned with black pepper.  We then added our chicken stock, which is made from our own birds, and water.

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We brought this all to a boil then reduced to a simmer for one hour.  After an hour we added several different types of dried beans that we had harvested this past summer.  If you have ever shelled beans then you know we didn’t waste any of these.  We also added our canned  tomatoes, red pepper, and oregano.

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We covered and simmered for one more hour.  After an hour we removed the hocks and removed the meat.  We returned the meat to the pot and discarded the bones.  We then simmered for 45 min or until the beans were tender.  The result was an amazing hearty soup that would warm you up even on the coldest day.  A cold Sunday is the perfect time to enjoy this soup, you can take your time and enjoy every spoon full.  Maybe even bake some crusty bread to warm up the house and enjoy with your creation.  When we looked into this bowl of soup we could see all of our hard work, not only cooking it but growing the ingredients. The shanks, the beans, and tomatoes, and even the tiny red pepper and oregano flakes.  This is truly a homestead soup, it not only warmed you up but put a smile on your face, and was a just reward for all the hard work.  There will never be any marching bands to congratulate you for your hard work, but there will be soup.

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