Aug 262018
 

There’s a little something extra special about Vermont in August.  Maybe it’s the fact that things slow down a teeny bit (seems like everyone takes a few days off sometime in August!) or that we cling a little more tightly as the evening starts to arrive a little earlier.

It could be I’m speaking a little too much about my own place in life, but August reminds me of the “middle age” of the year. The fresh excitement of May and June has yielded to July, and then August comes on to remind us to value the warmth before winter comes.

What do we love?

  • Parties—Chris and I have August birthdays as do a bunch of our family members…this leads to a host of family parties, tournaments, visits, and hugs. Oh sure, there’s plenty of house cleaning, cooler schlepping and Monday-morning exhaustion to go along, but We Regret Nothing.
  • Family—I can’t explain why, but August is the month we take the time to see people that we don’t see most of the rest of the year. Our family is a tangled delightful mess of birth, marriage, friendship, job, and adopted relatives with lots of friend-family mixed in.  August is THAT perfect excuse to take a Friday afternoon or be sure to go out to hear a Wednesday night concert, because we know family will be there.
  • Blueberries—This farm is a classic reminder that our actions aren’t as much for ourselves as the ones who come after us. Those who knew Otis Tilton tell us that he was glowing with pride over the blueberry bushes he tended. We absolutely understand why.  They were the first farm crop that greeted us just days after we closed on the property and have become a source of joy and anticipation for us each summer.  Someday we’ll figure out a blueberry-related farm product (any ideas?), but for now they are mostly going into our freezer and the mouths of on-farm visitors.
  • Smoked meat—OK, we love smoked meat all year (Who doesn’t? Even chicken and fish are fabulous smoked!), but in particular so many of the events we attend or host are potlucks. It seems like crispy, caramelized, smoky, tender ribs or chicken wings generate the smell and the taste of summer instantly. Sharing meat with people we love is pretty much what we’re all about.
  • Golden days—I was just talking with an old friend who described August as the “golden days” when goldenrod comes into bloom, and farm fields are spread with the deep rich hue that pretty much embodies late summer. I was out moving the sheep yesterday morning and found myself stopping to linger and gaze around at the spots of late-summer sunlight scattered across the pastures.  Goldenrod might be a sign that summer is on the down side, but it’s just as much that reminder to stop and enjoy it while it’s here.

That’s truly what we love most about the summer…taking a few minutes to stop and enjoy it!

Speaking of valuing warmth before winter comes, if you are getting an itchy feeling about the oncoming fall, zip me an email!  I just got back a nice batch of smoked hams and slab bacon.

Jenn

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Aug 122018
 

Ham steaks, roasts and hocks…mmmm….

A customer stopped by to pick up her half pig today.  She lives out of state and waits until the smoked meats are back from the smokehouse to pick up her entire order at once.  She has been a loyal and wonderful customer for many years, but today she confided that she still had some pork hocks (part of the pig’s back leg below the ham, and above the foot) hanging around from the last pig (a few years ago).

“What do I do with them?”

Thanks for asking!  Sure, many people can throw a smoked hock into a bean soup for flavor or stretch a split pea, but fresh (frozen, unsmoked) hocks are like a mystery meat.  So we went digging for some mouth-watering options.

Here are two recipes from Jennifer McLagan’s Bones, a formative book for flavor and using bones to “enhance the taste, texture and presentation of good food.”

Depending on the depth of your love of licorice flavoring, you may choose to include all three layers, or just one or two…

Braised Hock with Fennel Three Ways

1 fresh pork hock, about 2 ¼ lbs.
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
1 inner celery stalk with leaves, sliced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 small leek, trimmed and sliced
½ small fennel bulb, diced
3 garlic cloves, mined
¼ cup pastis or Pernod
One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 cup pork or chicken stock

  • Preheat the oven to 300. Pat the hock dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over medium heat.  Brown the hock on all sides, then transfer it to a plate.  Add the onion, celery, carrot, leek, and fennel to the pot and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to brown.
  • Add the garlic and pastis and bring to a boil, deglazing the pot by scraping up the browned bits. Add the tomatoes and juice, the fennel seeds, the pork stock and 1 teaspoon salt, and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and add the hock, along with any juices.  Spoon some liquid over the top of the hock.  Place the lid on the casserole dish and cook in the oven for 2-2 ½ hours, turning the hock after 1 ½ hours.  When finished, the meat will be tender, almost falling off the bone.
  • Serve the hock with the braising liquid.

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This recipe has a few steps, but the result is totally worth it! Steps 1-4 can be done several days ahead (be sure to store the hock and cooking liquid separately), for a slow-braised dinner that comes together in about an hour.

Pork Hock Cooked with Spiced Honey

1 fresh pork hock, about 2 ¼ lbs (skin on, if you have the option)
Spiced Salt (1/4 cup kosher salt, 1 tsp allspice)
8 cups of pork stock or chicken stock (we actually like chicken bone broth)
5 star anise, broken into pieces
7 green cardamom pods
4 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 long cinnamon stick, broken in half
½ cup honey
2 tsp white wine vinegar

  • A day or two before you cook the hock, coat it in the spiced salt. Cover and refrigerate, turning it a couple of times.
  • Preheat the oven to 275. Place the hock in a large pan and add the bouillion, 3 of the star anise, 4 of the cardamom pods, 1 teaspoon of the coriander seeds, and half of the cinnamon stick.  Bring it to a boil and then remove from the heat.
  • Cover the hock with a lid and braise in the oven for 2-2 ½ hours or until the meat is very tender. Remove the hock, drain it well, place it on a plate. Keep the cooking liquid.
  • Toast the remaining 2 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 1 tablespoon coriander seeds and the half cinnamon stick in a heavy frying pan until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Crush them slightly using a mortar and pestle (or a smaller heavy frying pan works well too!).  Put them into a small saucepan, add the honey and bring to a boil.  Boil hard for 3-5 minutes or until the froth turns dark and the honey begins to caramelize.  Remove from the heat and *carefully* pour in 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid.  The honey will spit and sputter.  Stir to mix and then reheat gently, simmering for 10 minutes.  Strain through a sieve; discard the spices.
  • Preheat the oven to 350. Place the hock in a small roasting pan and add ½ cup of the cooking liquid. Cook for 15 minutes.
  • Increase the oven temperature to 400, pout half of the strained honey mixture over the hock and cook for 15 minutes, basting 2 or 3 times. Pour the remaining honey mixture over the hock and cook for another 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes.  Watch the glaze carefully and add a little more cooking liquid to the roasting pan if it begins to burn.
  • Transfer the glazed hock to a serving dish and cover to keep warm. Add ½ cup cooking liquid to the roasting pan and bring to a boil to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits.  Boil until it reduces in half, then add the white wine vinegar.
  • Serve the hock with sauce.

Do you have a cut that’s been giving you trouble, or languishing in the back or bottom of the freezer waiting for the “right” time to pull out and experiment with?  Have you been waiting for a little bit of inspiration?

Drop me a line and let me know. We’ll find the right recipe for you!

And would you like a printed version of these recipes, plus four more?  Check out our FREE downloadable recipe book Hocks and Hams: Cured, Smoked or Fresh–Ideas and Inspirations.

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Jul 292018
 

We bought the farm two years ago this week.  It’s been quite a ride.  This might sound pretty sappy, but our whole reason behind jumping down this rabbit hole has been about creating a place to treat the land, the animals, and people well. Seems kinda Pollyanna, huh?

I started farming back in 2000 mainly because we were meat eaters and wanted to be more responsible about what we ate.  I totally get how people agonize over whether to eat meat or not; I even tried to be a vegetarian for a while.  It didn’t last for me—I was exhausted and anemic in a pretty short time—but I had come from a family that raised our own meat, and that seemed like the best choice.  I started with chickens and then turkeys and pigs.

Wow, it was tough processing animals.  Let’s not even talk about the five hours it took to process three roosters the first year (ugh).

It was harder to take on the responsibility.  It was so emotionally draining if something (as it inevitably did) happened to them.  This sounds ridiculous when we are planning to eat them anyway, right?  Not really.  Raising an animal for meat means giving it a good life and a quick death.  There’s an unwritten contract in there.  We’re partners.  And when that animal dies because I messed up, it hurts (and not just them).

Coming to this farm felt like a contract, too.  If we’re going to belong to a piece of the world, we need to treat it well.  I can’t control what happens in the wider world, but I can make sure that the water running off this farm is clean, that the wildlife is happy and healthy, and the blueberry bushes are cared for.  I’m even scoping out rebuilding some of the old stone walls.  Talk about old school!

It’s not just about land and animals, but people too.  People everywhere could use some kinder treatment toward each other and themselves.  Chris and I bought this farm with a dream to create a place where people could come and feel at home.  Our hope is that people will arrive strangers and leave friends.

We love bringing people together around food, especially meat, because it’s how all these things we care about arrive together in the same place.  We care for the land with the animals, and we gather with friends new and old.  It fills my heart with joy, and gets me through the days when it seems like the world could use a little more kindness.

Thanks for being part of it.

Jenn

Let’s finish up with a recipe you can enjoy on a warm summer afternoon!

Rhubarb lemonade recipe:
6.5 cups water
4 cups chopped rhubarb
1 cup sugar (we use a generous squeeze of Stevia instead)
Boil for five minutes (rhubarb will be mushy)
Strain, add ½ cup of lemon juice

(If you’d like to save the rhubarb for later, it freezes well.)

It’s naturally pink and absolutely refreshing!

(Special thanks to our Canadian friend Lise Villeneuve for this recipe—it’s a keeper!)

Email me and tell us why what we do speaks to YOU

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Jul 152018
 

Wow, what a whirlwind summer!  I don’t know about you, but based on all the things I have scheduled in the next two months, I keep having to check the calendar to make sure it’s only July. 🙂

I’m guessing that your lists are just getting longer, too.  It seems like we work harder and harder to make time for vacation, and in the meantime, the stress ratchets up.  Whew!

Sometimes, dinner can be the perfect getaway without all the fuss.

When Chris and I were competing on the New England barbecue circuit, we gathered financial support by offering “Competition Practice” dinners to our friends, family and coworkers.  We would cook a full complement of chicken, pork ribs, pork shoulder, and brisket using all of the rubs, sauces, injections, and presentation for competition, and serve it for our guests, just like they were judges.

We even brought them grilled appetizers and desserts, and asked them to give us feedback about what they liked and what they didn’t–“real time” judging wasn’t something we generally had the option of.

Sometimes we packaged up the meats and brought it to sponsors’ homes (or in the case of the night before Tropical Storm Irene–a mid-construction house on top of a mountain–we’re still thankful we did not accept the invite to stay the night, because the road was gone the next day!).

One of our dinners with beloved friends!

Unlike a competition with judges and “one-bite wows” and a long drive home if the scores didn’t go our way, these dinners were a wonderful opportunity to connect with the people who loved our food and supported us.  There was no pressure and a short time commitment; just an afternoon with friends and full bellies and lots of laughter. If something needed a little more sweet or a little less heat, they were there to tell us.

We loved these dinners.  They loved these dinners.  At the end of dinner, we all felt more full—not just our bellies, but our hearts.  These dinners were special, and they led to a lot of trophies and happy memories.

We knew we wanted to recreate that experience for friends (old and new) at our farm.

And we are!

Take a breath and enjoy the summer, if just for one evening.  That To Do list can wait!

Eventbrite - On-Farm Dinner with Seven Course BBQ Tasting Menu

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Jul 012018
 

Would you like to spend a summer evening enjoying a unique culinary experience with a fine view?

Let us take your dining world to new heights!

Join us for an over-the-top grilled and smoked dinner hosted at beautiful Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph, VT where we’ll treat you to some of our finest barbecue specialties.

We’ll be serving a “meat-forward,” seven-course tasting menu celebrating some of our competition barbecue team’s most successful competition dishes, including our award-winning flank steak-wrapped scallops, Kansas City style ribs, brisket burnt ends, and even smoked cheesecake–all paired with just the right side dishes to make them even more exciting.

Bring your appetites, and your own alcoholic beverages! We’ll include coffee, tea and non-alcoholic options.

The meal will be served with the backdrop of our gorgeous hill farm overlooking Randolph Village.

Mouth watering yet?  Register here!

******************************
For more than 13 years, Chris Sargent and Jenn Colby, and our talented team of friends and family, competed in Kansas City Barbecue Society sanctioned barbecue competitions throughout New England as Howling Hog Barbecue. During our career, we won more than 45 awards at barbecue and grilling events, becoming one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams.

Please note that due to the nature of the menu, substitutions are not possible. Foods may contain wheat, sugar and trace amounts of MSG.

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May 172018
 

Are you drooling? Us too.

  • Do you want to try grilling, but find the choices of fuel, cookers, and timing overwhelming?
  • Are you an experienced griller ready to step up your game?
  • Are you a food lover looking for a fun Saturday spent hanging out and eating tasty treats right off the fire?

Chris Sargent, pitboss of Howling Hog BBQ, will spend the day teaching the tips and techniques he and his team used to become one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams during their career.

This four-hour class will include an overview of grilling basics, including: types of grills, fire management and food safety; as well as the essential tools every serious griller should have.  Then Chris and his teammates will dive into four award- winning recipes that will demonstrate the essential skills needed to elevate your grilling game.  Recipes will include “Rob’s First Place Flank”, “Curran’s Lime & Honey Wings,” and more!

With the gorgeous backdrop of Howling Wolf Farm in Randolph, VT, come enjoy a day of grilling, learning and sampling some epic food.  

Eventbrite - Grilling Class for Beginning and Experienced Cooks

One lucky attendee will win a “schwag bag” of assorted rubs and seasonings.
Limit 12 participants, sign up today!

About the instructor: Over 13 years (2004-2017), Chris Sargent and his team of exceptional grillers and barbecuers won more than 42 individual awards, competing against some of New England’s (and the nation’s!) most talented teams. 

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Apr 252018
 

We got home late, so they slept in the truck bed overnight.

This weekend we harvested the first of our own pigs since 2013. Gosh I missed them.

These piglets were born in Washington, Vermont, just about 30 miles away.  They rode in a hay-lined truck to Randolph, and spent the rest of their lives rooting and snoozing and companionably sniping at each other over the food dish and the special treats I tried to spread around so no one got too much at the expense of the others.  They are Saddleback pigs; a very old breed being rebuilt by the careful efforts of our friend Matt Whalen at Vermont Heritage Farm.

Sewer pipe makes a great feed trough.

The pigs spent the winter growing, rooting, napping, finding bricks, flipping tires, and unearthing the roots of the collection of trees they sheltered in.  Did I mention rooting?

In the deep cold of winter, they dug into round hay bales and buried themselves up to the nose.  They didn’t quite hibernate (how do you get the good snacks when you sleep through?), but pigs are a lot like people.  If they don’t need to go out in the cold, why bother?  It’s nicer in here.

Pigs make snow paths between breakfast and bed.

Some people may wonder if pigs are adapted to Vermont life outside in our winters.  Prior to our recent five-year gap, we’ve raised Fall pigs for over

I gave them a fresh dry new round bale–nose!

ten years.  They do beautifully, especially when an old-style, heritage breed is used.  Pigs suffer in the heat.  They have very few sweat glands, which is why lying in a mud hole to cool off is such a preferred thing to do on a summer’s day.  In the winter they just pile, lying lined up like a row of very large black and white hot dogs.

By spring, they were two (or three or four) times the size they had been when they arrived in November.  Jiggles in all the right places.  Tree roots exposed for our selective cutting next month.  Vegetation opened up and ready for a new seeding under the thinned trees.  The sky was blue, the Spring birds back.  It was time.

Mark and Matt believe in the importance of bringing a dignified end to an animal that feeds a family.

The pigs were killed on the farm by local itinerant (on-farm) slaughters, which is a term for a craft largely forgotten.  These fellows are amazing.  The care with which they treat each animal, their quiet calm manner, and their efficiency in skinning and eviscerating are all skills built ove

Neatly skinned and split carcass, hanging from a portable tripod they travel with.

r a lifetime watching their father and grandfather (who are legends in our area). I missed them so much, too.  Mark and Matt and I talk about what we see on farms and they tell me about sugaring and Mark’s recent trip to Florida.  They arrived at 7:30 am on the dot and were packed and driving away at 9:15 (that’s even with chatting).  They had taps to check and I’m sure many other things to get on with during a busy Saturday.

We cooled the pigs in the trailer overnight and Sunday morning, Cole Ward the Master Butcher came to cut them for us.  Cole is one of my favorite humans ever, and very literally a treasure to those who know him well.  He is kind, and thoughtful, and so, SO talented at teaching butchery.  We decided this time not to do a workshop as we have some times before, but Cole can’t help it.  He loves to cut and joke and tell stories about his days working a meat counter near the CBS Studios in L.A., and all of the personalities that came to buy meat from him.  We learn so much, every time.  A real butcher, a true master butcher, is that person with every recipe conceivable for each cut. The person who can tell you how to grill this muscle but not that one, and explain why your sausage won’t bind or your ground beef has crunchy “bone chips” in it (it doesn’t, but there’s a reason why the texture is wrong).  We’ve become accustomed to cuts only available when you cut your own animal,

There are not enough words to describe how important Cole is to passing on meat education and general love of butchery.

and it’s a darned good thing he’s been teaching us, because I’m not sure we could go back.

 

Chris and I spent the day trading off vacuum sealing duties in the cool basement, while a small group of friends and family chatted with Cole, tried to “out joke” him, and ate sausages with mustard.

Such a wonderful way to celebrate a life, thank you!

Tonight we ate some of the best–if not THE best–pork I ever had or raised.  Sure, that might be related to the long, long wait of the past five years, but I’d like to think this was in many ways a sign of a good life, from beginning to end.  Thank you fellas.  We’ll honor and appreciate you, every bite.

 

 

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Apr 172018
 

One of my favorite family visitors feeding a lamb in 2017.

OK, I’ll own it.  I’m a sucker for lambs.  I wait every year to see what colors they’ll be and how many each ewe will have, and how strong and amazing they’ll be (they stand in minutes and often jump around within hours…it’s awe inspiring).

Lambing season isn’t all sunshine and roses, despite the pictures that end up on Facebook.  Sometimes lambs die and sometimes they struggle.  Sometimes the moms reject them and sometimes it keeps me up at night.  Years like we’re having this year, it seems like spring will never come and the green grass is so far away.

You know what gets me through that?

Visitors!

Everyone loves to see the lambs and when we moved out of town to our new home, it felt like we should create a new opportunity to share happenings with friends, family and neighbors.  Thus our Lamb Open House event was born.

Come join us Saturday, May 5!  We’ll have refreshments and barbecue and activities…and lambs too!
P.S. And please register to help us plan! Thank you!

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Apr 012018
 

New leaders at Howling Wolf Farm.

It’s been more than eighteen months at the new farm, and there is much to share.  After the emotional roller coaster of finding and making the right location happen, we spent the fall of 2016 rushing around to get ourselves and the animals settled before winter.  And then we mostly collapsed.  Most of our friends and family forgave us for the withdrawal, and even came to share a little woodstove-and-chat time.  The door is still open (and will continue to be) for all.

Times of great change happen.  I think the past several years have been times of great change for a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons.  Our extended family has had tragic losses and some (one might even say, sacred) reemergence, healing and transformation.  The farm has helped us heal and grow roots–already–that we never seemed to have developed at the old place.  Maybe it’s the regular wind up here on the hill; we must develop those deep roots to stay upright. A good lesson on so many levels.

In 2017, we spent much time just experiencing the farm through seasonal changes.  There’s so much more to understand about the wildlife and the forest and the farm’s potential, but it was a good start.  I wrote a whole bunch (270 days) of haiku.  We tried a Kickstarter campaign, which was ultimately unfunded but absolutely successful in other ways.  I wrote a three-part series about our fifteen-year journey to the farm for On Pasture.

We hosted the first of our annual Lamb Open House events to meet neighbors, moved sheep every day through the grazing season, picked a ton of blueberries, cooked up barbecue for our adjacent buddies at the Jacob’s Court mobile home park, and held an end-of-season farm workshop & dinner.  And we’re finally back into raising pigs!  All along, 2017 was about testing parts of this new life to see what fits and what doesn’t.

We have many plans for 2018, including events spread from June to October that showcase different aspects of our skill sets and the farm’s offerings.  We are building a pig roasting pit and starting to develop a gathering area around the pond.  The sheep flock is expanding and we’ll be running water pipe around the pastures to increase our capacity to include cattle in the mix.  We’re documenting everything that we can.  We’re still not sure whether 2018 is Yurt Year, but our aim is to really start digging in and sharing the farm in new ways to new people.

Much to do and say and love about the changes afoot.  My recommendation: subscribe to our newsletter to keep up!

Jenn

 

 

 

 

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May 162016
 

The sheep are getting a snack again.  I have a view from my office window and have been working at home a lot this Spring.  This affords me a clear view down to the sheep pen and

As I write this, a neighbor is visiting with treats. Thank you!

As I write this, a neighbor is visiting with treats. Thank you!

coincidentally a front-row seat to who’s visiting today.

There are Martha and Emily, two neighbors with short-legged, big-personality dogs.  There’s Mary who buys carrots on sale and comes in to distribute whole bags at a time.  There are the teenagers who seem to know every lamb by name and watched some births real-time this year. Lindsay and Sarah even picnicked this Spring on round bales with some friends from around the corner; spreading blankets and eating granola bars on top of the plastic-wrapped marshmallows.  Earlier today I watched some visitors put one of my lamb jackets on their dog and take its picture. I had to look twice—I thought a lamb was out of the fence!

Then there are the people walking their dogs who wave but don’t stop.  The multi-generational family from grandparents to baby who stopped to introduce themselves as new in the neighborhood.  One longtime resident brought chairs so that she and her granddaughter could watch the lambs in comfort.  There are the cars that creep by with faces looking out the window and the shy smiles and waves.  Last weekend we hosted a Girl Scout troop.  The Randolph Police cruise the neighborhood multiple times each day and a little part of me thinks they do it to check on the lambs and not just because it’s their regular sweep schedule.

The sheep have always been a sort of ambassador service for us.  I’m an introverted outgoing person (I promise this IS a thing!) and I’m not good at dropping in or going to parties where I don’t know people.  My family is even less outgoing.  What better way to meet people than talk about the sheep?  Their sweetness, their pushiness, the ability to name them after friends and family and fun inside jokes.  The sheep have created novelty and amusement for many, and a social entry point for us.

A fine picnic spot.

A fine picnic spot.

Now we have a farm under contract.  It’s not a done deal, but signs are pointing in the right direction.  This means that we’ll be moving to a new home later this summer, which is very exciting and hopeful, and a little more bittersweet than I expected it to feel.  Originally we thought we’d move in to this little rental and just be here for six or eight months before buying a new place.  Turns out, life had some other plans for us, and that’s OK.  We’ve met some lovely people and they’ve really helped this neighborhood feel like home.  There’s so much to be grateful for here.

Thank you all.  We’re only moving a mile away so even if it’s not convenient to walk the dog by us every day, hopefully you’ll still come visit from time to time.

And bring some carrots.

Jenn

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