Eating Happy- Kate's first pig
For two Hawaii-raised 22 year-old- haole kids who had never seen a daffodil growing out of the ground or eaten an oyster, let alone keep chickens or kill pigs, ten acres of mostly cedar-wooded land, a long narrow rectangle off Cross Road, a sunny meadow—for when the sun chose to shine in the “banana belt,” and our own tangle of sweet blackberry bushes seemed like the new paradise. It was the time of Mother Earth magazine and “back to the land.” Woody and I had married wearing maile leis then moved from one island to another… to have some room to grow we said. We started a puppet theater called “The Puppet Farm” and in between commuting to Western Washington University’s Fairhaven-Hippie College by ferry boat, we traveled the Northwest performing at schools and fairs living on NEA grants and the GI Bill. It was a brave new world!
Landing on Lopez Island meant inventing rather than finding work. I worked as a waitress at the MacKay Harbor Inn, cleaned the medical clinic on the maid’s nights off, became a housekeeper for an elderly island-born couple on Spencer Spit and began a bakery at the old Richardson’s General Store at the south end of the Island—between making, booking and performing puppet shows We lived in an old Army pup tent as we hammered and nailed a small cabin out of doug fir timber we reused from an old island farmhouse. I had a cook tent under the cedar trees; my pantry was stocked with Bisquick, Cream of Wheat and homemade blackberry jam that never did set up. We had read Euell Gibbons’ books and our new neighbors proved helpful if more than a little amused at our naivety. Sometimes a bushel basket of little Norwegian yellow potatoes showed up on the back of someone’s pickup truck, other days- we were called to help pull some storm-wrecked logs off the beach. After the logs were piled up we learned how to dig for clams and outwit the horse-neck or ‘gooey-duck’ clams- one or two was enough to make a pot of chowder using those yellow finger sized potatoes and our neighbor’s fresh milk from across the road.
The time to test our mother earth mettle came when our best friends took the leap from chickens to pigs. If we helped with the chores, they said, we’d get two for a better price and we could each have a whole hog. What’s not to love about teriyaki pork chops and pineapple ono-ono spam pizzas? Remember we were Hawaii-kine children.
Happy and Shi-shi (our island slang for pee, which she did every time we approached her) grew fat and happy. Some pigs… The Summer Folk came and went as we worked for tips and winter savings. The homegrown pork, (my restaurant job was a bonus here) was going to tide us over while studying for exams; an old chest freezer was found and dragged back from Anacortes; a post and beam shed was designed to accommodate it . One day soon the big friendly half-pets would become meat. An generous old farmer, who had already held our hand through dozens of firsts, volunteered for the slaughter. I decided to work out in the garden and jump in after the kill when my knife skills were needed and the butchering started.
It was not easy. The Seattle city folks brought their kids by to witness the deed “Oh how quaint,” Mrs. Junior League proclaimed as the shotgun was aimed at Happy’s skull. I dug more carrots; weeded more cabbages. The shot rang across the Alder forests and I cringed as the proverbial squealing began.... and continued for what seemed like forever. The pig had raised her head at the last minute and was just wounded in the snout, mortally so, but still very much alive. The “men folk” jumped in the pen and had to wrestle her down as Farmer Joe produced a knife and finished the job as quickly as the thrashing pig allowed. I kept weeding, my head down in the dirt.
Traumatized by that shot and squeal, I don’t remember much else until that evening when we set around the outside fire, the carcass hanging in the shed. The so fresh pork liver went over the coals. I roasted potatoes in foil and chopped some walla walla onions to sauté in sherry. Nervous. I had never eaten pork liver before let alone fresh, really fresh, pork liver. The first taste was magic. Everything changed in a bite. It was porklusciously delicious.
Any reluctance I had was now replaced with eager anticipation to tomorrow’s butchering chore. I would take the knife and using a pamphlet book from the Farm Administration with a pen and ink carcass diagram muddle my way through cutting up a whole pig. I would cut chops and roasts and ribs for two days. Somehow it got hacksawed up, wrapped in freezer paper and stored in the big rusty chest along side a whole salmon and a ling cod traded by a fisherman for a dozen of my famous cinnamon rolls. Life was good.
We finished the cabin by the middle of winter, moved in with a wood stove for heat and eat, and ate Happy chops and Shi-Shi teriyaki burgers until the next summer came around. It was the first and last pig of the Lopez Island days. Soon we would leave for bright lights, city lights and move the theatre studio to Seattle leaving our compost pile untended.
Looking from this far Gascon place, a dozen pigs or more down the road, I now know that I learned then what would become foundation for another life and another career in another country. Keep close to the source; eat what's at hand; pay attention. I still depend on my experienced French neighbors to teach me the ropes; I still am extraordinarily curious of how it all works, from the beginning. My work/travel schedule still discourages me from raising my own four-legged larder, but I buy in at the Ferme Bellevue when there is an extra pig or too many chickens. I help with scraping the bristles off, filling the casing with fresh blood for boudin, boning the hocks and making the paté. Rows of saucissons and coppa hang from rafters with little tags that say “Kate de Camont.” A ham is weighted under the salt, curing until mid summer when I will share it with students and friends when they come to 'Camp France.’ Jars are filled with roti de porc and liver & potato pâté that I store in “The Piggery”- the laundry room/pantry outbuilding here at the French Kitchen at Camont, Ste.Colombe-en-Bruilhois, Lot-et-Garonne, Aquitaine, France--some 8800 nautical miles away, island to bistro-galley. What a Long and twisted Village it has become.
thanks to the www.LopezIslandPharmacy.com for the memories!