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Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT

Book Review Butchering

Book Reviews: Butchering: Beef and Butchering: Poultry – Rabbit – Lamb – Goat – Pork by Adam Danforth

by Lynn Miller

Since just after World War II, self reliant folk have looked on aghast as the main populace has rushed, Lemming-like, towards paper-thin convenience-oriented lifestyles that have stripped society of any and all direct skills for living and for the earned understanding of life forces. In the mid-sixties, having grown up in the suburbs of southern California, I came to the realization that I had zero comprehension of what constituted meat; where it came from, what was traded for it’s ready availability, what it meant to human sustenance, the historical significance, its glory, the destruction it comes out of, and the impact. At eighteen years old I passed through supermarket meat sections trying to imagine the form of the animal the meat came from and the whole butchering process. I had lived to that ripe young age and never even cleaned a fish! I made a pact with myself; I would not eat meat until and unless I was prepared to raise the animal and butcher it myself. I kept that promise for five years and became a connoisseur of adzuki beans and brussel sprouts. When I finally found myself on a farm, raising sheep, cattle, horses, chickens and geese I decided I was ready and I butchered a goose – cut its head off on the firewood chopping block and hung it to bleed out. We ate that goose for Thanksgiving. It was a big moment for me. Then I raised a bottle lamb, named her Cecile. She became a pet. We were very poor and quite hungry. It took a couple of days but I got up my courage(?) and cut fat Cecile’s throat and bled her out to dress for meat. I could not sleep for weeks after and my life changed in that experience.

In retrospect, as time educated me to process, I realized many times over how lucky(?) I had been with both of my first butchering experiences. I had nowhere to go for information. And there are so many things that could have gone terribly wrong. All of this abbreviated personal narrative is offered to background my critique of Adam Danforth’s new book series BUTCHERING (published with amazing sensitivity and intelligence by Storey Books).

Danforth’s BUTCHERING is an unqualified MASTERPIECE! One which actually gives me hope for the furtherance of human kind and the ripening of good farming everywhere because, in no small part, of this young author’s sensitive comprehension of the modern disconnect with food, feeding ourselves, and farming. Split into two volumes, “Beef” and “Poultry – Rabbit – Lamb – Goat – Pork”, here are 800 plus pages and thousands of photographs and charts detailing every aspect of humane slaughtering and butchering of all farm animal categories.

Book Review Butchering

Fifty years have passed for me since that pact I made with myself about meat, and with those years have come myriad experiences with raising my own, hunting for meat and hides, commercial fishing where I came closest to feeling myself the hunted as a seven foot long blue shark rose from the ocean to strip me of my Salmon catch, to spending 7 hours in my farm kitchen grinding hamburger and carving cuts from a 2,000 pound bull’s carcass which had hung for 10 days, wrapped in an old sheet, in the rafters of my barn. The sticky odors of drying blood, the attacking flies, the coagulation of my spirit all assured me over and over again that this was a scene out of Dostoyevsky or Joseph Conrad not a chapter from a pretty cookbook. What I learned I learned from doing, sometimes right often wrong. Occasionally someone would step up and offer that I try it another way. Appropriately I thrill now to think what Danforth’s volumes might mean to young people coming up through the ranks of right livelihood, so much to be gained by having the head start this information offers. Wow. And Adam offers the best sort of information, a coupling of perfect illustrative photography combined with simple directions and perhaps most important a plain-spoken explanation of the whys – all of this coming from someone who cares deeply.

We raise beef cattle. We work with custom cutting houses and sell grass-fed all natural beef direct to our own growing list of customers. We have our own unique approach to this process that has given us excellent results but there is always room for improvement. Danforth’s exceptional writings on the subject give valuable depth to the reasons behind how animals are slaughtered (including Adam’s ever present admirable humanity), how and where the carcass is hung, temperatures and duration of hanging, refrigeration concerns, freezing elements, cutting and cuts, etc. Coming to the subject with some experience it is immediately apparent how comprehensive Danforth’s presentation is. That said, there are myriad variables that do not appear in this writing, things such as the tenderizing effects on molecular structure of meats caused by careful calibrated long-term thawing. Even so, the absence of such elements of fine tuning does not in any way diminish this volume, to the contrary BUTCHERING provides a most excellent and solid foundation to move forward from.

Immediately upon receiving Danforth’s volumes we decided to add these books to the SFJ Book Service and Kristi and I ordered two copies for our personal library at the ranch. These books are essential. Thank you Mr. Danforth for your expansive work.

What follows are excerpts from the Danforth Butchering books.

Aging in the Open

All aged meat will increase in tenderness, but there are other beneficial repercussions, depending on airflow and the ambient humidity of where the meat is stored. In one method, called dry-aging, water evaporates from the meat, sometimes reducing the original weight by as much as 20 percent. With the water gone, the muscle fibers shrink, and so does the overall size of the meat. This also concentrates the tasty, water-soluble protein fragments, strengthening the flavor of the meat.

During the dry-aging process, meat is kept at the proper temperatures while humidity and air flow are controlled. Humidity is held at 70 to 80 percent, allowing the meat to dry out gradually. If the humidity is too low, the meat will lose moisture too quickly, resulting in dried, unpalatable meat; if the humidity is too high, moisture remains on the meat surface, promoting rancidity and microbial development. Air circulation is also critical to maintaining humidity equilibrium and promoting evaporation. To allow air access to all parts of the meat, meat processors usually hang carcasses from rails and place cuts on perforated shelves, while high-velocity fans work to keep the currents continuous.

A dry-aged carcass or primal cut will have a hardened, blackened exterior that is very likely to be dotted with patches of white mold. All mold patches must be removed and discarded, exposing the underlying nutty, aromatic meat. Between the loss of meat from trimming and the loss of weight through evaporation, the edible portion of a dry-aged primal may be 70 percent of its original weight. This makes dry-aging an expensive process: it requires equipment, ample space, and lots of time for hanging and trimming, and it ends with a considerable loss of salable weight. Yet the result, with its unique taste, will fetch high prices and yield flavorful results, making up for the product loss.

Aging in a Bag

These days, dry-aging is rarely done within the commercial meatpacking industry. Carcasses are typically hung for the minimum amount of time to allow rigor mortis to resolve, after which they are broken down into primal cuts. Primals are then vacuum-packed and shipped to customers within refrigerated containers.

While the meat is bagged and in transit, the enzymes do the work of dismantling proteins and tenderizing muscle. Upon arrival to a customer, bagged primals can continue to be sorted and aged further or butchered into cuts. This approach is called wet-aging, and the results in tenderness are pretty much the same as in dry-aging. In wet-aging, the meat is aged within a hermetically sealed environment, staving off microbes and preventing any oxidation or moisture loss from the product. There is no need for controlled humidity or airflow, just temperature, so equipment and space costs are lower. Furthermore, there is minimal loss of product, thus maximizing salable weight. For these reasons, the adoption of wet-aging has been widespread within the commercial industries.

The downside is the resulting lack of flavor enhancement or development. The meat ages in a bag, spending days or weeks sitting in a collection of its own juices and blood. It picks up the flavors of these juices and blood: serumy, metallic, and irony are all adjectives used to describe the profile of wet-aged meat. Despite this, the benefits of minimal weight loss and convenient handling have made wet-aging the standard in modern meatpacking, an industry focused on speed and volume.

Book Review Butchering

Spotlight On: People

Meeting Place Organic Film

Meeting Place Organic Film

Local, organic, and sustainable are words we associate with food production today, but 40 years ago, when Fran and Tony McQuail started farming in Southwestern Ontario, they were barely spoken. Since 1973, the McQuails have been helping to build the organic farming community and support the next generation of organic farmers.

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

Biodynamic Meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm

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One weekend I attended a Biodynamic meeting at Ruby and Amber’s Organic Farm in Dorena, Oregon, in the Row River Valley, just east of Cottage Grove. I always enjoy seeing other food growing operations, as this is such an infinitely broad subject, there is always much to learn from others’ experiences. At this farm, draft horses are used for much of the work.

Farmrun John Erskine

John Erskine

John Erskine farms with horses in Sequim, WA.

Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

The Hand-Harvested Food Challenge

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In the winter of 2011, Daniel mentioned a fourteen-year-old student of his who had spent a whole month eating only foods gathered from the wild. “Could we go for two days on the hand-harvested food we have here?’ he asked. “Let’s give it a try!” I responded with my usual enthusiasm. We assembled the ingredients on the table. Everything on that table had passed through our hands. We knew all the costs and calories associated with it. No hidden injustice, no questionable pesticides. We felt joy at living in such an edible world.

Birth of a Farm

Birth of a Farm

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“Isn’t it nice?” I offer to my supper companions, “to see our beautiful horses right while we’re eating? I feel like I’m on a Kentucky horse farm, with rolling bluegrass vistas.” I sweep my arm dramatically towards the view, the rigged up electric fence, the lawn straggling down to the pond, the three horses, one of whom is relieving herself at the moment. “Oh, huh,” he answers. “I was thinking it was more like a cheesy bed and breakfast.”

Ripening

Poetry Corner: What A Boy Lies Awake Wondering

This is a poem from Paul Hunter’s book Ripening.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up

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I went to the Great Oregon Steam-Up over in Brooks, Oregon, near Salem. Lynn has been invited and has wanted to attend for years, but this time of year might very well be the busiest time of year for him. He’s always farming or writing or editing or painting or forecasting or businessing or just generally fightin’ the power, yo. It’s nuts, I don’t know how he does it all. So, when I told him I was going to go, he was very interested and wanted a good report.

Portrait of a Garden

Portrait of a Garden

As the seasons slip by at a centuries-old Dutch estate, an 85-year-old pruning master and the owner work on cultivating crops in the kitchen garden. To do this successfully requires a degree of obsessiveness, the old man explains in this calm, observational documentary. The pruning master still works every day. It would be easier if he were only 60 and young.

Rainshadow Organics Saralee and the Interns

Rainshadow Organics: Saralee & the Interns

Rainshadow Organics in Central Oregon is a really big small farm. As part of their mission to produce and promote good food, they participate in the Rogue Farm Corps internship program. This season they have 7 interns who made time during their lunch break to speak to us about the program.

Fjordworks A History of Wrecks Part 2

Fjordworks: A History of Wrecks Part 2

It is always fascinating and at times a little disconcerting to watch how seamlessly the macro-economics of trying to make a living as a farmer in such an out-of-balance society can morph us into shapes we never would have dreamed of when we were getting started. This year we will be putting in a refrigerated walk-in cooler which will allow us to put up more storage-share vegetables.

Changing of Seasons

LittleField Notes: Changing of Seasons

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We are blessed who are active participants in the life of soil and weather, crops and critters, living a life grounded in seasonal change. This talk of human connection to land and season is not just the rambling romantic musing of an agrarian ideologue. It is rather the result of participating in the deeply vital vocation that is farming and knowing its fruits first hand.

Central Oregon Food and Farms

Central Oregon Food and Farms

Who is growing food in the high desert? How can you find it? And how can you contribute to creating a vibrant local food community in Central Oregon? Find out here! By consuming more Central Oregon grown food we keep money in our region, support local businesses, and have delicious, fresh food to eat.

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

Expanding the Use of the Heavy Draught Horse in Europe

“La Route du Poisson”, or “The Fish Run,” is a 24 hour long relay which starts from Boulogne on the coast at 9 am on Saturday and runs through the night to the outskirts of Paris with relays of heavy horse pairs until 9 am Sunday with associated events on the way. The relay “baton” is an approved cross country competition vehicle carrying a set amount of fresh fish.

The Farmer and the Horse

The Farmer & The Horse

In New Jersey — land of The Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and the Turnpike — farmland is more expensive than anywhere else. It’s not an easy place to try to start a career as a farmer. But for a new generation of farmers inspired by sustainability, everything seems possible. Even a farm powered by draft horses.

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

The Real Work Karbaumer Farm

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A bold and opinionated German, Klaus moved to the midwest over 25 years ago from Bavaria and is currently running the only tractor-less farm in Platte County, Missouri operated by draft horses. Karbaumer Farm tries to “live and grow in harmony with Nature and her seasons” and produces over 50 varieties of chemical-free, organic vegetables for the community, providing a CSA or the greater Kansas City area.

Great Oregon Steam Up

Great Oregon Steam-Up Bonus Gallery

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The best thing about the SFJ website is “unlimited real estate.” With each issue of the Small Farmer’s Journal comes the required agonizing over what to keep and what to sacrifice due to page space. What follows is a photo gallery of every picture we took at the 2016 Great Oregon Steam-Up. Why? Because we can! And, because there were a lot of interesting machines there that we are sure some of you will enjoy seeing.

Ham & Eggs

Ham & Eggs

Max Godfrey leads Ham & Eggs, at Plant & Sing 2012 at Sylvester Manor.

Small Farmer's Journal

Small Farmer's Journal
PO Box 1627
Sisters, Oregon 97759
800-876-2893
541-549-2064
agrarian@smallfarmersjournal.com
Mon - Thu, 8am - 4pm PDT