To christen my bran new, 16-quart soup pot (with snug-fitting glass lid) that I got from my sister for Christmas, I decided to explore what my hog had available. I didn't get any meat-on-bone pork shanks with my pig (duh, its my favorite cut, but its another testament to my poorly managed pig purchase). I did get a few neck bones, and pigs feet. I decided to try out a couple of pigs feet. I hear they are full of fat and flavorful, and that is the right composition for soup broth.
Pork with either split-peas or white beans is one of nature's best soups. However, I can barely stomach them coming from a can. The taste of fresh beans doesn't even come close to canned. If you've written off these soups and your only experience has been canned, then I surely recommend you give it another try!
One of the hardest parts about buying meat in bulk that is that you are much closer to the life (and death) of the animal. I know where it was raised, how it was raised. I even knew the day it was being killed, although that probably happened before I woke up (thankfully, I didn't have to schedule the butchering of the animal). Its one thing to buy some cuts of meat at the store, but to buy a whole pig makes me feel much more responsible for the life and death of this animal. It causes me to take my decision to eat meat much more seriously and consider the life of the animal with much more respect.
I've been thinking a lot lately about life cycles. In order for me to live, I took the life of this pig. I do believe that meat is nearly critical to my diet. I tried vegetarianism, and it didn't work (I'll write about that at some point). I could reduce my meat consumption, but some meat is going to be there. It is hard to sit with this. It is hard to appreciate life when death is so much a part of it. How do you hold both life and death together at the same time?
Nature reminds us that death is a part of life, but in our idealistic world we try to treat them as separate experiences. Without hunters, deer will over-populate and starve. The end result is the same. If I don't eat meat, I am not saving an animal as much as I am preventing one from being born. But it wouldn't be right to use that as a justification for the cruelty of feedlot-raised animals. Most of us don't reproduce at every given moment with the notion that "some life is better than no life at all", and even if we did the earth is close enough to human overpopulation to keep us in check. But most of us don't support the wanton killing of anyone, either.
Thoughts like these went through my head as I held a pig's foot in my hand. There was hair still present in some crevices where the shaver must have missed. On one foot, there was a bright blue "brand", some kind of State of Ohio certification. There is a blueish mark on some of the bacon, as well, which must have been a colored spot on the pig's skin. Things like that bring home the reality of this animal's life.
How do you continue to value life when you have come to value death?
In this case, I value the death of the pig in order to value my own life. I hate to put it into those words, but there seems to be truth there.
It is hard to make soup broth without any help from MSG or artificial nitrates. There is not a single store-bought soup broth or bullion cube that I trust in this regard, even the organic "no added MSG" products (they can get away without including MSG as an ingredient because it is produced during the making of the food and technically not added separately, or it is a component of another ingredient--you tell me if that's fair or not). I think they all have MSG in them, usually disguised as "autolyzed yeast extract", "textured soy protein" or hidden under "natural flavorings" or "spices" (check this page, especially the chart at the bottom for MSG sources in food, cosmetics, shampoos, etc).
The easiest way to avoid this stuff is to make your own broth. I have a reluctance to make broth the standard way, though. Doing that would involve cooking meat, bones, spices and vegetables until all the flavor were boiled out. Then you throw out the solids and voila! you have broth to which you can add even more veggies, spices and meat to make soup. I hate throwing out food, so I try to do it all at once.
So I thought the pig's feet would be a good starting point and threw them in my 16-qt pot with some water and salt and was off and running. I let it boil for a good long while, since there were precious bones within and every ounce of nutrition I could extract from them would be wonderful. They were very fatty, with very little meat on them, but they helped to create a nice, gelatinous solution. After a couple of hours I de-boned them and threw the meat and fat back into the soup. My habit is to continue boiling the bones in another pan--when the soup is nearly finished, I dump this water back into the rest of the soup. The goal here is to boil the bones for as long as possible, and this way I can do so without having to worry about picking through bones when I'm eating the soup.
I also added a good dose of liver as well as a giant ham steak (the meat that would have been a ham if it were cured and smoked--its kind of pork-chopish as it is).
The rest of the soup is comprised of a whole head of cabbage, the obligatory onions, carrots, celery and garlic. There are also some yellow split peas which never seemed to soften, despite soaking for 20 hours and boiling for a few (this sometimes happens when beans have been sitting too long in the bulk section of a grocery store). Also threw in some potatoes. The cabbage and potatoes don't need long to cook, you can throw them in and practically turn the heat off of the soup at that point. They'll cook plenty in the hot pot. Overcooking just dissolves them.
Another thing we didn't realize is that a 16-qt pot full of hot soup doesn't cool very easily in the refrigerator. Despite being in the fridge over night, the soup was still warm in the morning. I hope that doesn't present any problems for spoilage. Also, my orange juice was also warm-ish this morning, as well. I think the fridge was fighting a losing battle with the soup all night.