Mail Call: Letters to the Editor — May/June 2017

Readers’ letters to the editors with stories of homemade bread, bacon recipes without sodium nitrate, Irish heritage, gourd birdhouses, guinea hogs, and more.

Homemade bread loaves

Homemade bread out of a cast iron pot — there's nothing like it.

Photo by Joni Martin

Content Tools

Homemade Bread

Just love the bread! After reading the November/December 2016 issue of Grit, it inspired me to bake more bread. I had already made crusty white bread in my cast iron, but the rye — toasted with peanut butter — and the cinnamon raisin is the best. I took it to work, as pictured, and everyone loved it.

I bought my daughter and daughter-in-law lidded cast-iron casserole pots to encourage them to use cast iron more. Now there is at least one loaf of this bread at every family gathering — what a great tradition!

Joni Martin
Grant Town, West Virginia


Bacon Recipe

In the Mail Call of the September/October 2016 issue of Grit, Linda Smethers of Granite Falls, North Carolina, wanted a recipe for bacon made without sodium nitrate or curing salt. I have been making bacon from our pasture-raised pigs as well as our grassfed Tunis lambs for quite a few years.

The recipe is adapted from “Processing Meat in the Home” by Richard J. Epley and Paul B. Addis and distributed through the University of Minnesota Extension Service. (All quotes are from this article.) “Curing and Smoking Hams and Bacon. There are numerous ways to cure and smoke hams and bacon. Salt may be used alone, with sugar, or with sugar and nitrite.” Since ours is for home use, rather than at a butcher or someone else who would cure large quantities of meat, I mix 8 ounces table salt and 3 ounces cane sugar, then follow the rest of the recipe from “Processing Meat in the Home.”

“Bacon should have one thorough rubbing with a light sprinkling over the flesh side after rubbing.” You won’t use all the salt-sugar mix, but it can be kept until the next time you make bacon. After rubbing, the meat can hang somewhere cold but not freezing (wrap in cheesecloth or put something loose around it) or be placed in a glass dish in the refrigerator. The meat must have air around it. I put a small glass dish inside the glass baking dish so almost all the meat has air around it. I move the meat and dump any liquid in the dishes every few days. Cure for 14 days. Soak well to get the salt off, and dry before cooking. If you don’t mind the salt, just rinse it. “Since bacon has only a one to two month freezer life because of its salt content, it may be advisable to cure one slab of bacon at a time. The uncured belly can be frozen until curing.”

Julia Delpino
Needmore, Pennsylvania

Thanks for sharing, Julia! You can find this article in its entirety by searching, “Processing Meat in the Home, by Richard J. Epley & Paul B. Addis” on the internet.
– Editors


Irish Heritage

Your Our View article (usually found on Page 6) is typically one of the first things I read when Grit comes. You can only imagine my delight when I read “Irish Blessings” (March/April). The more I read, the more commonalities I found.

My great-great-grandparents were from County Meath, Ireland, north of County Tipperary. Great-Grandma was an O’Dugan, but dropped the O, hence Dugan. Great-Grandpa was a Martin. He originally came to Massachusetts and then moved to Sheridan County, Kansas. They lived in a “soddie.” Great-Grandpa donated land to the Catholic Church.

My Grandpa Martin was the only Martin to leave Kansas, and homesteaded in Wyoming. The rest stayed in the Quinter area. My dad continued to run the ranch until he got too old. I remember going into the cool potato cellar (check out the picture of the cellar, above, and note the corner of the sod house). Daddy grew fields of alfalfa to feed the cattle and one field of potatoes to feed the three families on the ranch.

While many college students were living on a ramen noodle diet, I was staying healthy and financially frugal by living on potatoes. We love our Irish traditions. Each year, we exchange St. Patrick’s Day cards. We eat a lot of green food throughout the day, such as green Jell-O and cabbage; adding green food coloring into the pancake batter starts the day right. We put green food coloring into anything possible, like mashed potatoes, rolls, home-canned pears, and sugar cookies.

I guess the Irish heritage that runs deepest is that inborn love of the land. I moved to Idaho, but “homestead” an acre and a half. I always grow a big garden, including potatoes. I love them mashed with butter, fried several ways, boiled with brown gravy, baked with sausage gravy, scalloped with extra cheese, hashed with hamburger and onion, creamed with new peas, and, of course, potato and ham soup.

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya’!

Mary Martin
Rexburg, Idaho


Birdhouse Tips

I have been making gourd birdhouses for years. I believe one piece of very important information was omitted in the article “Grow a Gourd, Build a Birdhouse” that was featured in the March/April issue. There should be drainage holes drilled into the bottom of the gourd. I put at least four 1⁄4-inch holes in the bottom. The inside can get filled very quickly in a blowing rain.

Joel Patterson
Lafayette, Tennessee

Good call, Joel. Thanks for the tip! We would love to see any images our readers take of their birdhouse gourds, and we might even run several of them in a future issue of the magazine. Please send them to letters@grit.com.
– Editors


Guinea Hogs

As a fairly new homesteader who started raising breeding hogs about three years ago, I was interested in Jim Curley’s article about how he broke down the cost of a breeding pair of pigs (“Keep a Breeding Pair of Pigs,” March/April). I also couldn’t help but think about how the heritage breed I raise, American Guinea hogs, vary greatly from the more typical hog that is free-fed for slaughter, sleeps most of the day, and matures to 600 to 800 pounds.

The American Guinea, an endangered breed, is a great homestead pig. It is alert, intelligent, thrifty, and loves to graze on green grass. It stays active all day and has a gentle, calm personality. Boars mature to 300 to 350 pounds, at most, and sows less. Instead of consuming 5-1/2 pounds of feed a day, or 40 bags of feed a year, my adult breeders do well on 2 pounds of feed a day, or 15 bags. I also feed the base rate for lactating sows and add a half-pound for each piglet she nurses. Fencing and housing costs are reduced, because they are gentle around equipment, and pricing of breeding stock can be even higher. I also get a premium price for small carcasses prized by local farm-to-table chefs. I love my Guineas!

Cathy R. Payne
Broad River Pastures
Elberton, Georgia


Share Your Thoughts

We welcome letters from our readers. If you would like to comment on an article or share your opinions, send us an email (with photos, if available) to letters@grit.com, or send a letter via the USPS to:

Grit Mail Call
1503 S.W. 42nd St.
Topeka, KS 66609

Electronic submissions are more likely to generate a timely response.