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BOOK LAUNCH!

25 Feb

Sounds rather dramatic, doesn’t it? Like launching a boat only without the bottle of champagne smashed across the bow. Or hurling books randomly out a window.

We did have some drinks though.

I'm happy

I’m happy

The launch – organized by publisher Chelsea Green – took place this past Friday evening at the wonderful culinary store of Chef Courtney Contos. Some of you will know her from my first DVD set “The Gourmet Butcher”… Courtney co-presented the course, showing how to turn some of my table-ready cuts into delectable gourmet dishes. Here she is with my co-author Karen Coshof.

Karen's on the left; Courtney's on the right.

Karen’s on the left; Courtney’s on the right.

Despite the totally horrible weather (teeming rain on icy roads), about forty people showed up to party.  We ate some delicious thingies from Sugarsnap Catering (the Gorgonzola-stuffed dates were voted “favorite”), and caught up on the news from each other.

Yummy yummy

Yummy yummy

All in all, a delightful event. With speeches!

The wonderful Jenn Colby of UVM's pasture program, with Royal Larocque in the background.

I’m happy

 

The wonderful Jenn Colby of UVM's pasture program. That's Royal Larocque in the background; he owns and runs one of Vermont's best small slaughter facilities.

The wonderful Jenn Colby of UVM’s pasture program. That’s Royal Larocque in the background; he owns and runs one of Vermont’s best small slaughter facilities.

 

 

Sam Fuller of NOFA Vermont

Sam Fuller of NOFA Vermont

 

My son Chris

My son Chris

 

Seasonal Thoughts

22 Dec

wintertrees

There was a time in my youth when it was common to hear my parents, aunts, and uncles talk of how hard things were during the Great Depression. If anyone would know, they would: My mother was one of seventeen children, and my father one of thirteen. 

My mother and father divorced when I was eight years old. Things were pretty tough for a single mother of 10 with 7 children still at home. The food budget was very limited and waste of any kind was not even thinkable. We used every scrap of food. Dessert was a luxury reserved for holidays. Often for days at a time a meal consisted of bread and gravy. Mealtime was a time for family and a time to give thanks for what we did have to eat.

The labor my mother went through to make a dozen loaves of bread on a wood cook stove did not go unappreciated. Today my family honors her memory for all of the effort, hard work, and love that she put into providing for her children. 

Food is the bedrock of our lives, and those who produce it deserve to be honored. In my early days, respect was bestowed on the art of butchery. That seemed to vanish during the 1970s, and my aim – as by now you all know – is to bring it back.  

I have a bumper sticker on my truck that says No Farmers, No Food. I believe that seeking out and supporting local agriculture has terrific benefits. Consumers become more knowledgeable about the food they eat and develop links with the land—a spiritual as well as practical benefit. Farmers benefit through exposure to larger markets and often better prices for their animals. Small local shops that carry local meats develop stronger ties with customers and have a wider range of exciting products to advertise and sell. 

I’m tired of seeing “Oh, that’s good enough” owners who take no pride in what they offer their customers. This is the sort of thing that disgusts a butcher of my generation. If I put time, energy, and expense into raising an animal for meat, I want the best that animal has to offer. I want to honor it by masterfully cutting it to maximize every ounce and use every edible part. I want my cuts to be beautiful and uniform as possible—laying the meat out as though I were painting the Mona Lisa.

So my conclusion? It’s time for a change.

How about this? Let’s not accept second or third best. Let’s not condone cruel and unethical practices. Let’s learn about where our food comes from and teach our kids. Let’s support the farmers who feed us and stop pretending that what happens outside cities doesn’t matter. Let’s try sitting down as a family around the dinner table to give thanks for the food and its producers. And let’s thank the animal it came from, too.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

 

PS: And a special add-on for the person who emailed me about lamb butchery courses. Of course I offer them – occasionally. Just call me at 802 372 – 0681. See what a pushover I am?

Chile and Maple Sugar

31 Jul

For All You Chile Men

Tired of cutting up all that beef yourself?  Expected to produce your world-famous Chile for a crowd tonight?

Well, assuming that you have a personal butcher (as every he-man should), then ask him or her about the “Chile Plate”.  That’s a grinder plate with very large holes.  It’s  used to grind lean pieces of muscle meats into a nice coarse texture, which is – as you know – perfect for Chile.  Almost as good as cutting the meat into little chunks yourself.

 

Not me, but similar.

 

Proof that I’m a True Vermonter

In 1959, me (age nine) and my sister (ten) learned about maple sugaring in school, and were fascinated by it.  We decided to try making it. 

Carl Whitson, an old timer whose lawn I used to mow – happened to own the Lightning Evaporator Company, which made sugaring equipment.  He also owned a small maple woods behind his house.  So I went to talk with him. 

Carl was one of the greatest old guys I had ever met.  He took me down to his shop and had one of his hired men mount a gathering vat onto a sled, then loaned us a bunch of sap buckets and spouts, as well as an old hand-crank drill called a bitstock. 

He took my sister and me up to his little sugar woods and showed us what to do.  We tapped about 45 trees.  Every night after school my sister Lil and I would drag that sled with the gathering tank on it up the hill into the woods.  I would pull the sled through the woods and Lil would dump the buckets of sap into the tank.  Then we would both pull the sled down the hill to the house. 

My mother would boil the sap in large kettles on the wood stove until it was maple syrup.  Mother would filter some of the sap through cheesecloth and we would drink it cold like sweet water.  It was considered a treat. 

We made 3.5 gallons of syrup that year.  It was a dark, low grade, but it was good.  We gave old Carl a gallon for all of his coaching and help.  Lil and I gathered up all the buckets and washed them and returned all the equipment to Carl. 

The next year we were off the the orphanage.  But I always thought of the year that Lil and I made maple syrup.  We were out of the orphanage in 1964 and I got my driver’s license in 1966.  The first place I headed when I got a car was back to Richford to see all the old folks who had made such an impact on me.  Carl was now in his eighties.  I sat on his front porch with him, and he would tell anyone who happened by for a visit about the maple sugaring Lil and I had done.  I don’t believe that Carl, or old Jenny Rowwley, or old John Labell, or Corine Duval – the wonderful elderly folks I hung out with as a kid – ever knew what a great impact they had on my life.  All dead and gone now.  I will always remember them fondly.

The Old Wood Stove (and me)

22 May

Until I was ten years old, everything we ate was cooked on a wood stove like the one above.  We had a monster of a cookstove in our kitchen.  It had a reservoir on the side for hot water, and closed compartments on top for keeping food warm.  My mother cooked everything… from breads, biscuits, pies and meat… on that old stove. 

With twelve foot ceilings in that old house it also helped keep us warm in winter.  Of course it was hot as hell in the summer.  But that’s all we had.  The smell of bread baking when you got up at the crack of dawn, or a New England pot roast in the oven along with the smell of wood heat, is something I can clearly remember to this day.  The food seemed to taste so much better. And it probably did. 

I can still see my sisters dipping into the reservoir for hot water to do the dishes.  We lacked most of the modern conveniences growing up.  We were very poor and there were a lot of us. 

We had a cast iron sink in the kitchen with only cold running water.  If we wanted to do the laundry or – perish the thought – take a bath, we heated water on the stove.

My mother and sisters washed clothes in an old copper washer with a hand cranked wringer, and the clothes were hung outside to dry. 

We ironed all of our clothes with old flat-irons that were set on the stove to get hot.  I remember the different sized irons.  There was no such thing as permanent press clothing in those days. 

Daily living was lots of hard work, but it was a good life.  It makes me apprecate what we have today, even as I regret what we’ve lost.

Richly poor

10 Apr

When you grow up poor, you don’t always know that you’re poor.  You don’t miss what you never had. 

We lived in an old converted school house with 12 foot ceilings, and an upstairs and downstairs apartment.  We lived downstairs. 

The upstairs was never renovated enough to rent out.  In fact, in the cold winter months when we were out of wood (our only source of heat and cooking fuel), my mother would go to the upstairs apartment and tear the door casings and cupboards out.  We would break them up and burn them in the stove downstairs. 

My parents bought the old house for $600.  Imagine buying a house for $600.  I vividly remember my mother sending me to Ken Perry’s Market with a dollar for a  quart of milk, a loaf of bread and a pound of cheap hamburger meat, and warning me not to spend the change on candy.  The three girls all shared one bed and the boys were two to a bed. 

ALL FOR A DOLLAR!!!

We always had a piano.  When my mother wasn’t out of state working, she would play and sing.  Or my aunts and uncles would come by with their instruments and the house was full of music, dancing and a off color jokes.  Maybe that’s where my love of dirty jokes comes from.  As poor as we were, I have very fond memories of my childhood.  Life seemed much simpler then. 

Maybe we need to go back a bit.

Cutting the Rug…

18 Mar

I always played the piano, but when I was 15, I started playing the accordion.  My older sister used to go to the Eagles Club with my mother and soon-to-be asshole stepfather.  

Joe Mayo and his Western Ramblers played there occasionally.  Joe was an accomplished accordion player – he played up and down the east coast and Canada.  He had even auditioned for the Lawrence Welk orchestra, but his wife wouldn’t move to the west coast.  He told me that Myron Floren was second choice.  (Now don’t you all be going “Lawrence Welk???  Guys with puffy hair and girls in pastels???  Harmony???   Old – as in REALLY old – songs???”) 

Well, yes.  But Floren could really play the accordion.   

Anyway I was facinated by the accordion, so on my birthday my mother and asshole stepfather gave me a $20 down-payment.  I immediately went to Powers Pharmacy and Music store.  They had a candy apple red 12 bass piano accordion in the window for $89.00.  

Mr Powers was a super nice guy, and he knew how much I wanted that accordion.  He let me put $20 down and pay it off at $5 a week.  I payed it off, but soon wanted a bigger one, since the 12 bass had no sharps or flats (which you kind of need in music).

So I went to see Jimmy Powers (we were now on a first name basis), and he ordered me a 120 bass candy apple red Lascala accordion at $350.  Hell, that was more than I paid for my first car. 

 

He allowed me just what I paid for the 12 bass in trade, and let me also pay the rest off at $5.00 a week.  I never got very good with the bass side, but kept it 5 or 6 years and sold it. 

About ten years later I bought another one and made up my mind I would learn how to really play it.  I asked questions of any one who played and soon got to know the famous Joe Mayo, who gave me a few pointers. In the meantime I kept playing the piano. 

It wasn’t until my forties that I met some other good accordionists – one of whom had just purchased a new $20,000 Buggari accordion with a midi system. Playing it was like having an orgasm.  So we practiced and he always let me play the Buggari.  

 

Next thing you know we got some pretty decent gigs playing some nice resturants, plus weddings and private parties.  I love playing eight to the bar boogie woogie and ragtime on that thing – awesome.

 

And you thought I only cut meat.   I cut a pretty decent rug too.

The Great Chicken Slaughter

19 Jan

My older brother (whom we lost in a farming accident in 1984) was  seven years my senior. He and I were quite close. 

He called me one day at work. I was 18 years old and managing a small meat department in the town I was born in – Sheldon Springs, VT. He had 60 old hens that hadn’t layed an egg since World War One. He kind of kept them for pets.  He asked if I would come over the next Sunday and help him butcher his hens.  I of course agreed.

You had to know Ralphy, as we called him. He loved to farm, but hated to kill his animals. He was very gentle in nature, with a great send of humor, and very sqeamish at the sight of blood. Well, I arrived at his farm about 8 am Sunday morning. We had breakfast, and went outside to get started. I put the first old hen on the chopping block and took off her head. The old girl flopped around, spattering blood everywhere. 

Old Ralphy looked a bit pale and said, “We need some beer for this job, don’t you think?” I said “Sure, sounds good to me.”  Ralphy said “I’ll go to the store – be right back”.  My sister-in-law and I continued to work on the chickens.  I killed, she plucked. 

After an hour or so, we realized Ralphy wasn’t back yet. We continued until all 60 hens were done. We were freezer wrapping by the time Ralphy got back at 4:30 in the afternoon. We could tell by the way he was grinning that he’d had a few beers.

He apologized and said, “If I had stuck around I would have thrown up. But here’s the beer.” Next Sunday we will have you over for some nice chicken and biscuits. 

So the next Sunday I went over for dinner. The chicken gave a whole new meaning to Rubber Chicken. Even the gravy was tough. We laughed over this many times before he passed away. I still cannot eat chicken and biscuits without thinking about Ralphy.

Bare-knuckle butchers end up with pork chops (from the Stowe Reporter

13 Jan

Sean Buchanan, food columnist

The following story by Sean Buchanan appeared in the Stowe Reporter on Thursday, December 29, 2011

When you see the subject “Pork Club” in your inbox, you know your day is getting better. 

The email guides you to a remote location to join others with one thing in common: a love affair with the pig. 

There are promises of butchering secrets and hot and heavy descriptions of Tamworth beauties soon to be cut into shoulder roasts and neck bones. I’m in.

Given enough time, a blindfolded monkey can butcher a pig, but not necessarily well. I’ve struggled with whole animals in the past and admit that I am a poor butcher. I’m a meat cutter who hacks an animal to pieces and then tries to pretty it up. 

“What’s the difference?” you ask. It’s the difference between the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and a doodle on a bar napkin. A butcher is someone who can properly break down an animal, engage a customer, and sell the whole animal out of a case. Rare nowadays, butchers are a perfect blend of artist and salesperson. 

When I arrive at Pork Club, the first person I see is Cole Ward. He’s a butcher, a really good butcher, but an even better teacher. He’s the star of the DVD set “The Gourmet Butcher” and has been holding a lot of these impromptu workshops. 

With the assistance of the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Sam Fuller. he’s helping people learn skills that keep our farming traditions alive. 

Across the room I see Cranberry Bob, who raised these handsome piggies and is graciously hosting this event at the home of the VT Cranberry Co. There’s a mix of all-star chefs, farming hipsters, sausage makers, new and ordained butchers, and neighbors who just happened to swing by.

Our makeshift table is covered in dairy board and supports a fatty pink side of heritage-bred pork. 

Sam Ehrenfeld, who’s been going to farms and homes for the last six months and helping people process animals for private consumption, explains the slaughter that took place the day before. He’s modest as folks from the previous day praise how cleanly he slaughtered the animals. He was trained in upstate New York, and explains that there just aren’t enough slaughterhouses in central and northern Vermont to meet the growing demand. However, he says, processing can be done safely and professionally where the animals are raised.

The first side of pork takes about an hour, and Cole answers as many questions as he asks. He forces the group to confront two things: There is no one way to butcher an animal, and you will get better at it over time. 

Frank Pace, butcher at Healthy Living in South Burlington, has an amazing appreciation and understanding of Vermont meat quality, animal diet, genetics, and standards of raising animals. If Burlington had a pork prince, Frank would be it. He gets fired up when Cole explains that, by keeping a knife in warm water, you can easily trim the fat off the loin. 

With grace and ease, Frank slices quickly across the fatback exactly like a warm knife slices through butter. An ear-to-ear grin slowly creeps across both of their faces. 

Outside, Sam Fuller, his old college roommate, and a young woman who’s interested in setting up a small pig operation are building a ramshackle smoking apparatus, using some aluminum shelves, a flowerpot filled with wood pieces, and a bed sheet. It reminds me that a generation ago, when you wanted something, you built it. Lightly salted and cured meats are placed on metal hooks and evenly spaced on the shelves. 

As we move into a lovely lunch of mussels and pastured veal, care of Vermont Fresh Network Director Meghan Sheridan, the room is full of smiles, long-overdue conversations, and catching up in a busy world. The smoked veal brisket and tartare were from the last workshop and are just as delicious pulled from the freezer as on the day they were butchered.

After lunch, I come across the largest red beard I have ever laid eyes on. It belongs to Chef Winston Blick of the award-winning Clementine in Baltimore, Md. He’s taken a three-week hiatus from his restaurant to work with Cole. 

“I was looking for a meat internship that didn’t take four years,” he explains. His crash course has given him a better appreciation for working quickly through animals. 

He tells the story of being pulled over in the North East Kingdom and having to explain what a 6-foot-4 redhead covered in tattoos is doing on Vermont’s back roads in the middle of the night. It was a hard sell that he was up here to learn how to butcher. 

We compare notes about carcass yields, wholesale prices, and the inevitable conundrum: How do you make local meat affordable at a restaurant and still pay your bills?

As I sneak out the side door and drive home through the bright afternoon sunlight, I’m encouraged by the idea of a bunch of people getting together to help butcher farm animals and share life’s knowledge with one another. 

It reminds me of the joke about the difference between a blindfolded monkey, a pig, and a butcher: The butcher doesn’t get turned into sausage. 

Sean Buchanan is a chef and advocate for local growers, producers and small businesses that focus on building Vermont’s agricultural community through its local food system.

Meat Prices, Lamb or Mutton, and a very bad joke (can’t help myself)

19 Dec

Meat Prices

When I started cutting meat, liver was 19 cents a pound.  Ground beef cost $ 1.00 for three pounds and Porterhouse steak was 89 cents per pound.  Whole chickens were 29 cents a pound. Truly.

When I was ten years old my mother would send me to Ken Perry’s market in Richford Vermont with one dollar to get a loaf of bread, a quart of milk and a pound of ground beef. As I left, I remember her adding: “Now, don’t spend the change on candy”. 

Bread used to be sold at ten loaves for $1.00.  Of course, my mother made most of the bread we ate, but occasionally we would run out for store bought bread. 


Hey, do I look old, or is it my age?

Lamb or Mutton?

Lamb is a sheep less than a year old, typically slaughtered between the ages of 4 and 12 months. Older sheep is called mutton and has a much stronger flavor; many people find its tougher meat distasteful. Mutton was a cheap food source for the military, and it was often overcooked and dry.  

Many American servicemen had their fill of mutton, coming home to declare it off-limits in the family home. This may be another reason why lamb has not become more popular in the States.

Bull Story

A young bull and an old bull were standing on a hill overlooking a large herd of cows.  The young bull said to the old butt, “Let’s run down and have sex with one.” 

And the old bull replied, “Let’s walk down and have sex with them all.”

 

PIANO (and accordion) MAN

25 Nov

When I was a kid my mother placed me a my sisters into an orphanage for four years because she simply couldn’t afford to keep us (read more about that time here).

Anyway, there was this really nice piano in that orphanage.

Now back at home we’d always had an old piano and I’d fooled around on it as young as I can remember. So I wanted to play that orphanage piano. 

But the Matron wouldn’t allow any of the orphanage boys to play.  She said boys who played the piano were sissies.  Mind you, she loved Liberace.

Now I was every bit as masculine as he was, so I would sit on the stairs in the hall way and listen to my sister and all the other girls play.  It frustrated me so much that I promised myself that one day – if I ever got out of that place – I  would learn to play better than any of them. I kept that promise.  

For a long while, I made part of my living (at times, all my living) playing ragtime, honky tonk, and big band music at bars and restaurants.  I used to play seven nights a week at the Cook Stove Resturant in Ogunquit Maine.  Older folks would jam the place to hear this kid play the music of their youth.  One of the best summers I ever had, and learned that playing 5 hours every night seven nights a week really gets your fingers going over the entire keyboard.

But I think I prefer the accordion.  What’s that you say?  ACCORDION?

Here y’are, folks.  For your listening pleasure.

And keep dancing.