Porky Mrs Portly

No, the diet’s not going as well as I’d like, apparently the Sauvignon Blanc Plan is over-rated in weight-loss terms. But if you think I’m being hard on myself, I’m not.

The Mrs Portly I’m talking about is my porcine namesake, raised by our friends Karon and Simon at Stackyard Nursery here in Suffolk. I’ve watched her progress with interest.

Image of weaner pigs

Mrs Portly as a weaner – she’s the spotty one

I met her first as a weaner; like me she always had her trotters in the trough. Karon and Simon did all the hard work but I fed her windfall apples, watched her romp and wallow in her paddock and I was there when she was coaxed gently into a trailer for her final journey. Vegetarians and the squeamish can look away now because my interest, unsurprisingly, was culinary and I had a half share in Mrs P’s cute, spotty person.

Am I hard-hearted? No, I don’t think so. I eat meat and it would be hypocritical to take a blinkered view of where it comes from. It doesn’t magically appear plastic-wrapped in polystyrene trays at the supermarket. Mrs Portly had a splendid life and a carefully-managed death, intended to make the process as stress-free as possible.

Image of pigs being loaded into trailer

This little piggy goes …

Karon says: “”We slow-grow our pigs during the spring, summer and into the autumn. This traditional method is low impact, using outdoor rearing techniques including feeding our pigs with autumn windfall apples, vegetable off-cuts from our harvest and root crops.

“Our pigs have the freedom to root and behave naturally, this means no stress to the animal. It takes a year to get our pigs to about eighty kilos, smaller to slaughter than a commercial pig that takes five months, but you can taste the difference.”

Mrs Portly is/was a cross between a Gloucester Old Spot (once known as the Orchard Pig or Cottager’s Pig) and a Welsh white, both rare breeds known for for producing pork of superb quality. The next time I saw her was at Palfrey and Hall‘s cutting plant on the beautiful Kenton Hall estate. Now’s your last chance to look away.

Image of butcher Wayne Lemon with pig carcase

Wayne gets to work

I’ve watched pork being butchered before and I’ve even tried my hand at it, at one of the Ginger Pig‘s classes in London. But it takes years to become as deft as the splendidly-monickered Wayne Lemon, who was in charge of reducing Mrs P to neatly tied joints.

Image of butcher's knotThe trick to an evenly rolled joint, apparently, is to start by not tying the first strings too tight and to move back and forth, centre to ends. Wayne demonstrated a hard-to-master butcher’s slip knot (I still can’t do it) and made me photograph it so I could practice it at home. All the time, his hands were moving: sawing, cutting, boning and rolling. It takes him just 30-40 minutes to prepare half a pig.

He is one of four fully-qualified butchers at Palfrey and Hall, set up three years ago at the Kenton Hall Food Hub by Shaun (Palfrey) and Deaglan (Hall) to provide a cutting, smoking and curing service to the local smallholding community.

Image of the fridge at Palfrey and Hall

Deaglan in the walk-in refrigerator

Deaglan says: “We do private cutting for smallholders and farmers as well as supplying farm shops and because we cure meat ourselves we supply some butchers who don’t have that facility.” They have won two gold stars at the Great Taste Awards for their smoked dry-cured streaky bacon and another two for their Wiltshire cured cooked ham. They also do a Suffolk cure, with molasses, spices and beer, using an ale from the nearby Earl Soham Brewery.

Image of sausage-making

Shaun and apprentice Adam make sausages

It’s obviously a winning formula because their company is growing fast. “When we began it was just the two of us. It’s nerve-wracking starting up on your own, not knowing what customers you’ll get,” says Deaglan.

“But we’ve been busy pretty much since the outset and now there are four of us who are butchers, plus an apprentice, and altogether a staff of six people full-time and two part-time. Next year we’ll open a retail butcher’s shop at the old Post Office in Debenham, with a deli and dry goods.”

Palfrey and Hall will cure and smoke the ham for me for Christmas. I brought the rest home: French-trimmed loin on the bone, rolled and tied joints for big family lunches, belly pork for slow roasting, sausages and chipolatas (Christmas again) and offal for making pates and terrines. Nothing will go to waste, Mrs Portly will be treated with the respect she deserves and I will know that the meat I put on my table was reared responsibly with love and care.

Karon and Simon’s pork is available from Stackyard Nursery at Mendlesham in Suffolk. So if you want joints, chops, sausages and chipolatas, sausage meat, bacon, or gammon joints and steaks, give them a call or drop them a line. It’s good stuff.

13 thoughts on “Porky Mrs Portly

  1. This brought back lots of memories! When I was growing up, we’d always get two – one year, three – little pigs in the spring, and raise them much as you describe. My grandpa was the expert butcher….he always planned a visit to help with that. I recently watched the movie, Temple Grandin, about the woman who made huge strides toward humane slaughter in the U.S. beef industry. Very interesting, and made me appreciate more fully the difference in quality of life – and death – even in animals raised for slaughter. Thanks, Linda!

    • Yes, my parents and grandparents always kept a pig, way back in the day. Apparently my grandad’s home-cured hams were fabulous, but sadly, the recipe has been lost. I think there’s a disconnect now, with people often reluctant to think about the animal their meat came from, which means less humane farming practices sometimes go unquestioned.

  2. No, I didn’t have to look away, even as an ex-vegetarian. I do eat meat now, but not that often,. as I need to know the animal that’s provided dinner has had the sort of life that your alter ego enjoyed. It’s a shame Suffolk is so far away ….

    • I’m sure there are similarly ethical producers in your part of the world, Margaret. In fact, having once lived in North Yorks, I’d be amazed if there weren’t. But I’m sure you know that already, sorry, wasn’t trying to teach you how to suck eggs. If you ever make it to Suffolk I’d be happy to make you a roast dinner! Lx

    • Indeed. I accept that not everyone is in a position to buy direct from the producer, and financial hardship might force some people towards cheap, factory-farmed meat. But I think a lot of it is down to squeamishness and that allows people to close their eyes to the conditions in which the animal may have been raised. And don’t get me started on ready-meals.

  3. Excellent post. We only buy free-range pork now because some of the terrible factory conditions, and go without if we can’t find it (hence why I’ve just had a veggie sausage sandwich for lunch!) Plus, you can’t get good crackling from a factory pig 😉 Enjoy Mrs P, Mrs P

  4. When I was a boy, much of our meat was freshly slaughtered, sometimes by one of my extended family’s adults \. We grew up knowing what went on before meat was packaged in cellophane. Today, when I roast a turkey, I purchase it from a neighborhood Halal poultry shop where the butchers say a prayer of thanks before slaughtering the fowl, if you request. As you know, it’s all about respect for the animal.

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