March has been a strong month for cook books - I've got three crackers including 'Pigs & Pork', which I had been anticipating with some enthusiasm for a while. I'm a huge fan of the River Cottage handbooks, I like everything about them from design to content. Some have been more useful to me than others ('Bread' and 'Preserves' are particularly well used) living, as I do, in a Leicester City centre flat (with occasional access to a garden in which I've planted fruit trees - inspired by Mark Diacono's 'Fruit') but my windowsills abound with herbs, there are far more foraging opportunities in town than you might expect, I still have plans to cure some bacon, and there is always something useful to be found in these books.
'Pigs & Pork' is no exception. I will not be raising my own pig in the foreseeable future, mostly because of the city centre flat thing (obviously). We did do it once when I was a child; I remember it being a particularly mean spirited animal, but even so I had resolved not to eat any part of it - a resolve that lasted just as long as it took the first slices of bacon to start cooking. What I can do though is source good quality pork from local butchers and farmers markets (where it also comes in manageable portions for one person to deal with).
With that in mind the advice on getting started and pig rearing are of limited use to the non pig owner - though I always find those kind of details interesting. If you like to know about what you're eating the section on choosing a breed is useful even if it's just the pork you're buying and not the actual live pig and the same goes for the how to butcher section as it's quite possible to buy a whole carcass and deal with it accordingly (though again, not necessarily practical in a small flat). Circumstances permitting that's something I'd really like to do some time with a couple of likeminded friends.
There is also an excellent section on slaughter. This is important. A trip to the slaughterhouse isn't a fun day out, as Meller makes clear there will likely be an emotional response. One of the many things I like about this series is that the books don't avoid this aspect of small holding. The reasonably graphic pictures make the link between animal and food clear. Something that a pre packed portion of meat does not, but it's a thing we should all be clear about. Good welfare standards matter and are worth paying for in the end product.
And then it's on to the recipes which account for about half the book. The philosophy here, as you would expect, is nose to tail eating so there are recipes for ears, brains, and tail. Blood puddings, chocolate and pigs blood truffles (I'd like to try them, not sure I want to make them), every bit of offal, tongue, cheek, trotter, and then the more familiar cuts. I particularly like the look of a savoury 'chelsea bun' filled with ham, hazelnuts, and spinach (I have a new oven on the way, they could be its inaugural bake). Basically whatever bit of a pig comes your way there will be a helpful suggestion for what to do with it in here, no waste, and no nonsense. For those of us not faced with a whole pig, or any of its less obviously delicious parts the instructions for roasting, sticky ribs, pork bellies, Christmas hams and the like are more than enough to be going on with. A worthy addition to an excellent series.