Pork and Beans

BBQ Ribs“Oink, oink, oink!” Two, wiry fifteen-pound piglets grunted curiously from the inside of a wiggling gunnysack. The bristly “weaners” originally descended from Yorkshire, England where they were called Large White swine, but to us they were simply Pork and Beans, brother and sister from the same litter. They were the first livestock that we added to our tiny, three-acre farm in Auburn, Washington.

Pork was raised strictly to fill our deep freeze, and ultimately our dinner plates. He served that purpose with fine distinction when he reached 6-months old and 250 pounds.

We kept Beans for breeding, so we could sell her offspring to help offset the cost of raising livestock. She was curiously docile, surprisingly intelligent and extremely social.

“Sniff, snort, blow, snort, puff, snort,” she’d grunt while rooting through the fresh sawdust that lined her pen. She loved to have her belly scratched with an iron garden rake, and would gently nudge our heels with her snout to remind us to grab the rack and give her a good scratch. She’d roll over onto her side almost gleeful and grunt, “Ah, thank you that feels so good!”

Occasionally Beans would escape from her well-shored pen. I’d chase her down the road, through the neighbor’s milk barn, and over cattle-dotted pastures. Her stout legs swiftly carried her over the countryside, while I ran behind her out of breath, waving a switch and yelling, “You blasted pig, go back to your pen!” I’m sure there were days when the foray provided morning coffee entertainment for neighboring farmers.

Eventually I realized that Beans was accidentally escaping from her pen. A loose board would give way when she was nosing around the obscure corners of her pen, which created a clear opening for her to break free. From then on, when I saw her lumbering down the driveway, I’d simply hit my switch along side the house and scream, “Beans go home!” She’d make a speedy, and amazingly agile, hairpin turn back to her pen.

There were other times when Beans stirred up a commotion. One morning, my 5-year old son came screaming into the house, “Mom, come quick! Beans is hurt…bad!  She has blood all over her head!”

Thankfully, no harm had come to the pampered hog. The day before a local farmer gave us a wheel barrel full of fresh beets for pig fodder. I filled her trough with the beets and left her to root through the welcome bounty. She was blood red from snout to belly after feasting on the plump, juicy beets.

We only heard the pitter-patter of piglet hooves twice during Bean’s three years on the farm. We were sad when she had to leave us but on the farm it’s a fact-of-life that livestock have to pull their own weight.

 She made a grand exit by tipping the scale at a whopping 500 pounds. Beans was the single farm animal that captured our hearts and the only head of livestock that went into someone else’s deep freeze.

Helen’s Oven Barbecued Spare Ribs

1 ½ to 2 pounds, fresh, lean country style pork ribs
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon each salt, paprika and celery seed
½ cup cider vinegar
1 (10 ¾ oz.) can tomato soup

Set oven to broil. Mix together brown sugar, chili powder, salt, paprika and celery seed in a medium sized bowl; divide. Place ribs (lean side up) in a large, foil-lined baking pan.

Sprinkle half the sugar and spice mixture onto the ribs. Broil ribs until mixture begins to bubble, about 10 minutes (watch closely because sugar mixture burns easily). Turn ribs; sprinkle with remaining sugar and spice mixture and broil until sugar bubbles.

Set oven to 350°F. Whisk together vinegar and soup in a medium sized bowl; pour vinegar and soup mixture over ribs. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, remove cover and bake uncovered for an additional 45 minutes, basting occasionally. Serve with mashed potatoes, corn-on-the-cob and garlic bread. Yield: 4 servings

Ribs made in the oven have a lot of sauce compared to grilled ribs. I’ve made these ribs for years and this has become my “go-to” recipe for ribs when the weather is not conducive for grilling.

This recipe comes from the kitchen of the late Helen Robertson, Seattle, Washington.

Cook’s Note: Before making the ribs they can be simmered in water for 20 minutes to remove excess grease. Reduce baking time if ribs are pre-cooked/defatted.

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