Jams “R” Us

jam_ahoy

After a frantic few days of preparation, last Sunday saw us heading off for our first ever market, with the Greedy Pig’s Pantry logo emblazoned upon a whole host of jams, curds, pickles, tinctures & liqueurs.

Given that neither of us has any great experience in flogging home-made wares to unsuspecting punters at country house Christmas fairs, the first hour or so was a little nervy, with the two of us constantly rearranging the serried assemblage of conserves and generally dithering about the place looking awkward. After a while the penny finally dropped that we were acting more than a little ‘Edward and Tulip Tattsyrup‘ and so we opted for a tag-team approach for the rest of the day. This strategy was clearly the way forward, as we then went on to sell a huge amount of produce, clearing over 90% of the stock we took with us (and therefore 90% of the stock we have to sell – full stop).

Apart from gathering-in piles of filthy lucre, the thing that struck me as the most heartening was the response which we managed to elicit from the folks that visited our little stand. In almost every case we received entirely positive noises – concerning the brand itself, the logo and label artwork, about the choice of jars & bottles we’d opted for and, last but not least, the quality of the jams, pickles & tinctures that we were trying-out on willing guinea pigs throughout the day. As far as maiden voyages go this one was pretty much the perfect event – and a surprisingly pleasant way to spend a December Sunday to boot.

Certainly, the whole experience has had a profound impact upon our general attitudes toward selling Greedy Pig’s Pantry products via the market stall, and so the new year will undoubtedly find us scouring local papers for signs of artisan food fairs, farmers markets, spring fayres and the like.

Turns out we’re more competent retailers than we’d anticipated. We even managed to get the card machine to work! 🙂

Chorizo is the way forward

charcuterie01

OK, so the six weeks we had to wait before finding out whether we’d managed to create an even vaguely palatable bit of charcuterie were pretty tiresome; however, the old adage about good things coming to those who wait clearly still rings true, as it seems that we have ended up creating some fairly spectacular chorizo from our Tamworth pork.

This whole charcuting business is becoming rather addictive and so, despite the fact that we now have more chorizo in the larder than one might reasonably shake a good-sized stick at, the basic components of (a rather more hefty) batch two are currently sitting in the fridge, whilst the office is strewn with recipe books as we ponder precisely which route we take next with our continental sausage making adventures.

At the same time, there’s a substantial amount of research going on into the mysterious and arcane world of smoking (the culinary sort – not just the common or garden ‘having a wheeze on a Woodbine’ variety) and so, gentle reader, expect to be regaled with further reports of our forays in to the artisanal world of smoky wursts, salamis and bacon in the very near future. Whether you like it or not.

Fame at last!

yarner_review

A while since our last posting, primarily as things have been a quiet on the piggy front since batch 1 found themselves being relocated to the freezer; however, that’s not to say that we’ve been entirely idle when it comes to launching the Greedy Pig’s Pantry brand and getting a real, live, proper company structure up-and-running. How very grown-up of us!

Along with all the tiresome Companies House/HMRC paperwork that we’ve been wading through, we’ve also been experimenting with further additions to our pickles & preserves repertoire, with Diane cooking-up a storm in anticipation of our first experience of selling to the general public at a Christmas fair in early December. The house has been filled with tummy-rumbling wafts of gently simmering fruits, vinegars and spices in recent days, as the first batch of Greedy Pig’s Pantry Yuletide Apple Pickle is cooked, bottled and stored away to mature in time for the big day. We’ll be following this with a range of jams and curds, and we’re also currently noodling the idea of adding hand-made seasonal sweets (choccy-coated cinder toffee, marzipan bonbons, cinnamon dusted shortbreads and so forth) to the existing bill-of-fayre.

Whilst we rather nervously prepare ourselves for this first sortie into the arcane world of artisanal retail, things are looking dazzlingly bright as far as our existing outlets are concerned (or, more accurately, outlet) with our friends at Yarner House having recently fed our Greedy Pig’s Pantry Sumptuous Strawberry Preserve to a roving reporter from that esteemed organ The Daily Torygraph – presumably with positive results, as we managed a mention in despatches as you can see by clicking the image above or [here].

sumptuous

Tiny acorns and all that; however, we’re pretty bowled-over with the concept of getting our nascent foodie venture mentioned in the national press, so let’s hope that it’s the first of many positive plaudits. Exciting times here on Dartmoor and there’s plenty more to come!

And then there were none.

Mirabile Dictu! We’re pig-free!

They say that every day’s a school day and that has certainly been true of the Batch 1 experience.

Whilst in large part our Tamworths were supremely easy to look after, one thing which they all had in spades was intelligence. All pigs are bright but these guys were in a league of their own – an attribute which, in turn, made them both a joy and a nightmare to be around.

With reference to the latter, Number 3 proved to be a master escapologist with a strong sense of what was and was not an acceptable pastime for a young pig about town – and the trailer (or ‘charabanger’ as we’ve come to know it) was absolutely not on the approved list.

On the scheduled D-Day, whilst her larger brother and sister quite merrily climbed aboard the bus for the abattoir, Number 3 decided that this wasn’t the smart move and – much to our chagrin and the general disgruntlement of her siblings – kicked-up an unholy stink which concluded with a mass-reversal down the ramp followed by a sprint for the safety of the ark.

Fast forward a week and, after a solitary sojourn with extra bed-space and prime pickings from the Mexican hat feeder, Number 3’s behaviour was even worse than before. Given that by now she was weighing-in at over 130 kilos (every last gram hell-bent on not going into the trailer) the second attempt at despatching ended in an unscheduled and highly unwelcome workout for yours truly, plus another week of splendid isolation for our unruly gilt.

As well as being super-smart it would appear that most pigs are also nothing if not capricious. This being the case, and having hassled our chum and local farmer friend Steve Palmer to turn-out on a rainy Monday morning to help with the titanic struggle which clearly was going to be loading attempt number three, our errant porker decided that instead she would nonchalantly saunter up the ramp to grab a final breakfast of pig nuts & chopped apple, all with next to no assistance required.

The bloody creature clearly revelled in making us look like prize chumps!

Nevertheless, chumps or not, I have used the past tense here and so I can confirm that, after a short trundle down the A38 followed by the most casual and stress-free of trailer decants, Number 3 finally shuffled off this mortal coil at around 9am this morning. Next stop, a spot of the Butcher’s art at the redoubtable Cox & Laflin and the last of our sturdy troop will then reappear in a few days’ time as chops, bangers, steaks, and sundry other cuts. A magic trick of which I wholeheartedly approve.

It’s gratifying that the feedback we’ve received thus far has been universally positive, with friends and neighbours who invested in a box of our organically fed, hand-reared Dartmoor pork telling us that it’s some of the best meat they’ve ever tasted. Certainly, from the extensive product testing that’s been going on around here [agreed: it’s a hard life] I can confirm that it really is delicious stuff, with a sweetness to the meat which we’ve not tasted in the previous flavours of pig that we’ve kept in the past.

Undoubtedly, we’ve had our trials and tribulations with the Tamworth but nevertheless the end product (whilst a little fatter than we initially had in mind) is proving to be entirely excellent in every way, and so it’s a breed which will definitely be on the agenda again when we’re ready to re-stock.

For now though, it’s time to scrub down the ark, dismantle the electric fence and clear away the small mountain of bedding straw which has accumulated at the bottom of the paddock. Time also to get serious about a proper business plan for future batches and to start making the necessary moves to acquire the parcel of woodland next door, which we’re keen to expand our production into. Exciting times.

So, expect no further pig news for a while. But fear not! There are other equally fascinating things going on here (he says, with tongue firmly fixed in cheek) so do stay tuned. If you’re keen to try some our rather splendid porky produce, then please feel free to drop us a line at hello@greedypigspantry.co.uk and we’ll add you to our ever-growing meatbox waiting list.

Next project for completion… THE POLYTUNNEL. Ooh, the drama!

There’s always one.

A lot of our early thinking on the subject of rearing Tamworths was informed by historic news coverage of the once famous ‘Tamworth Two’, a duo a ginger pigs called Butch and Sundance who escaped their appointed abattoir to live as fugitives for a week or three before being recaptured and happily retired-off to a rare-breeds centre in Kent on the back of their new found celebrity.

“They’re clearly going to be escapologists… how will we keep them in their pen?” we asked ourselves when they first arrived; however, as time passed we began to realise that, far from suffering acute wanderlust, this lot were basically quite a stay-at-home gang. Just how much they loved their surroundings here in Yarner Wood was proved today when the time finally came to offer fond farewells to our latest lodgers and take them on a short drive to Ashburton…

Loading pigs, in my modest experience, is a bloody nightmarish job. Regardless of the so called ‘tried and tested’ opinions at large about making the job easier – either by having the trailer in the pen for a few days prior to removal, starving pigs the day before departure so that they’re more biddable, getting them used to walking around the pen at heel, so they feel compelled to do as instructed – all of this, to a greater or lesser degree, is hogwash. Pigs just don’t like trailers. They don’t like walking up gradients, they don’t like the booming noise their trotters make on the tailgate, they absolutely don’t trust the interior of even the most palatial trailer and they don’t trust you – no matter how well you were getting on the day before abattoir day.

And so today, after an obscenely early start to ensure that our little darlings were cleaned and gleaming when they met their maker, all three pigs were introduced to the temporary corral I had spent my Sunday afternoon lovingly crafting and gently coaxed toward the trailer, within which various piggy delicacies had previously been strewn with gay abandon – just ready for three well-balanced, contented, cheerful and hungry (no Sunday supper) porkers to take full advantage of.

Result? Complete chaos. After an overture of studious trailer avoidance coupled with furious destruction of the hitherto unsullied grass that the corral had been built upon, the tempo slowly rose (on both sides – loaders and loadees) to a crescendo of screaming, sweating pandemonium, which left all concerned feeling more than a little fragile.

And so Diane and I did what any right-minded people would do when faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. We had a tea break.

Half an hour later, feeling a lot more ‘zen’ about things and considerably more ‘at one’ with both myself and my piggy chums, I wandered back down to the paddock, climbed inside the trailer with a trug-full of pig nuts and started to gently coo and ululate in an attempt to attract attention.

Amazingly, the effect this had on both the boar and the bigger of the two gilts (who we shall call Gilt01) was quite remarkable, with the pair of them stopping the mining operation they were busily engaged upon to slowly start ascending the ramp, as if hypnotised.

Five minutes later, we’re plus two passengers (busily tucking-into the aforementioned porky delicacies) and yours truly is suddenly feeling like the universal pig-whisperer. Even better, just at that moment the current Mrs Clayton-Smith arrived on the scene to revel in my skill and derring-do and to watch me masterfully guide the third passenger of our little charabanger to her seat.

Result? Complete and utter chaos on a bicycle. When the thick-end of roughly one hundred and thirty kilos of muscle and teeth decides it’s not having any, it is most assuredly NOT HAVING ANY. Not only would Gilt02 not even start to consider the idea of jumping aboard the magic bus, her already ensconced siblings started to decide that maybe this wasn’t such a great idea after all and, given that they’d finished the canapés and fizz, maybe it was time to head back to the comfort of the family ark.

Long story brought to a short close? I cut my losses and headed off to the abattoir with only two passengers.

The idea I had was that I could deposit the boar & Gilt01 and then make a fast dash home to try again with our lonesome traveller. Sadly though, the lairman at the abattoir had other ideas and so the upshot is that we now have a single pig in residence until next Monday, when the whole torrid nonsense begins again.

Suffice it to say that the Sunday starvation rules will be in full force, the trailer will be parked right in the middle of the pig-pen for at least a couple of days before lift-off, both myself and the mem-sahib will be doing our very best porcine equivalents of Barbara Woodhouse or Cesar Millan (take your pick, dependant upon your age/location) and I will be in the back of the charabanger again, pig-whispering like a good ‘un when Monday morning comes around.  Sheesh.

 

 

 

 

Monsoon season’s here!

Whilst this picture might not entirely drive-home the nature of today’s weather, the set of dripping waterproofs and mud-covered wellies sat in the hallway are testament to the fact that our otherwise fairly pleasant summertime has taken the day off. It’s like Rangoon out there this morning.

On the whole, rearing pigs is both a fascinating and rewarding occupation, and one that we’re wildly excited about pursuing in a more substantial way as the months progress. All that said though, there are some mornings – potentially those where a tincture or two may have been enjoyed the previous evening – when being forced from a warm bed to trudge miserably through mud and poo to clear out a sludge-laden Mexican hat feeder whilst being assaulted by sweaty, screaming, drooling pigs is simply not top of the pops, even for the biggest fan of all things porcine.

Given that we’re now only ten days from bringing the 2017 batch experience to a conclusion, close attention is suddenly being paid to the long-range weather forecast, in the hope that their final morning is a dry(ish), clean(ish) and relaxed(ish) affair – rather than becoming a Benny Hill blooper reel featuring three crap-covered pigs running around a mudbath being chased by a dung-encrusted, well-upholstered bald bloke.

Clearly, offerings to all of the relevant household deities will be made in the coming days… no point in taking any chances.

Ask not for whom the bell tolls…

… it tolls for the pigs.

The deed is done – the abattoir run has been booked and the butcher is already sharpening his cleaver in anticipation. End of the month = end of the pigs. Luckily for us, it will also signal the start of the sausage-scoffing season. Woohoo!

Time to start running down the freezer in anticipation of our pending porky payload.

How big?

Well, the weekend didn’t go quite according to plan, and so we’re playing catch-up now. Ear-tagging still needs to be done sometime this week but there’s another job that needs doing first.

Before I can talk with the butcher about our cutting list, we need to know how much porker we’re talking about processing, and so today’s lunchbreak was spent fondling mud-covered pigs whilst waving a tape measure about the place. [Note to self: measure pigs before/during their first feed of the day, when they’re fresh from a night’s kip on new new-mown hay. Do NOT wait until lunchtime when they’ve been rolling in dung, widdle and various other forms of beastly mud and oomksa].

Anyhoo, the results are in and I can officially confirm that these guys are mahoosive! They’re averaging-out at 128 kilos each at present, with a couple of weeks to go… how did that happen? Given that the usual estimate is 64% of dead weight ending-up in the freezer, that means we’re looking at 245 kilos of pork – that’s a lot of bangers!

Portion control is an art…

…which I’m not sure I possess in any great way.

We’ve over-shot the runway a bit in terms of how long we’re keeping Batch 1 versus the store of food we calculated we’d need… it’s not going to get us through to the end of the month.

This being the case, we’ve used the opportunity to try another organic feed provider – just as a comparison. Thus far, all the pigs we’ve kept have merrily dined upon tucker from the chaps at Hi Peak – purveyors of fine organic fodder at more the reasonable prices. “So what were the results of swapping the nosh?” I hear you ask. Well, I’m not sure whether it’s down to the fact that the stored Hi Peak food was getting to the end of its shelf-life, or that this new grub from Allen & Page is just fundamentally made from more appealing stuff; however, either way, it’s clearly the piggy equivalent of crack-cocaine, as the gang nearly killed me in the rush to get to the Mexican hat feeder when the dinner gong rang yesterday evening.

So, all’s well in the nutrition department – next job this weekend is to work out where all that feed’s going, so it’s time to break out the tape measure and calculate latest weights. For those of you that aren’t entirely au fait with gauging the poundage of a pig, you’ll be pleased to hear that it’s all very simple. Essentially it’s the circumference of the body just behind the front legs (or the ‘heart girth’, as it’s known) squared and then multiplied by the length from ears to tail – the sum of which is divided by 400 to give the overall body weight. Easy when you know how; however, it does rather beg the question “who the hell was it that woke up one morning and decided it was a good idea to go around squeezing and measuring pigs in an attempt to guess their weight?”.

Whilst we’re in essential maintenance mode, there’s another task which needs to be performed this weekend – one that could either be an absolute breeze or, on the other hand, could as easily turn into complete Armageddon. It’s time to dig out the pliers and stick identity tags in the little darlings’ ears. A two-person job this one, so wish us luck!

We’re on the home straight!

The plan is to send the 2017 batch to slaughter at the end of this month and so we need to get to grips with what to do with the resulting several hundred pounds of juicy joints, chompworthy chops and scrummy sausages which will be heading our way in the very near future.

If anyone’s interested we’re thinking of offering meat boxes at around £75 per quarter pig, £150 per half and £275 for a whole carcass (lovingly prepared by our friends at local butchery Cox & Laflin). There will potentially be an additional charge for courier services which we’ll know more about soon – but in the meantime, if you’re looking to fill a spare corner of the freezer then do let us know. It’s a first-come-first-served kind of thing and we already have a few orders which have come from folks known to us locally, so pipe-up if you’re keen!

While you’re positing potential pork-based pursuits, have a think about this one. Looking to next year and the potential expansion of the Yarner herd to fill-up the woods next door, we’re looking into the possibility of setting-up a pig club, where folks invest in meat pretty much in the same way as oenophiles invest in ‘en primeur’ wines.

The idea is that people who are looking to enjoy high-quality, free-range, organically fed pork buy a share in a pig which we then acquire for them, feed, nurture and, ultimately, despatch and ship-out – butchered, packed and ready for the freezer. We’re still working on a pricing structure for this but the ball-park figures are going to be similar to those above – possibly a little less if we can attract enough customers and make the numbers work.

Everything’s at the dreaming / outline planning stage right now; however, it would help us enormously to know what people think of this idea, so do let us have your thoughts on the subject (whether they be good, bad or indifferent) by dropping us a line at hello@greedypigspantry.co.uk.