Susie’s coming home. This isn’t a bunting moment for anyone except my husband. The size of our kitchen table, with a voracious appetite and an underslung jaw, Susie is, even by Middle White standards, no beauty, with a temperament to match.She’s been boarding with neighbours, to whom we sold her daughter. Pigs get lonely, plus we needed to give her field a rest. Our neighbours behaved impeccably.
If they were surprised by her girth, they made no comment. That she showed naked aggression towards her daughter was considered ‘new girl’ behaviour. That she bullied their charming Berkshire, Madame White Boots, was put down to teething problems. That she alone could then reach the trough was something they could solve. But, after three months, Susie has been expelled because she really is a pig.
My father believed pork gave him gout. He also believed cats were emissaries of the Devil. As a result, I’ve always been terrified of cats and, until a few years ago, had never eaten pig. My daughter Olive persuaded me to have a kitten last year, and I must say that, in a household of largely unsuccessful pets, Percy’s bucking the trend. Pigkeeping, or rather eating, has been a bumpier ride.
In the early years, we dreamt of salami, dry-cured ham, sausages, bacon, black pudding-even candles from rendered fat were once mentioned. We bought a sausage machine on eBay and packets of saltpetre pills, which we emptied, one by one, onto a chopping board. It looked like an episode of The Wire. It was winter, so we were freezing (you have to process this quantity of meat outside unless you want to redecorate) and sloe vodka seemed appropriate as day turned into grease-swamped evening.
We tried different casings and different mixes, becoming more and more experimental as the vodka slipped down. Apricots, sage, juniper, walnuts-I think blue cheese at one stage-all were added. At the close of day, we stood back to admire a towel rail full of swinging salamis.
Unfortunately, we’d made two rookie errors. First, we invited people we’d only just met to help with this fun weekend activity. We’ve never seen them again. Second, unbelievably, we actually gave these products to friends as presents. Keep them a few weeks, somewhere cool-homemade salami, how delicious. We hadn’t tried them, but, when we did, it’s impossible to overstate how disgusting they were: mildly rancid meat, cased in tubes too tough to cut, with lumps of fat the size of marbles. The sausages weren’t much better. Thankfully, black pudding was a non-starter, as keeping the blood is tricky unless the pig is butchered at home. When my husband, Zam, suggested this, I didn’t answer.
We’ve had two litters from Susie. From the last one, we kept a boy and a girl, but then worried that she’d get pregnant again-by her son. Three men spent a morning trying to move her with a bucket over her head so that she would walk backwards, but, by lunchtime, they had admitted defeat.
I asked one of them, an experi-enced Dorset pig breeder, why she hadn’t got pregnant. ‘Her son must be a jaffa,’ he said. I looked puzzled. ‘Seedless,’ he explained. All three men looked as if they felt the same way, completely emasculated by the stubborn brute.
We’ve handed the sausage- and bacon-making over to the butcher, who dreads our call. Zam still salts the hams, which can be delicious, or rotten-you can’t tell for six months. There are two hanging outside the front door now, where they unnerve the postman-we always let the pigs get too big. But not as big as Susie. Zam spends hours chatting to her, scratching her ears, enjoying what is apparently a ‘wry’ sense of humour, but I sling the pig nuts over the fence and run, in case she takes a fancy to my ankles. Too old to eat, too young to die, she is coming home and, actually,
I’m strangely pleased. But the neighbours just called-they can’t get her in the trailer.
* Follow Country Life magazine on Twitter