Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 8, 2009 - Fresh Meats

December 8th, 2009 – Fresh Meats
My neighbor dona Rosa came riding on the back of a tractor with her son and daughter-in-law for a day of tapioca making (process of taking starch out of mandioc roots). Along with the indefectible smile, she hanged a plastic bag with tilapia (fish). “My son-in-law brought from a fish farm.” Increasingly, fish farms are becoming more popular. It is called “fish and pay” for places that raise fish for fishing in artificial ponds. Even so, fresh fish is always a treat. MC didn’t like to eat fish from rivers as many people die by drawing and may have become fish food. “She has a point”, I thought. Being so, my preference goes to fish taken from private tanks. Specially because we don’t have large rivers in my region and ocean is hundreds miles away.
Sunday afternoon my father, my daughter and myself showed up unannounced to my cousin’s farm. We pretended we didn’t see a party going on with rented foldable tables on the backyard. In an businesslike manner we handed a bag full of ripe lychee nuts, a much prized fruit, and went on to ask about sheep raising. The old coffee farm is now a pasture. Almost unrecognizable place where I spent my childhood, their old house is painted, a garden manicured with long golden leaf bushes along the entrance, historical barns and buildings were kept. The house I lived for 12 years is still there. It’s now their employee’s house. Even a small chapel was built. The place is no longer oppressive even though it still holds great part of my memories. “We have not sold to meat plants. We slaugher the lamb and sell them individually.” “We slaughtered three lambs for my sister’s wedding party”. I remember it being very tender and tasty roast cut into small bitesize pieces. It was better than the traditional grilled beef. This kind of animal farm means that we have easy access to fresh meat any time we want. I have still not gotten a watering mouth for lamb, even though I ate it everyday in Santorini Island (Greece) with a glass of local white wine. “My boyfriend said he is going to prepare lamb exclusively with coarse salt someday and will invite you to dine with us” – so said my other cousin while I was showing her my lush herb garden full of sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill, hot peppers, and much more. I am still waiting for the invitation. Driving around the countryside, very often, I see signs written “we sell grapes”, “we sell honey”, “fresh corn”, and also “we sell lambs and muttons”.
“How much pork do you want?”, so asked my neighbor from whom I buy raw milk and cheese. That’s the same family that gives me free cream and goat milk. “Well, just a little piece. My parents don’t really eat pork, and my daughter is little”, I responded. They intended to sell me at least a quarter hog. People from my neighborhood choose a piglet to have slaughtered and delivered clean. Besides all the meat we can use, the choice fat can be turned in bacon or lard, and other less desirable fat can be made into a great full lathering white soap.
My other neighbor who owns a roadside restaurant came up with a “business opportunity” or feast opportunity: several of pig for sale. “I no longer can take care of all these pigs. Too much work. You buy the pigs and I will give you leftover food”. My father doesn’t like pig raising for they smell, so I declined the offer. But I suggested “you can slaughter them all and freeze to later serve at your restaurant.” It just came to my mind that no refrigerators other than from a professional butcher could hold thousand pounds of meat. Besides, it may be illegal to serve non inspected meat.
“My parents raise ducks by the pond”, said a pretty woman recently arrived to town. She was taken a plant nursery course hosted by me, on my farm. “Have you eaten ducks before?”. I had eaten Peking style duck in Chinese restaurants and smoked duck leg over Vietnamese noodles while in America. “Yeah, it tends to be a little fatty”, I said. “Oh, you haven’t tried duck with orange! It is superb!” Since then I only think about ordering a ready-to-eat dish, since I think I wouldn’t be able to roast it into perfection. Well, this is my fantasy. They only sell live ducks and I need to take care of the rest. Besides, farm people have hard time to charge for goodies they have in their properties. I may end up with whole Canard a L’Orange as a gift I feel embarassed to accept.
“I feel so sorry for the goats that go for roasting”, Silvia confessed with grief. She is the person I mostly associate with goats as her family always had it around the house. I was always enchanted by the bucolic scene of goats grazing under eucaliptus trees. Almost thirty years has passed since then, and she is back to the farm raising free range chickens and goats to continue her mother’s work. I suspect that she still eats goats that she feels sorry for.
While looking for Jersey cows, I run into a middle man who buys and sells livestock. He kept milk and beef cattle in the same pasture, along with horses. I was worried about disposing of old cows. He said he would buy them. “Awesome”. But that didn’t feel right to me. Why in the world someone would want an old milk cow useless for re-sale? Having a father who is a butcher with a meat store I wouldn’t be surprised if all the meat were cheap but tough. Incidentally, this butcher teaches Charcuterie: the magic of transforming unedible meat into delicacies.
An unusually handsome Mediterranean looking man, in his mid-thirties, president of small farmer’s association of a very little town, who said plants and raises everything he eats, works by himself planting coffee and mangoes, single and living with his parents, works at a sugar cane plantation for a large ethanol and sugar company, and also goes to college to complete a business degree, contradicting the politically correct action taught in the Rural Entrepreneurship class bragged: “so I went into the woods and hunted a wild boar.” I was flabbergasted. Hunting or keeping wild animals is a crime, but for this man, hunting meant Sunday dish. Not that he was famished, but rather he did what his father had done in the past. Hunting was a regular food getting activity.
Talking about game...I spotted a hare crossing the road. She could be hunted like Frenchman would do. I could catch a lizzard or shot a pigeon or any other meaty bird without leaving my farm. If two days ago, I could catch an armadillo with bare hands on my front garden. I heard they all have good meat. Unfortunatelly I buy packed meat at the largest supermarket around. Even freshly slaughtered free range chicken with deep yellow skin (this indeed looks artificially colored, but it is not, of course) brought to me as a gift disgusts me. I am not used to see the real thing.
I must be very privileged. The real thing is everywhere within reach without going to the supermarket or even to the butcher. A farmer can do it for me the old way. It’s a pity that this kind of commerce is threatened by the sanitary laws. It seems contradictory that on those courses offered by the extension agencies teach charcuterie and cheese making, products which may not be sold at all. In any case, only old folks slaughter animals on the farm. Lot of people, like me, wouldn’t do it. After this generation is passed, we will only find frozen meats neatly displayed in yellow trays with a label as an only way to identify the sacrificed animal.

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