Today marks the 110th anniversary of the invention of rubber, synthetic rubber that is, giving the erstwhile rubber tree a much-deserved hiatus. Since then just about anything and everything has been synthesized into synthetics by the syntheticians, from synthetic oil to synthetic vegetables to synthetic diapers to synthetic fiber.
Speaking of synthetic fibers - and most importantly - without Spandex where would our cinematic superheroes and superheroines be? Prancing around in 400-count Egyptian cotton leggings and woolen capes? Perish the thought.
I was thinking, here we are on the verge of the Pie Festival in Pie Town, the town that’s not really a town, but is the center of the pie universe, and one thing it doesn’t have is a pie superhero, say, Pieman. With his trusty sidekick Coffeewoman. Together they defend that tiny New Mexico wide-spot against the encroachment of the supervillain Cakeman and his trusty sidekick Cheesecakegirl.
Stop. This is without a doubt, the silliest thing I think I’ve ever written. I was going to write about pigs this time, but the Pie Festival has gotten me distracted. Visions of pies are dancing in my head; fruit pies, nut pies, cream pies. There are already three pie establishments in Pie Town, and during the festival, add to those a fundraising pie stand in Jackson Park. It’s pie heaven. But don’t go looking for the savory pies; the quasi-pies. Like empanadas, shepherd's pie, chicken pot pie, pork pie, or even Heisenberg’s pork pie hat.
I don’t know if any of the market pigs at the county fair will be giving itself up for a pork pie, but certainly bacon, ham, sausage or the ever-popular at our house pork loin.
A couple of weeks ago I got a mini-course on raising pigs from a Socorro family who was entering a few in the swine judging. While milling around Greenwood Barn and taking a picture of a particularly rotund grunter I got to talking with Frank and Alexis Chaves. Alexis is the leader of Tumbleweeds 4H and her brother Colten and daughter Ashlie were showing two pigs each.
“My kids and my brother basically raised them,” Alexis said. “They have to get up early and go down and feed them before school, and they have to be exercised, too. We have a field on Otero, and they do laps around that field.”
And feeding them can run into a few hundred dollars in one year. That’s not counting the cost of puerco sunscreen. Gone are the days when all you had to do is empty the slop bucket over the fence, if that is, you want to show your animal at the fair. They get the good stuff, and I’m not talking about gourmet slop, but rather special concentrated feed with different supplements. “Some are higher protein and some are higher fat,” Alexis says. “It all depends on how your pig is looking, what you think they’ll need more, or less, of. By fair time they have to be between 200 and 270 pounds.”
Frank told me the judges look for a straight back, good muscle definition and an overall full appearance, and muscular, not flabby. The pigs are also trained to walk straight and hold their heads up. Wait a minute. That sounds exactly what Jack LaLanne, the "First Fitness Superhero," used to preach on TV back in the sixties.
I’m reminded of what Winston Churchill once said, “I’m fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
Anyway, it all boils down to what the pig’s going to look like when it’s processed. Cue ham, bacon, loin, you get the picture.
Alexis said the kids got their pigs in late April from a farm in Estancia, and have worked with them all year. Then, “on Sunday when that packer truck’s here, there are tears,” she said. “And then you start again next year.”
All this comes down to a lot of hard work for the 4H kids, and a far cry from what I remember as a kid.
My grandfather raised pigs down on the farm in rural Tennessee, but it was my grandmother who took care of the hog slop, which consisted of various rinds, peelings, stale bread, eggshells and so forth. What people nowadays would cram down the garbage disposal or maybe a trash compactor. As kids, we would help slop the pigs and then sit on the sty fence and watch them root round. My little brother actually fell off the fence one time and broke his collarbone, but back at school he changed it from a pigsty fence to a tree limb.
But I digress.
Aside from the above-mentioned porcine entries, their 11-year-old daughter and 4H’er, Haylie, got the blue ribbon in the Ring Cake competition for her all-natural, nothing synthetic Raspberry Lemon Cake.
That may be one cake I would pass up pie for.