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SAVAGE: Hogs and kisses: buying a pig and being disgruntled

• Mar 13, 2018 at 4:00 PM

It was a pig. Four legs, a curly tail and a thing up front that oinks. As we walked among the livestock pens at the Mason County Fair, it looked like all the others.

But this 252-pound red Duroc was unlike all other pigs. This sow had been carefully raised by my husband’s granddaughter, Melissa, and he had promised to buy it at auction.

When we moved from California to Michigan, there were adjustments to be made, and we were eager to become Michiganders. We bought a snow blower and some kayaks, learned to grow hydrangeas and hostas, picked blueberries, and mastered the Michigan left turn.

No one mentioned the pigs.

For the initiated, there are two parts to a swine auction: showmanship and the auction itself.

Showing pigs is not for the faint of heart. A 10-year-old girl giving the business to a swine three times her weight has got to have some serious moxie, and Melissa is all that and more. Using a cane or crop, the child gently maneuvers the pig around the ring, showing off not only its coat and musculature, but demonstrating her or his ability to handle the pig effectively.

The auction is a critical part of the process, as all proceeds go back to the child to recover the substantial costs of raising the pig and give her or him a start on the costs for next year’s pig. A child with two pigs auctions them both at the same time, with both bidders paying the same final price.

As Melissa’s pigs were being auctioned, we inadvertently found ourselves in a bidding war with the local car dealer. Melissa stood beaming as the price per pound soared upward. It took us several minutes (and several hundred dollars) to realize what was going on. Finally, my husband leaned forward and said to the man, “That’s my granddaughter. She has two pigs. How about we just each take one and end this while we both have money left in the bank?”

So far, we’re at $1,134 for this porker, which works out to $4.50 per pound before processing. As it turns out, you don’t have to cart the poor thing home in your trunk. The butcher is conveniently located right next to the showing ring.

The choices for butchering are endless. Sausage your thing? Link or bulk? What kind of spicing? (as if we ever thought about that before.) Whole hams or ham steaks? Smoked or fresh? How do you like your pork belly sliced?

When I promised my husband “through thick and thin,” I never thought we were talking about bacon.

We’re not huge ham lovers, so the friendly butcher lady suggested some ham steaks and three half-hams. As it turns out, we don’t so much care for ham either way. As the saying goes, the definition of eternity is two people and a ham.

A whole pig at 250 pounds yields about 144 pounds of retail cuts, wrapped and ready to take home. Butchering runs about $230, plus smoking for the hams at 60 cents per pound equals $36. Of course, we then had to buy a freezer for the basement — cost, $180.

And this doesn’t even factor in the not-inconsiderable cost of corndogs and cinnamon rolls at the auction, two of my favorite food groups.

In a few short weeks, our pig was ready to pick up. Any way you package it, 144 pounds is an astounding amount of pig. We returned home with a heavy-laden truck.

At Christmas, awash in half-hams, I volunteered to bring the meat. A ham seemed like the safe choice — and, besides, I was dying to get rid of them.

I arrived with three half-hams, each with a different recipe and flavor. I had bourbon citrus glazed; cider glazed; and a fresh ham with rosemary, garlic and lemon. Something for everyone.

My mistake was in not properly reading my audience. It never occurred to me that knowing we were eating Melissa’s pig would be a problem. At $4.50 per pound, certainly there was no illusion that someone would be keeping it as a house pet. So, when one of the children asked, “Is this ...?”, of course I responded proudly that it was.

So much for Christmas dinner.

The adults turned away, the kids all started wailing, and, worst of all, my husband and I were once again stuck with hams.

Seriously, I’m a good cook. You should invite me for dinner sometime. I’ll bring the ham.

Having finally finished off 257 (our name for her — that was the number on her ear tag), I now have some basic pork questions. First, if they can make turkeys with larger, rounder breasts (take it easy, folks, this is just about turkeys), why can’t they engineer a pig that’s all ribs and hocks? No legs, just feet attached to the torso. I adore ribs and do not actually need the feet, but without them there would be no hocks, and hocks are the stuff of life. Face optional if you like head cheese, which is zero percent cheese and 100 percent delightful.

With the pig, processing, smoking and a freezer, No. 257 probably had us in for $1,580, or $6.27 per pound.

Supporting your granddaughter’s 4-H project? Priceless.

— By Shari Savage, Tribune community columnist

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