Tuesday 19 November 2013

Animal Vegetable Miracle: pork chops and baked apples for Cook the Books

Back at the end of summer our apple tree and grape vines were bowed down with fruit. It wasn't supermarket-pretty, but it was ours. The thought of coring and slicing so many tiny apples was more than I could bear, so I picked the fruit that I could reach, added some rosemary from the garden and a finely chopped chilli from our supply in the freezer, and made jelly.

Which went very, very wrong. Despite all those lovely pectin-rich apples, it turned to a plasticy toffee before it passed the wrinkle test or read 106C on my thermometer. I think there is something wrong with that thermometer. I haven't been able to bring myself to throw it out though, so the "jelly" has been sitting in the cupboard, waiting for its moment to come...

Having missed the last few rounds of Cook the Books, the foodblogger bookclub hosted by Rachel, Deb, Heather and Simona, I was determined to participate this time around. Unfortunately, the fact that it was Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle put me off a bit. The only one of her other books that I have read is The Poisonwood Bible. It is brilliantly written, absolutely gripping and quite harrowing. Not a book that would lead you to believe that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle would be a fun time. Which is unfortunate, because Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is indeed a fun time.

Barbara Kingsolver's account of her family's year of choosing local produce reads like The Omnivore's Dilemma-lite. Fewer facts and figures, much more humour and some nice-sounding recipes. I loved the idea of locking your house so people couldn't leave courgettes in your kitchen while you were off dumping courgettes on other neighbours.

The fact that I was reading this book in November was a bit of a problem. As Kingsolver says "Eating locally in winter is easy. But the time to think about that would be in August". Aside from my caramelised jelly and a couple of pots of jam, I hadn't done anything towards preserving foods for the cold months this year. I was thrown on the mercy of the internet to find some local food suppliers and see what was actually available around here.

The first promising lead I had was a farm a couple of miles away that rears water buffalo for meat and milk. I've made queso oaxaca before, using a mozzarella recipe, so the account of making fresh mozzarella was quite familiar to me. I thought buying some raw buffalo milk and making a pizza with homemade mozzarella was a good idea. Unfortunately it turns out that the farm with the buffalo hasn't updated their website in three years and they no longer sell dairy products.

Then I found Hazeldene Farm, a farm specialising in rearing rare breed animals using organic farming principles. Just 12 miles away, through some particularly pretty countryside. We hopped in the car.
It was everything you would want an English farm to be. There was an exceedingly elderly labrador in the barnyard, a moth-eaten and cranky-looking cat keeping an eye on the bales of hay and chickens strutting about the place.
In the farm shop itself a butcher was trimming up some pieces of meat, from a whole carcase, using a knife and hacksaw. Very traditional. Paul's dad always used to get very stroppy about butchers who used band-saws, because you end up with splinters of bone pushed into the meat.
We bought a shoulder of Oxford Down lamb and some pork chops and sausages from the British Lop pigs. It was very reasonably priced. We scooted home and ate some of the sausages for lunch, while we considered what to do with the rest of our booty.

The lamb shoulder became a delicious, melting lamb boulangere. Even though the recipe came from Tom Kerridge, whose pub The Hand and Flowers is less than 25 miles from us, we didn't really feel that it said enough about local produce to count for this exercise.
We set off again, on a day with rather different weather, 11 miles in another direction to Home Cottage Farm, which "sells apples until the crop is sold out (usually December)".
We bought Spartans, Bramleys, Lane's Prince Alberts and some fresh apple juice. Paul's planning to make me a pie from the Lane's Prince Alberts, which is a local cultivar, and I think the Spartans will become dinky wee toffee apples. But the Bramleys were destined to take pride of place with our local pork chops.

I cored the apples and scored the skin around their equator, then stuffed them with some of the remaining sausage meat. I also peeled some onions, scooped out their middles and stuffed them as well. This was a meal where I got to use both my melon baller and my apple corer. Almost unheard of. The apples and onions baked in the oven for about half an hour before I added the pork chops.

I followed Jamie Oliver's pork chop recipe, adding a sliced clove of garlic to the meat when it went into the oven.

I chopped the reserved onion scoopings and browned them in a pan with a little oil, then added shredded red cabbage, some of the apple juice and a spoonful of my caramelised garden jelly. I covered it and let it simmer away quietly until everything else was cooked. It was our part of Britain on a plate.



Rachel said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed the book! And what a luscious spread you made from your locavore adventures. Your comment about the moth-eaten and cranky looking cat also cracked me up. Well done, Foodycat!

Joanne said...

I love the idea of being a locavore and try to as much as possible so it's so fun to see what you created with only local ingredients!

grace said...

uh...yum! it might interest you to know that barbara owns and is responsible for an awesome little restaurant about 10 miles from me!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Rachel - I really loved it!

Joanne - it was such a great excuse to get out and about and see what this area offers.

Grace - that is so interesting! Have you eaten there?

Deb in Hawaii said...

What fun locavore "field trips" you had to get this wonderful looking meal together. ;-) Living in Hawaii I still miss the ability to go pick (or even pick up a box of) fresh crisp apples that I had in the Pacific Northwest where I grew up. This is the perfect fall meal!

Simona Carini said...

I'd go crazy with an apple orchard so close to me. Lovely post and lovely photos.

Choclette said...

Now it was because I'd read The Poisonwood Bible that I was so keen to read Animal Vegetable Miracle - good books both. However, I have yet to read The Lecuna. It's been sitting on my bedside table for a very long time, but I keep going to bed too late to do any reading - shocking!

Andrea Meyers said...

What a nice trip to took to find all your local food. Love the photos of the farm and the pork chops and apples. Sounds like a great meal.

Debra Eliotseats said...

Love, love, love this post (moth-eaten cat and all).

Anonymous said...

What a fabulously inspring post!


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