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I *heart* the John Penny Abattoir

2 Sep

I went to visit an abattoir. Then I went and got a new tyre for my car and then volunteered at the museum. Then I went home and had spleen for tea and watched Clash of the Titans (original) and then went to bed. The important bit was the word ABATTOIR.

Basically, since I’m a massive celebrity now (*pinches salt and hopes that one man coming to work to say he’d heard me on the radio counts*), the lovely Kate at John Penny invited me to come and look at their processes. So lovely are John Penny Meats that they invited me long before my celebrity stardom, when I was just a lonely carnivore searching West Yorkshire for some udder.

So first of all I should say THANK YOU to them for being really kind and showing me all around the site. I should also say – if you have a feeling of trepidation about reading further – don’t because my experience was overwhelming positive.

John Penny is a family-run farm, abattoir and meat wholesaler. Not only do they raise their own animals, but all the animals they do kill spend time on their pasture around in and around the Aire valley. They are dedicated to producing ethically-sourced and expertly processed meat. They are a very open business (hence the invitation) and take pride in the fact that there is a clear transparency in what they do. In my opinion they appear to be setting an amazing benchmark – not just for other meat producers to follow – but we can all learn from their standards of quality and sourcing. They run a campaign to get people to return to shopping at a local butcher. Do, please, devote some time to their website.

I said to my boyfriend the night before “I hope it doesn’t make me vegan” – not because I am against veganism (I am definitely pro) – but because I hoped it would be a positive experience. I pulled into the car park at 7.20 am and crossed my fingers.

The tour of the abattoir took place in reverse. I was shown around by a lovely man called Clive, who was in charge of the abattoir. This means that you’ll see what I saw, which was from the packaged product through to the babes in their mangers.

The first task I had to do was to suit up – cover my hair, my clothes, get some white wellies on and remove all my jewellery. I also had to pass my own ‘health inspection’ to make sure I hadn’t suffered from any recent illnesses. I passed. All would be well.

The first area Clive took me to was the chilled storage area where the packaged meat is kept until it shipped out.

By the time I got there, most had been loaded to lorries and taken away. Open your mind’s eye and imagine just how much meat they could be in there. Lots. More than is in the offal drawer in my freezer. In here, Clive explained how the labelling system they have works: each animal has its personal passport number which is fed into the system when they go into the abattoir. Checked and double-checked, this system not only keeps track of individual animal as they are slaughtered and butchered, but reams of other information as well. This code is transferred to the meat packs, so that a butcher anywhere in the country can then access the information themselves. As we’ll see there are lots of stages, so keeping provenance attached to the animal needs a lot of care.

The next room we saw was where carcasses were being turned into the large joints that get sent to butchers (which then become our steaks and chops). Here the men wore chain-mail and had very sharp knives. The pace of work appeared incredibly fast to me.

The next few rooms were where the half carcasses wait, hanging, until the butchers are ready for them. The scale is monumental. Beef cattle are massive.

What was interesting, was that to continue to ensure that the provenance of each animal is kept, each of these sides has seven labels put on it with the same information, so each section retains the information through to the end processes. Doesn’t the meat look beautiful too?

Another interesting thing is that you can still tell whether they are male (steer) or female (heifer) long after all the reproductive organs are removed. If you look at the one above on the left, there is a bulge of fat next to the hind leg (they are hung up by their hind legs). This fat means it is a heifer. (On a personal note, having been called a fat heifer at primary school, the still-slightly-sensitive-nine-year-old prefers the much less professional term of lady-cow.)

In this picture you can use a bone in the middle of the carcass that looks a bit like an elongated and bent butternut squash. This is the *snigger* willy bone. That’s how you tell the difference. The caracass above is a steer. I’ve deliberately not used the word ‘boner’ at any point. Deliberately.

From these cathedrals of meat we headed along to the production line, where the animals are slaughtered, skinned, disembowelled and health-checked. There’s a lot of action going on. It appeared to me that each person had their role in the process and it was a well-oiled machine. I tried to stay out of the way as much as I could.

This is just part of the line of slaughtermen that do all the things to the animals. The gentleman in the middle is Glen. He was very deft at getting the intestines out of these lambs. He also gave me a lovely smile.

I shouldn’t have been surprised at how well-organised and defined all the roles were, but I was a little. I think that’s because a lot of the information that is popularly received puts the word ‘slaughter’ in a very negative way and depicts abattoirs as chaotic places. To be honest, all the premises were far, far cleaner than my house, people were constantly sweeping, tidying and sharpening knives.

Two vets are at work at the abattoir all the time as well. One inspects the chest organs of every animal, whilst the other ensure the animals are looked after to the highest standards.

Here, the vet is inspecting the organs for disease. John Penny require such high standards in the stock that they buy, that finding any sign of disease in one of their animals is extremely rare. Apparently, the farmers that do sell stock animals to them work very hard to make sure the animals are to a standard that John Penny will accept.

When I tried to take the picture, the vet stepped backwards. Photography has never been my strong point. However I do like the disembodied blue gloves feeling some lights up in a bit of carcass steam. Atmospheric.

Clive was at pains to stress to me that certainly at John Penny, nothing is wasted from the carcasses. Someone buys the hides to make shoes with. The bovine penises are shipped to the Far East. A lot of offal goes to the other side of the Pennines (apparently Lancashire is an offal hotspot). Everything, from every animal goes somewhere.

And then we get to the killing.

I’m not squeamish, so I hoped I wouldn’t be squeamish about this. I wasn’t. The anatomist in me found it fascinating. The carnivore in me wasn’t bothered (I’ve known all my life where meat comes from). The animal-lover (who once owned 16 animals at one time in a bizarre post-heartbreak petting zoo) thought that the respect shown to each animal was really very beautiful.

First I saw some sheep die. A few at a time are led into a pen and then they are stunned individually, hung up by a back leg and then their throat is cut. It’s a very calm process. So concerned was Clive that I might upset and stress the sheep that I had to stand behind a plastic curtain, peering through. (I’m not that alarming surely?) In spite of the fact, other sheep were being stunned in front of them, the others really didn’t seem concerned. (I imagine they were too busy puzzling over the peeping Tom in the corner.) The kill happens so fast that it is seconds between the stun and the throat-cutting and death. I can think of far worse ways to go. (I am not advocating cannibalism.)

The scale of the deaths of the cattle is greater. Cattle are huge. Again, all I saw was respect, a swift death for each animal and an extremely efficient butchering process. The slaughtermen are raised up on platforms to work, because cows are so big. It was amazing to see. Then Clive and I journeyed round to see the living animals.

Stress makes animals unhappy. Pre-death stress makes meat taste sour due to hormone releases. For both of these reasons, great pains have been taken to ensure that the animals are kept as calm as possible before they die. I saw the guys checking ear-tags as gently as they could to minimise upset. It is also the reason that stock animals have months if not years in the Penny fields before being slaughtered, so that they can recover from quite long journeys from the farms they were born on. I also saw the cattle truck John Penny has. It is plush. I wouldn’t mind a ride in it.

I choose to eat meat. I choose not to shy away from where it comes from. To me, it is a case of being honest with myself and thinking about the factors behind what I eat that I find it important. I think sustainability is important and animal welfare. The journey of this year has been about trying to renege my ‘offal debt’ and make up for a lifetime of not eating animals in a holistic manner. If you asked yourself the honest question of ‘do you trust where your meat comes from?’ can you say yes?

I’m not perfect, so my answer would be No. Sometimes I eat sausages from the ‘Spoon at the end of the road. They probably contain more mechanically recovered meat than anything else. I am trying though. What is great to see is that at the other end of the food chain, much greater efforts are being made to look after animals to a high standard and deliver a quality product.

I said to Kate (slightly dazed at the end of a long morning): “That was really beautiful”. It is. From the rhythms of the slaughtermen amongst the machinery to the cows chewing cud in the fields behind, there is a lot to be said for visiting where food you eat is produced and seeing that other people put as much care and respect into it, as you would  like to imagine.

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Rendering your own lard (and my Lardy Oatcakes)

21 May

Really this should have been part of all my nosetotailings, but for reasons of space and time, I didn’t manage to use the lard until it was over. Yes, the suspense is lifted, I did manage to render some of my own lard. Nigella, eat your pancreas out!

The principle behind rendering your own animal fat into usuable storable fat is quite simply. The thing that makes natural fat go off is the cell tissue and membranes, if you melt it enough the fat will spearate from them and you can size them away. However it is a slow process, and I would do a couple of things differently. Also I’m not sure I’d have done it if I hadn’t had a slow cooker. (You must be converted to my slow cooker by now.)

There are two types of rendering of lard: wet and dry. Dry rendering you very gently over a long time heat the fat on its own until the cells and tissue break down which then forms a crusty surface. Wet rendering you again heat it long and slow, but with the addition of water, which stops the fat from burning. As we all know, fat and water don’t mix so well, so you can just pour the water off.

WARNING. I have no idea about weights and measurements as I used the fat I got off the head of Arthur after we’d feasted on him. There will be a lot of ‘some’s. If you google ‘Rendering your own lard’ there are a lot more precise recipes than mine (for example here and here).

So basically:

  1. Chop you fat very small.
  2. Add it to a slow cooker.
  3. Cover this with water (fat floats, make sure it’s all floating).
  4. Put the lid on.
  5. Switch the low and cook for 4 days. (I forgot to tell my boyfriend to turn it off whilst I was away for a night.) Keep it topped up with water.

When you top it up with water, it will bubble in an alarming fashion. Watch this if you don’t believe me:

When you think it’s melted enough, strain it all through a tea towel (or muslin) into a bowl. Let it cool, then tip the water that will have gathered underneath away. You will now have some lard in a bowl. It’s that simple.

What would I do differently next time? Two things. First I would freeze the fat and then use a grater to make the pieces really small, thus cutting the rendering time. Second, I’m not sure I needed to heat it for 4 days. I think that was excessive, so I would monitor that more carefully next time.

So what do you do with the lard that you have rendered? Well, there’s lots of things – you can use instead of butter or oil in anything. It’s meant to make amazing pastry. It’s a mono-saturated fat, apparently, which is the same as avocado oil, so it’s healthier than the term LARD now suggests. As you may have guessed, what I did do was make my own oatcakes with it. One, I bloody love oatcakes. Two, I thought they’d be a good vehicle for ‘tasting the lard’. (I was also quite proud and wanted the send my foodie penpal something lardy, but wasn’t sure if a jar of lard would be a welcome gift in the post.)

So. Lucy’s Oatcakes. Oatcakes a la Lucy. Das Lutzykuchen!

You need:

150ml water, 8oz medium oatmeal, quarter tsp baking powder, quarter tsp salt, 1 generous tbsp of lard (or butter, or oil), 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1 tsp chilli flakes, 1 tsp black mustard seeds.

What you do:

Put the water in a small pan and add the lard to it, heat until lard is melted.

Put the oatmeal and seasonings in a bowl, mix them together.

Add the water/lard mixture and mix it all up til you have a firm ball.

Roll this out with a rolling pin on a floured surface, then cut it into bits, or for little mouth-sized morsels, use a cookie cutter.

Put on a greased baking sheet and bake at Gas Mark 4 for twenty minutes, turning them over half way through.

Cool and feast yourself on the Lutzykuchen!

Magen Sie Lutzykuchen? Moechten Sie Lutzykuchen essen? Lutzykuchen schmecht mir gut!*

This introduces something *almost* not offal to the blog – is that a good idea?

(I lost the photos I took, so stole this one off my lovely foodie penpal. It is much better than any I could have taken.)

*I apologise to anyone German, sincerely. Mein Deutsch ist gefahrlich!

Lincolnshire Haslet – Nose to Tail Fortnight Day 14

16 May

Wow. The last day of nose to tail fortnight and my eating along the animal challenge.

How do I feel? Full of meat. I’ve got a craving for cauliflower.

How far along the animal did I get? All the way, baby!

Here is the full nose to tail body part list: pig head, cow foot, pig lung, cow heart, deer kidney, chicken liver, cow stomach, lamb testicle, pig trotter, cow tail, sausages and caul fat.

Haslet seemed a fitting way to end my nose to tail fortnight. Here is what wikipedia says:

Haslet, also spelt ‘Acelet’, is a porkmeatloaf with herbs originally from Lincolnshire, England. The name is derived from the Old Frenchhastilles meaning entrails[1].

In Lincolnshire, haslet (pronounced hayzleht locally), is a meatloaf typically made from stale white bread, ground pork, sage, salt and black pepper.[2] It is typically served cold with pickles and salad, or as a sandwich filling.[citation needed]

Basically it is offal and off-cuts ground up with sage, salt and pepper; the pressed out of it; wrapped in caul fat; then baked. I haven’t tried to make it myself, mostly because Hargreaves of Spalding make the best ones and I try to alway have one in my Leeds-based freezer. It freezes really well and defrosts gently over-night.

I like to eat the end slices by themselves. As well as eating it cold, you can also fry it up and have it warm. A very versatile pork product indeed. The top should be a darker colour (due to the baking). If you look carefully at the picture above, you can see the pattern of the caul fat on the top. The caul keeps the haslet bound together.

In my sandwich on Sunday, I added fresh sage leaves and a few leaves of Jack-by-the-hedge. That made an excellent sandwich.

Don’t buy the stuff from the supermarket deli counter. It is minging. If you do, I’ll play you this Cyndi Lauper clip very early in the morning, so you faint from over-exposure to Shaggy. That’s real threat.

If you’d like to try a proper one, it can be arranged. You can either find a proper Lincolnshire butcher (if he doesn’t rub his hands together, he’s not the real deal) or send me a message and I can be your dealer.

Another Lincolnshire delicacy to try is Stuffed Chine. Shaggy loves it.*

 

*I imagine he does.

Real Jelly – Nose to Tail Fortnight Day 13

15 May

This post is actually a bit of a swizz. Sorry. I made this a week ago, but I knew I would be away at the weekend (Dilston Physic Garden, since you ask), so scheduled this post to go on today. My real day 13 will involve going to a Herbology Room (yeah that’s right) and learning about herbal medicines, rather than stewing the foot of a cow. Sozbad.

Anyhow, I’d read a recipe for making your own jelly in ‘Odd Bits’ from the great Jennifer McLagan. I had also seen cow feet for sale at the African butcher. 2 + 2 = four jellies, or something. The first thing you need to do is ask your butcher if you can have/they can get you one or two feet of a cow. They come hairless. And are also naturally meatless. The butcher should use their band saw/cleaver to cut them into pieces for you. I just got one foot. Here is my big bag of bones:

It was pretty heavy in all honesty. Need to invest in a granny trolley for Bone Shopping Trips.

So to make jelly from scratch, it’s pretty easy and basically involves stages of boiling and straining. I’d never done this before and was slightly haunted by something I read in a Jacqueline Wilson book where the vegan mother of a step-daughter made her seaweed jelly from scratch when she was ill and proper jelly was what the child wanted, but the step-mother wouldn’t compromise on her values and well the seaweed jelly from scratch wasn’t a hit. I don’t remember the book. Anyway, I didn’t want to be the person making bad jelly from good morals.

IF YOU HAPPEN TO TRY THESE INSTRUCTIONS, PLEASE PAY ATTENTION TO THE INSTRUCTIONS OF KEEPING/DISCARDING THE JUICE. IT CHANGES. I FEEL CAPITALS ARE NECCESSARY.

  1. Put feet in a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil. Strain. Keeping the bones. Discard the juice.
  2. Return to the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for four hours. Strain and RESERVE LIQUID. Leave in bowl to cool.
  3. When cool, skim fat from surface.
  4. Measure your liquid. Put into clean pan.
  5. For every 1 pint of liquid you have – add 3 ounces sugar and 90ml extra liquid (i.e. orange juice for flavour). The extra liquid is not compulsory. Other ways to add flavour include zesting oranges and lemons, adding essences, essential oils, grating fruit in (but not pineapple or kiwi as they don’t set i believe), and so on. I added 90ml orange juice and grated 4 big strawberries in.
  6. Once you’ve added juice and fruit and whatevers, then add the white of one egg and it’s crushed shell. NO YOLK. (Do you see what I did there?)
  7. Bring to the boil, whisking. When boils set aside for ten minutes to settle.
  8. Now strain through a clean tea towel or muslin cloth.
  9. (Optional second* boiling and finer straining will make jelly clearer – just repeat 7 and 8).
  10. Refrigerate until needed.

What I should have done, was DEFINITELY DONE the second fine straining. I didn’t so the jellies were quite cloudy. What none of us anticipated was that the bones give it a slightly milky taste. So the strawberry jelly tasted like strawberry milkshake jelly. It was nice. The other thing I learnt, was that fresh jelly doesn’t keep as long as normal. I took one to work a few days later and it was totally BLEURGH.

Would I make it again? Yes. But for a special occasion and try a more grown up flavour – maybe like hazelnut or almond? Any ideas for jelly flavours? I might try an elderflower or a hawthorn flower … I think a second straining might remove most of that milkiness, so a delicate flavour would work I’m sure. The consistency of the jelly was super velvety.

 

*but not really since you should definitely do it

Lung Soup – Nose to Tail Fortnight Day 12

14 May

Lungs.

Also called lights.

They’re not a commonly heard offal I hear you cry. I don’t think Lucy has even cooked with them. (I have, FYI, in my forthcoming haggis post.) Who would want to eat a lung? There’s probably a reason we don’t eat them.

Well, I’ll have you know that lungs are described by many as tofu-like, or mushroomy. Does that make it sound better?

There are a couple of recipes for lung soup that are around. I’ve read a few online and I’ve read Jennifer McLagan’s in ‘Odd Bits’. If there’s one in the Fith Quarter, then I’ve read that too. So I did all the reading and preparation. Then I freestyled. That’s quite typical. Generally I’m either a recipNazi, or I say “It’ll be fine, we’ll just make it up, food is food” and so on. With the latter there is always a risk. (The blood episode sticks out.)

Why don’t we eat lungs? They are cheap – £1 for a pair – they only come in pairs. I know there are some issues surrounding supply. When I made the haggis I had to telephone EVERY BUTCHER in Leeds to get hold of them. But they were lamb’s lungs. The ones you can get at Leeds market are pig’s. I’ve noticed with the nosetotail malarky that pork offal seems to be the easiest to get hold of. Do you find that true?

Anyway, back to the lungs.

I soaked my lungs in repeated fresh bowls of cold water for about an hour. This gets excess blood to come out. They feel spongy.

Perhaps not the most appetising looking of meats. They look pale because I took this picture after quite a lot of the blood had come out.

My lungs came with windpipe attached. I did a naughty thing and threw it away. Mostly because I was very tired and simmering a windpipe for small amount of stock didn’t appeal. Bad offaltarian.I then decided I was only going to use one lung today, so put the other in the freezer.

Then I got involved with my hands. There’s a membrane surrounding the lungs that is easy to peel off with your fingers. I’m not sure if you have to do that or not, but it was hampering my chopping, so I took it away.

If you’ve done GCSE Biology, you’ll know that lungs are full of tubes. Branchioles? Some of these are soft enough to eat, but if they look a bit bit or a bit tough, chop round them. Bearing in mind that the biggest ones are where the windpipe joins the lungs, I started my morsel chopping from the bottom of the lung. I found scissors easier to use than a knife.

So snip, snip, snip. I was quite tired when I was doing this, so I forgot to take any photos. SOZBAD. If you’re interested, get in touch and I talk you through my lung scissoring technique. You end up with a pile of tubes (for the bin, or stockpot, or hound) and a pile of lung tissue.

Then I sliced 1 leek and chopped 1 onion and fried them together gently in a pan. I added 2 tsp paprika, 1 tsp dried parsley, 1 tsp oregano, quarter tsp suma spice, quarter teaspoon ground cinnamon. Stir it all around. Then add the lung bits. They cook really fast.

You can see the darker bits are the lung morsels, a couple are still a bit pink, so you can see how they change.

Then add 1 can chopped tomatoes and an equal amount of pork stock. I, of course, used my head stock. You could use any. Even chicken. Or vegetable. The simmer for about twenty minutes. The soup is quite a chunky one. Don’t blitz it.

And there you have it. An unusual soup.

What I realised whilst I was eating it, was that lung is totally in my all time favourite soup – Baxters’ Royal Game. If you’ve not had it. Do. it’s amazing. All through my life it’s been my poorly soup and it is DELICIOUS.

There’s even a stag on the front. So it must be amazing. That’s if you follow the wine rule, where the bottle with the cutest animal on is definitely the most delicious.

Sausages – Nose to Tail Fortnight Day 11

11 May

The end of the week is always super busy. On Thursday I played netball until ten o clock. When I got home I realised I’d not had any dinner. What to eat?

Sausages!

Well one sausage. The lonesome sausage. In the freezer. Shivering for some love. I ate him with a fried egg.

Sausages were originally designed to use up all the offally parts. I’m pretty sure a lot still do, so that’s why I’m eating them. The posher ones I buy, I’m sure have never seen an organ, but it’s a difficult question to ask.

One day I will make my own sausages.

Then I will rule the world.

Using up the Head – Nose to Tail Fortnight Day 10

10 May

So, today is using up the head day. Both Daz and I surveyed Arthur with some trepidation this morning. We loved you, but not neccessarily your constituent parts. What to do? A few years ago I would have binned him. Not so now. But hwat can you make out of a scavenged pig head? Well stock obviously, but what of all that fat?

So I made a decision. Yes Arthur’s head is going to become stock, but first I am going to fish out any meat and all that fat. The meat can go in my cheese toastie. Yum. The fat I shall render down and make LARD. Yes ladies and gentlemen. Lard will be on the menu very soon (but not today because I had to go to work).

Here Arthur is stocking away merrily.

You can see his palate has come away from the roof of his mouth now! The stock does look amazing. I’m going to make delicious things with it.

And here is my dinner bowl of tomato soup. Plus dripping on toast! Oh yes. How Yorkshire have I become with my mucky fat dinner butty? Still a bit southern – it’s toasted, like what that Jamie Oliver would do to a chee-ar-batter!