duck duck pig

IMG_4986Thinking about bodies, and the soft flesh and puzzle of bones that enable us to stand, walk, smile, bend, wave hello, and say goodbye.

The first time I broke down a duck, I marveled at the difference between its structure and that of a chicken: the longer body, slenderer breasts, little drums.  This time, at Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective‘s duck and pig butchery classes in Eugene last weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about the structures we share with the pig.  No, not in the sense that I could never eat an animal with a face or a clavicle or whathaveyou, but rather this unshakeable feeling of being part of the universe, a community of matter.  I can’t get over the metaphysical sense, lately, strangely, insistently, of the impermeability of bodies, of all things, and the wheel of fortune that spins these molecules into personhood, those into livestock, and yet others into mosquito netting or Prada clutches or a turnip or cat’s breath or frost. Why don’t we all just dissolve into the ether?

No, I haven’t been taking more drugs.  Thanks for asking.

Ever more firmly I believe I can’t eat meat without knowing more about how the process works, but my awe and respect for the workings of a creature, our very distinct matter, is kind of overtaking me right now.  I’ve spent an entire year completely (and utterly nonconsensually) focused on broken bodies and death, on dissolution and transformation, so to take part in the slow, careful, respectful craft of turning life into food is quite profound and healing for me.  Meat, somehow, even more so.

We broke down a pig and a half, totaling about 400 lbs. of meat, and a duck apiece, then we learned how to make some cured products, including bacon, rillettes, and duck liver mousse and prosciutto.

IMG_3547IMG_5029 The classes were wonderful, made even better by the gorgeous facility and commercial kitchen at Sprout! where the Springfield farmers market takes place on Fridays.  We were able to take home the meat we broke down, which added yet more value. The Master Food Preservers helped with the class prep and clean-up, and we had a great group of farmers, restaurateurs, home cooks, and teachers who eagerly participated.  Although someone confessed that she was initially nervous about sharing a table with me at the duck class, I laid that to rest quickly with my slow hands and jerky knife skills.  (Any mystique I might have held as a food guru was soon dashed as my knife slipped around a joint, the duck popped, and I sent a bowl of curing spiced salt flying across the room.)

Not only does one learn how the body works, and that you can actually do most of the butchery with a big knife and a small knife (and a hacksaw for the rest), but Camas teaches about cuts that we don’t really use commercially in the U.S.  I’m now on a campaign against loins.  No, sorry, the religious right shouldn’t get too excited — it’s a campaign against the soft, mild cuts that privilege the loin parts of the pig.  I’ve always been a big fan of the shoulder, but now I see even more possibilities for flavorful cuts of pig meat, thanks to the class.

Now I’m hungry.  Check out the full set of photos for both classes on my Facebook page.  If you’re local, you might want to follow me on Facebook while you’re there — I accept all friend requests and post local events and happenings there much more frequently than I do on the blog, which has more of a national readership.

And by all means, take one of Camas’ classes. She promised to come back to Eugene, and we promise to love it when she does!

just ducky

Duck, duck, larb!  I spent a couple of days spattered in duck fat, playing with gorgeous, fresh, delicious ducks from former Eugenians Boondockers Farm, now located outside of Portland. I had offered to do a bit of recipe testing for Hank Shaw, the wild foods expert that visited us at the University of Oregon about a year ago.  He’s coming out with a new cookbook for duck and geese, much to the delight of us all. You can read more about it at his award-winning blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.

Just to give you an idea of what he’s pondering, I made a very simple duck tagine with chestnuts, and the aforementioned duck larb, which is a Lao/northern Thai herb and meat salad.  Thank goodness he eschewed the traditional duck blood and raw meat in the larb!  Instead, I sliced the meat at medium (seared the big, meaty Saxony ducks a bit too long, but the smaller, more flavorful Ancona breasts were perfectly medium rare).

It was the first time I had broken down a duck, and it’s been a few years since I’ve disassembled a chicken, even, so it was kind of cool to do it.  Bodies fill me with awe;  there’s no better sense of how muscles and bones work together than by feeling your way down the contours of a spine, along a strip of fat, across and around a joint.  You can get a sense of how beings move, and how humans are connected with other species. For me, it’s a powerful experience to work with meat.

And if anyone ever tells you cooking is just domestic drudge labor, hit them on the head with an anatomy book.

Anyway, the ducks were fantastic, and I’m so thrilled I now have carcasses for duck stock and a mound of duck fat to render down and use all winter long.  Boondockers grow two very rare species of heritage species ducks, Ancona and Saxony.  Ancona are smaller, and have wonderfully rich flavor.  Saxony are big and meaty, with clean, moist, ducky flesh.  You can buy slaughtered and vacpacked roasting birds or ducklings to raise your own.  The Ancona, especially, as an endangered species would be a terrific addition to your backyard flock.  They also sell duck and chicken eggs, occasionally duck fat, Delaware chickens, and heirloom seeds.  And they raise Great Pyranees dogs, too!

Farmers Rachel and Evan are both fierce, eloquent advocates of farming and conservation, two of the best examples of the young farmer movement I’ve seen.  I met them a couple of years ago, before their landlord raised the rent and effectively made them leave our area, and they supply restaurants all along the Willamette Valley with their products.  They really want to keep their Eugene ties, so please do let them know if you’re interested in a Eugene delivery, and they should be able to work something out.  You must check out their blog at the very least, or visit their gorgeous new farm in Beavercreek.  They are offering farm tours on September 23 and 30.  Let them know you’re coming!

Hank’s cookbook should be out some time next year with Ten Speed Press.  Anyone who’s a fan of his previous cookbook, Hunt Gather Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, knows we’re in for a treat.  Stay tuned and good luck, Hank!