Farm News


July 2014

In 1066 William the conqueror crossed the English Channel in what would be the last successful invasion of England. His army was weak with dysentery, fever, and ague. In medieval time disease in the military accounted for almost half of an army’s total mortality. One of the leading causes of death in the army at the time was food poisoning. Due to ease of storage, cured meat products – normally pork, made up the bulk of an armies protein requirements. In the third century the Romans codified salt curing when Cato wrote the recipe for salt curing of ham. At that time meat was cured with salt for a specified period time and then eaten or smoked. Curing meats with salt was an accepted way of extending the shelf life of meat in an era that was without refrigeration. The problem, for people who relied on preserved meat as a dietary staple was that food poisoning from eating cured products was rampant. Sailors in the Royal Navy had more chance of dying by food poisoning than by fighting pirates or the French. It wasn’t until the 1800’s that the early settlers in America discovered that meat cured in the sea water allowed people to eat cured meat with much less worry of food poisoning.

Sea water contained an important element that was overlooked in previous curing attempts – sodium nitrate which at that time was called salt peter. Today we know that some bacterium can survive in a salt environment and the use of nitrates, along with proper sanitation, is the only guaranteed way to ensure cured products are safe. Like all living organisms bacteria produces waste products as it synthesizes food. Bacterial wastes can be quite toxic to humans and some of them such as botulism are deadly. Botulism is so deadly even a minute amount can kill or make people violently ill and the symptoms are stomach cramps, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Once the toxin has infected the meat it cannot be destroyed. Cooking will kill the bacteria but not the toxin the bacteria produces. This is why it is so critical when curing products to kill the bacteria immediately through the use of salts and nitrates.

In the 1970’s there was a question about whether nitrates could be carcinogenic and several tests were conducted. Although there was never conclusive evidence to prove the carcinogenic claim the Canadian Food Agency moved away from the use of nitrates and instead used nitrites which produced the same bacterial killing results.

One of the ways that the early settlers knew that their meat was “safely cured” was that it had a pleasing rosy hue to it when cooked. Today the government has specified that all cured products must have various quantities of nitrite in it during the curing process ensuring that the cure will kill all bacteria. Various vegetables such as celery or beets have natural sodium nitrite in them and the CFIA has made allowances that allows producers to use quantities of the natural nitrites. The kitchen staff and chef at Townsend looked into using the natural nitrites however because no two vegetables will hold a definitive amount of nitrite the government specified quantities are greater than if we just put in straight sodium nitrite. Today there is a chorus of health activists and farm producers who claim that nitrites are not necessary and that eating meat without this important mineral causes only a slim chance of illness however, like King Harold found out when a Norman arrow found its way past his heavily armoured body through the eye slit in his helmet, even small chances can have fatal consequences.

Large Black Pigs at Townsend
We are awaiting a new batch of pastured pigs from the US. We are getting a Defender boar piglet, a Matilda sow, a Prudence Sow, and a Charlotte Sow. It should make for interesting combinations.
Hyrum is busy with another year of free range poultry. He is halfway through his next run of chickens, they’re 3 weeks old, and he is also busy with his Muscovy ducks, guinea fowl, turkeys, and pheasants.
Sophia’s lambs are almost ready to be processed she will start to call her clients about their cuts.

Belted Galloway
Townsend’s small herd of grass fed cattle are enjoying the summer in the field however the angus’ time here on earth is becoming short. We will be switching their diets shortly to ensure good marbling in November.