Mail Call: March-April 2009

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Pig snouts contain an extra bone to give them strength, and a flexible ring of cartilage acts as a trowel.
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For the first time in her life, Lisa Amstutz is a pig owner.
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Snappers can reach up to about 2/3 the length of their body, including directly behind the head.
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There may not be enough gravy in the world for all of these blooming potato plants.
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One reader sent this, and the next, image to us wondering what it is. See next picture to get our opinion.
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The Boer goat was one breed featured in our breed guide in the November/December issue of GRIT.
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Our beginners' grape guide ("Great Grape Jelly," March/April 2008) was a hit for one reader in South Dakota.
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Promotional pocket watch fobs such as this one were more prevalent in days of old.

The Year of the Pig

“A cat will look down to a man. A dog will look up to a man. But a pig will look you straight in the eye and see his equal.” – Winston Churchill

According to the Chinese calendar, 2008 was the Year of the Rat. In our house, though, it was the Year of the Pig – marked by close encounters of the porcine kind. For the first time in my life, I got to know some pigs.

One day last spring, my husband stopped by an Amish farm and literally “brought home the bacon,” in the form of three small piglets. They had wee pink noses and chubby, stubby legs that carried them at startling speeds considering their anatomical limitations. When we released the piglets into the barnyard, they trotted around like a trio of fighter jets, never breaking formation. Our two normally placid goats skittered away in terror every time the trio approached.

Naturally, the new piglets needed names. I lobbied unsuccessfully for Ham, Bacon and Pork Chop, trying to keep in mind the pigs’ eventual destination. Our children, having just read Charlotte’s Web, finally settled on Charlotte, Wilbur and Templeton.

Six months later, the pigs are much bigger and not quite so adorable. They spend most of their time rooting around, coloring their previously pink coats a dirty brown. Their eyes seem to have shrunk in proportion to their heads and bodies, making them look a little more shifty and determined than when they were small. The pigs are still friendly, though, and come squealing and snorting whenever I approach with scrap bucket in hand.

Pigs are omnivores and happily chow down on most anything that comes their way. In addition to their regular feed, they eat all our corncobs, food scraps, whey left over from cheese-making, and the wormy apples that drop off the tree. The neighbors have started bringing their scraps over, too.

Mealtime over, the piggies return to their regularly scheduled program: digging holes in the pasture and searching intently for something to eat. I’m not quite sure what they find so delicious under there – roots? worms? mushrooms? – but they certainly relish whatever it is. There is no need for a plow if you’ve got a couple of pigs handy. Their specially designed snouts contain a special bone to give them strength, and a flexible ring of cartilage acts as a trowel.

Commercial hog farmers often put rings in their hogs’ snouts to prevent such rooting behavior. I’m sure these nose rings are quite practical, but it seems to me unkind to deny the pig one of its chief pleasures in life, second only to mud wallowing, which is also denied to confinement pigs.

We don’t see much of our pigs on hot days, as they would much rather hang out in the barn. Pigskin isn’t very well insulated or protected from the sun, and the animals aren’t very efficient at cooling down, so when they do come outside, they wallow in the mud. The mud coat acts as a natural sunscreen that cools as the moisture evaporates, and our piggies seem to enjoy slathering it on. Despite this propensity for mud, hogs are relatively sanitary animals.

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “Pigs are very beautiful animals … There is no point of view from which a really corpulent pig is not full of sumptuous and satisfying curves.” Beautiful, indeed.

Lisa Amstutz
Dalton, Ohio 

Snapping Turtle Safety

In “The Secret Life of Snapping Turtles,” in the January/February issue, the author states, “If you must pick one up, grab hold of the carapace behind the head with one hand and hold the rear of the carapace above the tail with the other.” This is great advice for how to pick up and handle an alligator snapping turtle. If you need to relocate a common snapping turtle, using this method will end up with you on the losing end. The common snapper will pull its head into its shell, if it is not too fat to do so, and then “snap” at your fingers. To pick up a common snapping turtle you need to keep in mind that the danger area is anything from the face, going in every direction, up to roughly 2/3 the length of the body. If you “grab hold of the carapace behind the head with one hand,” that hand will be bitten. On the back end of the carapace on either side of the tail are your handholds. Your fingers fit up and under the carapace in between the legs and the shell, thumbs on the top of the shell.

Keep in mind that the snapper can get you in any angle up to 2/3 the length of its carapace. I know this from experience. Before I came to understand the 2/3 rule I would pick up the common snapper in the middle between its front and back legs, where the scent gland is found. After experiencing a bite where the turtle basically threw its head up and back and got my arm, I have followed the 2/3 rule and advised others to follow it as well.

My purpose in writing this letter is to advise others not to make the same mistake as I made in the past with handling the common snapper. If I had a choice on alligator or common, I would choose the alligator since it cannot pull its head into its shell.

It is best not to ever touch this ancient creature. This is a great article. I enjoyed reading up on a great turtle to watch.

Nick Skolmoski
Daggett, Michigan

What Is It?

Can you guess what this item is? The top medallion says “1836 Gaar-Scott & Co Richmond, IND,” followed by (going down) a steam tractor, a thresher, and “The line that sells and stays sold.” On the back side, the top medallion is blank, while (going down) the next says “To know our machinery insures your friendship,” followed by “To use it insures clean grain clear cash,” and finally “Gaar Scott & Co.”

Ed Strauss
New Palestine, Indiana

Feel free to weigh in, readers. Does anyone know what Ed’s medallion is? We think it’s a promotional pocket watch fob. We’d love to hear others’ stories of similar items. – Editors

A Spud by Any Other Name

In the January/February issue, Carrie Stogner asked about the Idaho potatoes mentioned in a recipe for mashed potatoes. The “Idaho potato” is simply the regional variety of a class of potatoes called russets. Other types of russets include the Russet Burbank, California Leatherback, Pacific Russet, Butte, Rio Grande and Netted Gem.

To make the fluffiest mashed potatoes, use a russet or another so-called mealy or baking potato, such as Yukon Gold or Green Mountain. “Mealy” is a terribly unappetizing term, but it distinguishes these spuds from moist and waxy potatoes (e.g. Yellow Finn, Kennebec, Chieftain, Banana Fingerling).

I should mention that these categories are somewhat subjective. Some people use the term russet simply to describe any mealy potato. Others lump potatoes into several categories of dryness, ranging from waxy to mealy. What one person says is waxy, another might call simply moist. That said, you can make mashed potatoes from any variety, but the waxy ones might give you slightly gummy potatoes.

By the way, my favorite mashers are Butte and Yukon Gold. Both produce flavorful and fluffy mashed potatoes, and the Yukon Gold are beautiful as well.

Janet Wallace
New Horton, New Brunswick, Canada

GRIT Heritage

I’m the daughter of John B. Davis and granddaughter of Howard R. Davis, both Grit editors. I am pleased that Grit is in such competent and caring hands. I just ordered a subscription for my daughter-in-law’s parents who live on a farm in Norridgewock, Maine. I am so impressed with the magazine. And although it doesn’t look anything like the newspaper I grew up with, it has the feel of celebrating rural life that was so characteristic of our Grit. Thank you for your good work!

Susan E. Davis Doughty
Portland, Maine

Barn Huggers

I am a born-and-raised farm girl from the Midwest and am new to the GRIT family. As an avid information seeker, I was pleasantly surprised at your knowledgeable and informative articles issue after issue. With that in mind, I’m submitting my plea for some information.

My husband and I have an organic farm ministry and are looking to restore our barns. We’d like to make one into a “house-barn,” and the other will be where we hold our worship. We’re looking for information on barn restoration, house-barn plans, contractors and even willing participants to join us in our process. Thank you, Grit, for helping some “barn huggers.”

Pastor Russ and Eileen Olsen
Clinton, Wisconsin

What a great project! To be put in touch with Pastor Russ and Eileen, e-mail us at – Editors

USBGA Thanks

Thank you so much for the mention of our association, United States Boer Goat Association, in your November/December issue.

I think you used just the right touch about our goat business beyond the sidewalks. You treated all of us “goat folks” with respect and kindness. I have heard just about enough of the “Billy Goat” jabs in my 30 years raising many different breeds of goats. You probably do not know that the goat has taken a big bite out of other animal businesses because they are so versatile and easy to raise. Baby boomers are getting too old to take on bulls in the squeeze chute anymore. Thousands of them have gone to the South African Boer goat as a value-added producer of excellent meat. Over a million Boer goats are registered in the United States at this time. That is a great number considering they have only been here about 12 years.

They will readily give kisses to anyone who stops to pet them awhile. Thousands of neutered Boers are now being used as show animals in 4-H and FFA. Boers currently rank as one of the most popular goats in the United States. Meat, milk and fabulous leather are great values of the Boer. You are correct; the Boer goats are not as hardy as the Kikos. However, I would pay money to watch you try to catch a Kiko in any pasture. Give me the calm, slow-moving, golden-eyed Boer any time.

So, thanks, Hank and the good folks at Grit. It is high time for America to have lots of great, real-life magazines. I am tired of seeing skinny women on magazine front covers. I would like to put some clothes on them and sit them out on the front porch of the house on your cover this issue. Let them see how great life is … just beyond the sidewalks.

Annette Maze
USBGA Associate Manager
Spicewood, Texas

Wow, thanks for the great information and kind and eloquent words, Annette. – Hank

Pleased in Oregon

The shiny new Grit looks great among the Albertsons Supermarket magazines for public buyers! Many of us like to encourage volunteer plants. Who knew we help native animals by doing it?!

March/April even showed us how to correct our sagging fences.

Kent Chamberlain
Ashland, Oregon

We’re glad you’re enjoying it, Kent! Join our advisory board at to help us keep the interesting stuff coming. – Editors

Grape Goodness

I wanted to let you know how great the grape jelly recipe and instructions were from the article last summer (“Great Grape Jelly,” March/April 2008). I have never grown grapes before but it was a bumper crop in South Dakota last fall. We picked about 3 gallons of grapes and put it all into juice and ultimately jelly. I have had many other jelly failures in the past, usually due to difficulty with it setting up. Not only did this set up perfectly, it has the nicest grapey flavor I have ever had in a jelly. The children love it, and it looks as though I will have another fall project to help keep me out of trouble.

Eric Larson
Sioux Falls, South Dakota