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The swap meat began with a round of introductions in which we described our wares. Everyone listened intently, some jotting notes about which products we hoped to score when the action started.
Quinn brought five boxes of onions from the family farm; onion skins fluttered around him like confetti as he walked across the room. Matty had deer steak, frozen elk stew, and “Ari-style” pickled peppers. Carson brought deer steak and cherry jam. George and Polly had sauerkraut made with apples and juniper berries, and pickled whitefish that I wanted.
Greg had carrots, which I also wanted, dug that very day from under a heavy blanket of mulch. Johnny, an aspiring sausage maker, introduced a pint of pickled beets, which I wanted, a bag of dehydrated tomatoes I also wanted, some homemade sausage, cucumber pickles, chokecherry syrup, honey, peaches and grape juice.
Then he raised a pint jar filled with a green, amorphous material.
“These green tomato pickles are actually Lisa’s,” Johnny said, “but they...”
“Oh no! Those are bad,” Polly objected from across the room.
Murmurs in the swap meat circle.
“No, these aren’t the bad ones,” Johnny protested.
“Lisa put ginger in her pickles so they’d be good in martinis,” her husband added, “but we tried them and my god, they were eff-ed.”
“This is a different batch,” Johnny insisted.
But the damage was done. A cloud of suspicion had fallen upon that jar, and rightly so. The first rule of swap meat is you only trade your own goods. That way you know exactly what’s in them and how they were made.
A successful swap meat requires participants to abide by certain quality standards and only people that you know will comply should be invited. Frank discussion helps root out the roadkill, the Lisa’s pickles and the like.
We meet like this every fall and winter to trade our goods. Although we call it a swap meat, the action is hardly limited to flesh. The common denominator is that it all the food being swapped at the swap meat arrived at its current form with input from the swapper, be it home-grown, hand-gathered, line-caught, or pickled in your kitchen. Any food that was acquired and put away personally is fare game.
It’s a great way to diversify your pantry, while getting rid of product that you made a little more of than you can use. Say, those 20 quarts of pickled peppers that seemed like a good idea to make, when cheerful Steve gave you the screaming deal on jalapenos at the farmers market. I wouldn’t miss a few of those quarts, I figured. Or the bag of lamb tongues given to me by Dan the lamb rancher. I love most offal, but never really warmed up to tongue.
A new guy, invited by a credible insider, brought packages of moose meat, bags of dried morels, and two packs of homemade sausage that caught my interest: Swedish Potato and Bangers (which are kind of like bratwurst). He also had organ meat sausage, but I wasn’t in an offal mood.
The action got crazy in a hurry. While I was busy trading meat for carrots, the host got to Johnny and scored the dried tomatoes and pickled beets before I could make a move.
The new guy’s girlfriend perused my pickled pepper jars and, playing right into my hand, asked what I wanted in exchange,
“Sausage,” I said.
While poorly processed food can be awful, dangerous, or even deadly, carefully processed food can be one of life’s finer joys. And sausage, with its many ingredients and opportunities for contamination, can go either way, depending on the maker.
The swap meat action boiled hard for about 20 furious minutes, until the hottest goods had traded hands. Then it simmered slowly, as deals made in the frenzy were settled during the aftermath. I scored carrots, sausage, deer steak, pickled whitefish, onions, cherry jam, grape juice, moose burger, mead, and a package of El Camino’s legendary elk pepperoni.
The room settled into a chatter of farming stories, fishing stories, hunting stories and winter gossip. The rug was littered with onion skins, like so many buy and sell orders on the New York Stock Exchange floor.
Johnny had moved nearly all his product. “I wish I’d brought more to trade,” he lamented. This regret is common at the swap meat.
The one item remaining on his table was Lisa’s disputed jar of pickled green tomatoes.
Johnny opened the jar, tasted the contents, and didn’t die.
“Hey, these are good,” Johnny said. “Here, try.”
He held out the jar.
I grabbed the edge of a tomato and pulled. It was shriveled, dripping and green. I took a very small bite.
The flavor wasn’t bad, like pickled anything. But the texture was non-existent. They weren’t pickles, really, just flavored slime held together by green tomato skins.
“Doesn’t taste bad,” I said.
“You want to trade for them?” Johnny asked, with puppy-like hope.
I didn’t want the pickles, but they were in a nice pint jar.
“How about some lamb tongues?”
“Deal,” he said. “I’ll put them in my next batch of sausage.”