Spring Things

Spring means many things at the Rector household in Monroe, Maine: a drizzly day that turns into a couple of inches of wet squeaky snow that piles perfectly on every surface before the sun comes out, seedlings in the window (truly a garden in a box), but best of all a ripe prosciutto.

This morning we woke up to this perfect winter scene of about three inches of fluffy but wet and scrunchy snow on top of everything making this perfect little scene around our house. The deciduous trees looked like the hand-knotted lace curtains hung in every window on the island of Ouessant — each one an original design. The conifers seemed more like 3-D Rorschach tests with deep dark splotches woven through bright white spaces. But by 10:00am the sun started to come out, the temp edged just over freezing, and all the beautifully balanced snow started dropping off. By 11:00am the trees were bare of snow, and I expect the mix of crusty banks and mud to be visible again by the end of the day. Knowing that this was such a temporal scene, I snapped a few pictures to share: the top scene looks south toward the moraine hills the lead to the mouth of the Passagassawakeag River and Penobscot Bay. Other pictures show our rose hill and weeping crab apple in front of our woodlot; also, a few of the red maples that line our driveway.

A few weeks ago (March 16th to be exact), our gardening season began by mixing potting soil with some warm water, smooshing it into a seed-cell tray, then poking more than 250 seeds into it. We’re starting all of our garden stuff that will be transplanted into the garden, rather than direct seeded: onions, leeks, shallots, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes (10 varieties!), celery, parsley, and thyme. By yesterday most everything was up and maturing except for the red onion variety that we used two year old seed for. When they get their second set of true leaves, we’ll transplant them to newspaper pots (about two inches wide by two inches tall that we make out of newspaper strips using a special wooden mold) for a few more weeks until they’re ready to be put in the ground (depending on the weather and whether they go in the hoophouse or the outdoor garden, that will be sometime between May 1 and June 1).

More significantly, last night I brushed the fuzz off the pig leg I dry-salted in November 2005 (at my Pork Processing workshop), finished salting it through that winter, then hung it in our masonry heater through last summer to ferment. When we fired up the heater for this winter, we moved the nicely fuzzy pig leg into our front room that stays around refrigerator temp through the winter to slow-down the summer fermentation and let it dry out a little more. All of this according to Paul Bertolli’s amazing and a food geek’s dream cookbook “Cooking By Hand.” The salted pig leg was almost forgotten, but yesterday Alison asked if it was time to taste the pig leg. I said, why not?

The fact that I’m writing you this means that we managed not to poison ourselves with thin slivers of the raw (only salted, never “cooked”) but very tasty meat. It had the familiar sour-saltiness of a traditional prosciutto — the pleasant sour flavor comes from the brine-tolerant bacteria that “ferment” the meat during the warmer summer period in our masonry heater (which should have kept it at a constant 60°F for at least three months). This same fermentation is what gives salami and other hard dry-cured sausages their distinctive flavors, although they can achieve it much quicker (a month or so) because they’re smaller and take less time to salt and dry to the proper point where the bacteria begin their growth. In addition there was a nice nutty flavor, tailing into artichoke and then other herbal niceties. The pig I “collected” this leg from was largely pastured as it grew up, and then it spent it’s last month rooting through a field of beets that were specifically planted to finish off the pigs.


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