I have a neighbor who has her own pigs — three to be exact. They are not pets. They are food for next year. That’s hard core. I can’t even kill an obnoxious rooster.
Tracy doesn’t “process” the pork herself. She knows someone who does this kind of work, and for a fee returns to her many small packages of roasts, chops and ground meat, all of which freezes nicely. For people who like to know where their food comes from, hardly anything could be better than this, healthier than this, more natural than this. The pigs are not free range per se. They have a kind of movable fencing that allows her to move them from one part of her mostly forested property to another. Brilliant.
It’s as good a life as a pig could hope for, unless of course the pig is Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web, an outstanding read with an outstanding cast of characters if you haven’t picked it up lately. I love the chapter where Fern saves Wilbur, and the one where Wilbur gets out of his pen and is lured back in with a pail of slops (“Reconsider! Reconsider!” cried the goose.), and the one where Wilbur meets Charlotte for the first time, and the one where the town doctor reassures Fern’s mother that an eight-year-old child who thinks that barnyard animals talk is nothing to worry about…. Come to think of it, I love the whole book!
Most pigs aren’t as lucky as Wilbur. Possibly in all of history you could count on one hand the number of pigs as lucky as Wilbur. Most are just delicious.
A few weeks ago, Tracy kindly gifted me with a package of her ground pork. I have bought ground beef many times, ground bison a few times to make bison burgers (far superior to regular hamburgers, do try this) and a ground beef/pork/veal mixture for meatloaf or meatballs. But I don’t think I ever bought ground pork all by itself (unless I was making a really big meatloaf!) and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this gift.
But she helped me, as people often do unknowingly. She planted a seed when she said offhandedly, “Are you the one who told me you had a recipe for pork burgers?”
“No, sorry,” and no more was said of recipes.
The seed grew. That day I was trying to figure out what to do about the rainwater washing over the chicken coop area and dug a lot of earth by hand to accommodate the retaining wall that was to come. Digging does not require a lot of brain power. You can think about other things while you do it. You also get hungry. Pork burgers, I thought. Pork burgers.
In all my years of cooking for my family, all my years of working at restaurants, eating out, eating in other people’s homes – when had pork burgers ever been a thing you made, a thing you tried, a thing you talked about? Bratwurst, I thought, Italian sausage, chorizo, kielbasa – these have to be ground pork with spices in a casing. But never having made any of these homemade (who wants to bother with casings?) I wasn’t sure, so I looked them up. Sure enough – ground pork with spices in a casing. Many, many recipes for sausage. Occasionally you see a one that says “loose,” meaning no casing. That’s not what I’m looking for either, but ground pork with spices is the jumping-off point.
Finally I decided to play. I mixed it with a teaspoon or so of fresh tarragon, an onion from the garden and a handful of spinach, all finely chopped. Tracy’s pork was very moist, so I added some bread crumbs and an egg to bind it a bit. Some salt and pepper. Formed patties and pan-fried them in a little olive oil just till the meat was not pink any more. Oh yum.
The second time I made these I got distracted while writing, so they got a little darker on the outside than is necessary, and then I didn’t think about taking a picture until we had started the meal, but you will get the idea.
Try some mustard with the burger. The one we had was German, a special brown mustard with a good bit of zing. You can see we also had some parsleyed potatoes (peel, cube, boil in salt water till done, drain, add butter and fresh chopped parsley) and a salad dressed with the yogurt/cider vinegar/strawberry jam/s&p dressing I mentioned the other day.
Just as there are countless ways to make sausage, countless flavorings enhancing delicious meat, there would have to be countless ways to make pork burgers. Tweak a sausage recipe. Play! Have fun! Pork burgers should definitely be a thing.