Pigs and Twinkies
I am an avid vegetable gardener. I refuse to grow anything I don’t like to eat, though. I put in about 25 tomato plants, 20 pepper plants, a half-dozen assorted squash, a boat-load of green beans, some cucumbers and kale. I have no choice on the kale. Kale is like the castor oil of vegetables. Everybody agrees that it’s good for you, but it sucks. I hate kale. My wife makes me grow it every year, and even she won’t eat it. When the frost comes, everything dies. Except the kale.
I can the peppers, beans and tomatoes, eat a lot of fresh stuff, and give a lot of it away. I don’t fancy myself a professional gardener. What I am is an efficient gardener. I plant what I want (except for the kale), and I eat what I plant. From time to time, I’ll come across would-be professional gardeners who will try to impress me with their horticultural exploits. I listen to see if there’s anything useful in what they say, but when I sense that they’re just talking to hear themselves talk, I bring up the farm. Nothing shuts up a suburban gardener faster than realizing they’re WAY out of their league. So after I hear about the virtues of only planting “legacy” tomatoes, I mention how switching the position of the garden and the pig pen from year to year really seems to help out the tomato crop. I get this blank look, followed by a, “What? You have pigs?”. “Had pigs.”, I tell them, “Had them when I used to farm, and the pig manure was great for the vegetables.” Almost always, that’s the last advice on gardening I’m likely to hear from them.
Of all the animals you can raise, pigs are the best. They eat everything, so there is no waste. Pigs that you raise yourself are excellent to eat. Like most farm endeavors, it’s probably not cost effective to raise pigs unless you have a building full of them. When you have just one or two in a pen, you’d probably be better off to buy whatever pork products were on sale each week at the local grocer and stock your freezer. The difference is that I know what’s in my pig because I’m the one who feeds him. I used to give our pigs the table scraps minus the meat, all vegetable waste from the garden, and some pig feed in the weeks before having them trucked away to marble the meat a bit.
Our first pig was a Spot, pinkish-white, with a big black spot on the side. We named him Corky after a hockey referee that my kids and I didn’t care for. This may sound harsh, but he really was a terrible ref, and frankly, it wasn’t fair to the pig. Corky was a cute little 25 lb piglet when I brought him home. The kids thought it was too cold for him outside so they fixed up a place in the sun porch. That lasted one night when I told them they had to clean up the mess. We put Corky in his pen (downwind from the house) which was made from two-inch pipes driven into the ground and 4-ft high galvanized steel fencing that I buried about 10 inches into the ground. The little guy had the whole 10 ft by 15 ft pen rooted up in one day. From then, the pen was solid dirt with not a bit of anything edible to be found unless we provided it. Corky quickly grew from cute 25 lb piglet to a 300 lb hog at the time of the first frost of fall. He went out in a truck, and came back in boxes full of tasty hams, bacon, chops, ribs, roasts and sausage. To this day, eating store-bought pork leaves something to be desired.
Feeding a growing pig is a challenge, but I found out something important, when you have pigs, you have special rights that non-farming mortals do not have.
The Hostess Discount Store
Everyone knows Hostess as the bakers of fine products like Dingdongs, assorted fruit pies, HoHos and Twinkies. Millions of kids pass millions of box of these treats in grocery stores daily requiring their responsible mothers to deny them nature’s most concentrated form of sugar and fat in favor of stuff they hate like fruit. All of these cake products are stamped with an expiration date. If they don’t sell, about a week before they expire, the man in the Hostess truck picks them up and takes them to the Hostess Discount Store. This a great place to buy things because the price is usually about half what it is the grocery store. And let’s face it, these things are so chock-full of preservatives, that they will never spoil no matter what the date on the box might be. But what becomes of these products once the date is past, you might ask (go ahead, ask)?
I found out through the farmer’s grapevine, that they will give away expired stuff at these stores if you have pigs. So I took a picture of my pigs so I would have proof, and drove my Ford Ranger to the store. When I asked the manager, he seemed quite pleased as this was one pickup load that would not be getting hauled to the dump. He asked me, “Bread or cake?”. At the time I had just one pig, so I could imagine bread starting to mold on the way back home and said, “Cake, please”. He directed me to the loading dock where I found an entire palette of expired Hostess Twinkies in boxes of 12.
I loaded up as much as would fit into my pickup bed, then tied down a tarp to keep them there for two exits I had to drive home on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You could see the boxes peaking out from under the tarp as I waited in line to get a ticket to get on the Turnpike. Beside me in a 1973 Ford Pinto that was held together by hippie bumper stickers was a stoner right out of a Cheech & Chong movie. About 8 car lengths from the toll booth he yelled out, “Dude! Are them twinkies?”. I told him yes and in a somewhat reverent tone he said, “Dude….could I…. have some?”. I told him to take as much as he wanted, and he abandoned his car to get two armloads.
When I got home, I had the kids help me stash the Twinkies in with the rest of the feed. I told them to give the pig a dozen every day, and to make sure to peel off the plastic wrappers. At first they were thrilled as there was nobody monitoring them and they could eat as many as they wanted. After about a week, they lost all interest, and never touched another Hostess cake. I’m guessing that this has probably persisted into adulthood.
The pig loved the Twinkies. We finished the stash right before it was his time to go on the long truck ride. Might be my imagination, but that sure was some sweet-tasting pork. Just don’t serve it with kale.