“I like pigs. I like chicken!” my almost-3-year-old Theo exclaims once safely back in the car, driving away from Milkweed Farm near us in Brunswick. You wouldn’t have known it from his skittish behavior in the barn. We had gone to visit the 3-week-old piglets, born to Blossom, the same industrious sow mother who last spring birthed the litter of 18 that would yield the half-pig’s worth of meat (including lard) that we eagerly picked up late last fall.
As a baby, Theo played with pitbulls and devoured all protein with equanimity, even rabbit and tripe. These days, he’s mostly vegetarian – except for occasional tastes of bacon, sometimes sardines and mussels and, when bribed with coconut water, hamburger. And he has a palpable fear of animals great and small – pigs, sheep, dogs, even chickens, chipmunks and cats. I hope constant exposure therapy melts these aversions, resurrecting both his regard for animals and his adventurous palate.
After all, Easter is nothing if not a time of hope. And we could all use something larger to believe in this sluggish spring: one where the maple sap trickled in fits and starts and during which, as the snow lingered into April, well-meaning sows like Blossom inadvertently crushed piglets they were desperate to keep warm.
If you need a sure sign that spring is finally – albeit belatedly – coming up again all around us, get out to a neighboring farm. Hope abounds in the greenhouses lined with green flats of seedlings, in the garlic shoots sprouting after the bulbs’ long winter slumber, in the wild dandelions, fiddleheads and ramps, and perennial asparagus and rhubarb emerging.
It’s curious that chicks, bunnies and lambs are the animals of Easter, since this is the season for new piglets, too.
Still, I’d never baked an Easter ham myself until last year. (As I mentioned in last week’s column, when I was growing up, my family always had lamb, since Easter was celebrated in conjunction with Passover.) I got a small Wee Bit Farm ham at Morning Glory Natural Foods in Brunswick. Inspired by our first Maine Maple Sunday, I studded the ham with whole cloves, and then brushed on a local maple syrup/Raye’s Mustard glaze.
FRESH PORK FOR A CHANGE
Last winter, we first sprang for a bone-in pork leg roast, basically an uncured ham, from Tarbox Farm on Westport Island. After all, “Hams do not grow on their respective porcine bodies seasoned and smoked,” chef-writer Tamar Adler says of this neglected cut in her spot-on “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace”: “Because of how rarely we buy them fresh, they’re usually for sale at a good price.” Brining the well-exercised muscle overnight yielded a moist, flavorful roast, with a little morsel of sweet marrow to scoop out of the bone. With the resulting bone and pork scraps (to be used as you would a ham hock), I made a good ole Yankee pot of molasses-and-maple-syrup-sweetened baked beans.
This year’s whole smoked ham that came with our half-hog from Milkweed Farm (www.milkweedfarm.net) was massive – nearly the size of a Thanksgiving turkey. Farmer Lucretia Woodruff recommended that we get it split in half next year. But this way, we happily ate ham for a week. We brought it whole, again maple-mustard glazed and baked, to a large family potluck and still had lots of leftovers for green eggs and ham. Plus, with a bone-in ham, you have the bones to stew into a meaty, thick, parsnip-sweetened split pea soup. I was going to share that recipe with you, but I can’t get excited about wintery split-peas this time of year. We’re all preoccupied with planting peas in the garden (traditionally done in Maine around Patriots Day – tomorrow – and harvested around the Fourth of July). Split-pea soup is just a tease; a pale imitation of the vivid green, chilled soup I make with summer’s first shelling peas.
Instead, Lucretia Woodruff feeds her four free-range kids and husband rosemary-flavored white beans stewed with their ham bones, with chopped kale or collards stirred in before serving. She recommends yellow-eye dried beans from Mitchell & Savage Maple Farm in Bowdoin. Lucretia soaks the beans, then cooks them slowly in a cast-iron kettle on the wood cookstove or in a Crockpot. They eat well on their Brunswick homestead. Riding his balance bike (a pedal-less bike that helps kids learn to ride) down a plywood-covered hay slope, the youngest Woodruff, Dairé, 6, told me his favorite foods are steak and salad. Not bad.
‘WORK’ SHARES AVAILABLE
But if you don’t live on a farm, local food is expensive (fast food and grocery store processed food is, thanks to corn and soybean subsidies, artificially cheap). The bountiful 18-week Milkweed CSA (Community Supported Agriculture share) is $525, plus an extra $50 for delivery to Portland, but such fine organic produce would certainly add up to more – if such variety was even available – at the supermarket. For those who lack the cash for a CSA, Milkweed offers around 15 “work” shares each year, free in exchange for a substantial work commitment during the growing season. Milkweed still has a few left to fill this spring. Milkweed also partners with Swallowtail Creamery in Whitefield to offer short full-diet early spring and late fall shares to see folks through the difficult shoulder seasons, times when abundant local food can feel like a faint memory.
Laura McCandlish is a Brunswick-based food writer and radio producer. You can reach her through her blog BaltimOregon.com, and follow her on Twitter @BaltimOregon.