The Pig was Committed. By
Gives us ham and pork and Bacon.
Let others think his heart is big,
I think it stupid of the Pig.
We think Nash is wrong. Perhaps bad for the pig. The old adage for breakfast, after all, says that when it comes to our morning repast, ham & eggs, the chicken certainly did its part to contribute, but the pig was committed. But where would we be without it?
One of our favorite staples here at The Urban Farmhouse is the Virginia Ham Cubano. Lightly pressed, with sharp American mustard, tangy pickles, Swiss cheese, and Edwards Farms Virginia Ham. Edwards Farms has a great reputation with hams, and the history of the pig is a juicy one here in our Commonwealth.
Sus scrofa domestica, or the common pig, has been around for about 2 billion years. We first got our taste for bacon when folks in New Guinea started chasing down wild boars around 15,000 years ago and bringing them home. Our common domestic pig started squealing around 7,000 years ago in Europe.
When Europeans first arrived they were amazed at the taste of the fish and game that had been smoked by the Native Americans that already lived here. The standard method in the homeland was to cure meats out in the sun. Yum. Our hosts here in the New World used local salts, oak, and hickory. The settlers arriving here around 1600 saw a good thing, let their pigs roam the forest for chestnuts, acorns, and other tasty morsels, and then got smoking lessons from the tribes in the area. One of the barrier islands on the shore is “Hog Island”. Ever wonder about that? Pigs like to root around, and some argue that they are smarter than dogs. Don’t tell the dogs. Well, you wouldn’t leave your dog alone for months at a time, so the settlers kept all of their bacon buddies on an island.
S. Wallace Edwards grew up in a neighborhood of family farms in Surry County, not real far from where the settlers learned how to smoke meats in Jamestown. The meats that young S. Wallace enjoyed were delicious and tender, and when he became captain of the Jamestown Ferry, he started to serve ham sandwiches to the passengers. People were soon enough visiting the ferry just to get the sandwiches, so Captain Edwards quit his seafaring ways and started smoking meats full time in 1926. The gang at the smokehouse these days is the third generation of Edwards to get their pork loin on.
The pigs that our buddies at Edwards use are “six-spotted Berkshires”. They are mostly black, with white legs, snouts, and tails, and while they aren’t huge “Uber-Hogs”, they are prized for the smooth, buttery taste of the meat. Edwards works with a number of family farms throughout the Midwest, and his suppliers meet his criteria of outdoor grazing, no growth hormones, no animal by-product as feed, and no antibiotics. Pigs are naturally prone to infections like pneumonia, but if you raise them right, they stay pretty healthy. They are also Certified Humane, which means that the animals are treated in a certain way from birth through slaughter. They have good foods, ample space, and are allowed to engage in natural activities, like wallow in mud and root for fun stuff to eat. If you think that it’s all work and no play for a farm animal, watch these cows. That’s hard to do if you’re in a feeding pen with a concrete floor. These farmers are also deeply committed to continuing the Berkshire breed, and they put a lot of time and energy into creating healthy herds (Flocks? What do you call a group of pigs? A Rasher?).
When the hams get to Edwards, they hand-rub them with salt, and then smoke them with real hickory. None of that injection-liquid-smoke-nonsense for our Surry friends. And true to the 400-year old roots of the craft, they hang them and let them age for just over a year. What these guys are doing is truly a craft, and they keep production at a pretty modest level, so we’re lucky to use their ham on our Cubano.
We hope that you enjoy a good ham. Maybe bacon is your thing? Some friends of ours make their own bacon ice cream. Before you spit out your coffee, think about it: a little creamy, a little salty, a little sweet. Not really that far removed from peanut butter or chocolate.
Regardless of your personal taste, today is all about the pig: We admire his commitment.