April 2 – 14, 2015 (and beyond)
After the death of the ewe, the clan went to work quickly to quarter and butcher her. This was an all-hands-on-deck activity, one that helped us get to know each other pretty quickly. I’m allergic to lanolin, so I mostly focused on butchering the deer meat into ground, stew, and jerky for pemmican.
Even though we were all working hard, processing the sheep took a few days, since there are so many steps to the different products that we wanted to make. The ewe offered us sustenance in so many ways, through her blood, organs, meat, fat, bones, and hide.
During the slaughter, we collected over five quarts of blood. Harmony, who recently slaughtered 10 sheep with her sweetheart, said that she’d never seen so much blood come out of a single sheep before.
Before we’d gutted her, we thought maybe she was pregnant, since mammals’ blood doubles during pregnancy. But she wasn’t. Maybe she had so much blood because her heart continued to beat after the knifing, or maybe she just gave herself freely in the end.
A lot of the blood went into making blood sausage on Friday (a.k.a. black pudding in the UK). I had the misconception that this would be disgusting, but it wasn’t at all. Harmony spiced the blood with onions, cinnamon, and a bunch of wonderful aromatics. She and Kevin packed it into an intestine and boiled it. It made a great dinner, and an even better breakfast the next morning. Also, a delicious addition to the haggis I made with Peter.
We also drank some of the blood ceremonially on Saturday, when we went to a pig roast at Alex, Apona, and Shiloh’s place (more on this later, too).
The blood clots that showed up by Sunday were definitely not my thing. It was like swishing around an iron-rich loogie, very hard to chew and not as easy to swallow as an oyster. I couldn’t do it. That was the only blood wasted on me, though.
Fun fact: You can use blood in anything the same way that you use eggs. There was some talk about making “blooderdoodles,” or snickerdoodles with blood instead of eggs, but we usd all the blood before that happened.
Next time, though.
We ate all of what was edible within the sheep’s gut pile. The first thing we looked for as we picked through and disconnected things was the adrenal gland. Bartle said that one adrenal gland contained enough vitamin C to keep a whole tribe from scurvy. It’s smaller than a pea. She cut it up into 10 pieces, one for each of us. It was soft and tart, just a little bitter. Not bad at all. And it probably kept me from getting sick despite all those nights with lows in the high 20s (below 0 Celsius).
I didn’t try the raw bile duct, though. Even Harmony, who lives on a mostly raw meat/organ diet, made a face when she ate some.
Like other ruminants, sheep have four stomachs. Katie used the biggest stomach (the rumen) to cook some kind of stomach bread, which wasn’t a bread at all, but was delicious. The honeycomb stomach got scraped for bark tanning. Peter cleaned and soaked the fourth stomach (the bung) for the haggis, which would also contain the lungs, liver, kidneys, and fat, according to a traditional Scottish recipe. I forgot what the other stomach looked like, but I’m pretty sure it got stuffed for sausage like a good bit of the intestines.
For a vegetarian animal, sheep stomach and intestines are pretty stinky business.
All the other organs got ground and put into various foods over the next week.
Fun fact: The fat around the pericardium is different than the rest of the fat in an animal’s body, and it contains some medicinal value. Bartle ate it.
Immediately after the slaughter, Kevin and N skinned and quartered her. It was late in the day when that was finished, and those two were on dinner duty, so the plan was to complete the butchering the next morning. We did end up eating an amazing garlicky sheep stew that night.
The next morning, we started the butchering process—cutting up lots of fat for rendering; chopping meat for canning, stew, and grinding; and cutting off some great cuts for crock pot roasts.
Then Katie broke out the saws-all to break up the sheep’s rib cage so we could have ribs for lunch.
The ribs were delicious! They were dripping in fat. Jerry also grabbed some ground sheep and whipped up some burgers. We were all so food-drunk after eating, our eyeballs were floating in fat. Whoever thought “roughing it” could mean such good eats?
After all of the sheep was ground, I took a bunch of and made an apple-sage (and other herb) sausage for Peter and I to cook on our next night’s duty. Harmony ate some raw and said it was delicious. Even though I knew exactly where that sheep had come from, and that she was healthy and her meat fresh, I couldn’t bring myself to eat her raw. I’m not sure why drinking the blood was ok, but I had such an aversion to the raw meat.
The next day, the meat that we didn’t grind or chill got spiced and canned. Each of us will return home with a quart jar of meat. Mine has a combo of sheep and deer, spiced with sage. I’m looking forward to eating it soon.
Until our final night of class, we’d eat many servings of the sheep’s meat prepared in a variety of ways based on the cooks’ tastes. I’m not exaggerating when I say tha everything we ate was amazing.
Fat, Fat, and More Fat
The ewe was definitely worth her weight in fat.
I’m allergic to lanolin, so I quickly had to abandon cutting up the fat during the butchering process. However, I did get to render her fat (more on this later).
The best part about rendering fat: cracklins!!!
The rendered fat was canned, and we will each carry home a quart jar. Several jars were used in cooking throughout the weeks, and some was made into salve.
There was still some fat on the hide when I started working it, so Kobi the dog got some yummy nibbles along with the rest of us.
I’m not sure if it counts as fat or an organ, but I tried boiling down the udder. My dream was that I’d be able to make titty candles, but it just solidified and got stinky. I threw it in the meat garden and then it disappeared. My suspicion is that the neighbor’s annoying dog weaseled his way in there and stole it.
Fun fact: When grinding meat, grind some fat afterward. It pushes all the meat through the grinder and makes it easier to clean.
The bones went primarily into the bone broth, which is not only delicious but also very nutritious. It especially helps improve immune function.
We had a lot of bone broth, and I’m crediting that and the daily servings of wild greens for quickly healing all the cuts and bruises I got while working on stuff. Things like skinning my finger, giving myself a 2nd degree burn, picking 100 splinters out of my arms and hands with my pocket knife, stabbing my thumb, getting sunburned, dealing with lanolin-induced hives, and slicing myself with a razor.
A few of the bones got cleaned for making other projects. (Katie: I accidentally left the ones I dried out in the shed!)
Kobi, of course, got some bones to munch on, too. He’s one lucky dog.
The agreement had been that the hide should belong to someone else in the clan, since I’d done the knifing. After several days, I asked around to see if anyone wanted to tan the sheep hide. No one did, and I didn’t want her to go to waste, so the Wilderbabe and I officially put me on hide time. It turned out beautifully (more on this later).
Some Final Thoughts…
Throughout all of this processing, I often called to mind the moments between my knife entering her neck and her eyes transitioning from this world to whatever comes after.
Coming face to face with the animal that sustains you and keeps you warm is an experience that makes you more thankful for your food than any meat you buy wrapped in plastic on a styrofoam platter ever could.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to make the transition back to store-bought meats, because it’s too disconnected from the reality that an animal has to die to make your dinner. And because so many of those prepackaged meats are not a single animal, but several mixed all together, with disregard for the inegrity of any of the individual animals. There is really no way to honor the sacrifice of faceless food.
I’ll always remember the taste of the ewe’s blood, organs, ribs, sheep stew, cracklins, and the breakfasts of eggs and greens fried in her fat. I’ll think of her every time I look at or sit on her hide.
And I’ll eternally be grateful for the gifts that she gave us beyond sustenance and warmth. She gave a group of ten strangers a spiritual experience and helped us build a clan that will last a lifetime.