Today we celebrate the apple, that sweet, tart and firm-fleshed fruit of autumn. Fragrant like its cousin the rose, the apple blushes but isn’t a pushover.
But alas, all I can think about these days is the rabbit in plum sauce I recently made. The interaction of fruit and flesh fosters a mutual unlocking of flavor, as the acid and fat impregnate everything, and everything gets soft and falls apart together.
“That’s it,” I realized. “I’ll make rabbit in apple sauce!”
“No,” I flip-flopped. “That’s not quite right. Maybe lamb chops and applesauce? No.”
I called Bosco, a Bitterroot farmer who specializes in pigs and apples. He told me to come over.
When I got there, Bosco was carrying a fried pork chop across his kitchen skewered on a knife. The chop had marinated in a mixture of chopped red onion, chopped garlic, salt, Worchestershire sauce, home-made tarragon cider vinegar and Bosco’s signature product: cider syrup.
I’m quite familiar with cider syrup. It’s got the crisp and bright flavor of apple cider, thickened and condensed and sweetened into a dense, glorious ray of autumn sunshine. Cider syrup is a load-bearing component of my perfect pickled peppers. And lately I’ve been adding cider syrup to plum chutney. And then there are pancakes, smoothies and, of course, marinades and sauces for meat.
Upon the pork chops we spooned apricot sauce spiced with freshly dug horseradish and a barbecue sauce built on a base of tomato and cider syrup. It was pure ooo la la. Bosco wrote the sauce recipes for me on the back of a pig-butchering diagram. While I don’t have space here to give the recipes, shoot me an e-mail if you want them.
Although pleasantly sated for the moment, I didn’t lose sight of my pork chops and apple sauce. We strolled into his orchard to collect some bright red Macintosh apples, which dangled like rubies from the trees.
The branches were filled with free-range heirloom turkeys, hunching like vultures. Turkeys also prowled the ground. While many Montana farmers suffered a plague of grasshoppers this summer, Bosco saw few, thanks to his birds. And unlike high-maintenance modern turkey varieties, these old varieties can live without life support. “The modern turkeys are called ‘broad breasted,’” Bosco explains. “Their chests are so big they can’t even get close enough to mate, so it’s all done by artificial insemination. It’s been so long those turkeys don’t even remember how to mate.”
Chef Boy Ari can relate. And I can’t help but compare the turkeys’ condition to our society’s fixation with large human breasts. I can’t help but wonder where it all will lead.
In an enclosed section of the orchard, Bosco’s pigs have made themselves at home. Pigs are natural diggers, used by homesteaders in the old days to clear land. Beneath the apple trees it looks like a plow has been through. The pigs root and eat the knapweed and quack grass, aerating the soil and leaving manure as they go. Bosco sows pasture grass behind them.
Bosco hopped the high-voltage fence and mingled with the swine, a man and his pigs. They followed him around affectionately as he scratched ears and tossed apples. I related a story about a commercial pig farmer falling into his pig pen and never coming out. “Put you ass-to-nose with 600 pigs on a concrete floor and watch how your disposition changes,” said Bosco. “See whose ass you want to kick.”
“Those industrial pigs grow to 250 lbs in six months on a diet full of hormones and antibiotics. They have no muscle tone, lots of fat. I look at commercial bacon and I can’t believe it. It’s all fat. People pay $3 or $4 a pound for fat. You don’t want to eat fat…”
I cleared my throat and straightened my stance.
“Well, maybe you do, Chef Boy Ari, but most normal people don’t. My pigs are lean.”
Besides weeds and apples, Bosco’s pigs eat spent barley from Bitterroot Brewery and organic whey from Lifeline Dairy. He sells them by the half-pig, cut and wrapped, including breakfast sausage. Lard is optional. Call 363-6139 for pork or apple products.
I took home some pork chops and apples and adapted my aforementioned rabbit/plum dish.
Cut the pork chops into chunks, leaving some meat on the bone. Season the chunks with salt and pepper and dredge them in breadcrumbs. Fry slowly in butter in a cast-iron skillet.
Use at least three apples per chop. I have a spinning peeler/corer thingie that turns an apple into a naked Slinky. Bosco uses a push-down corer that makes several slices. You can also use a knife, peeling the skin if you like.
Put cut apples in the hot pan. Mix together on low-medium heat, adding eight whole cloves of garlic and one cup of chicken stock. Put a lid on the skillet and bake for an hour at 375. If it starts to dry, add water. Some potatoes added to the pan before baking will absorb the flavor beautifully.
Pig yourself out!