Some of the most mouth-watering, epicurean delights in gourmet stores are smoked hams, breasts of turkey, pheasants, eels, salmon, whitefish, and trout. These delicacies are also very, very expensive, and most of us buy them in miniscule amounts for special occasions. But if you have your own smokehouse, you can enjoy these luxuries and dozens of superbly flavored foods from smoked homemade sausages, venison, beef, and lamb, to wild game birds, clams, oysters, shrimp, squid, and freshwater fish. If you fish or hunt or farm livestock, your costs will be a fraction of what you might pay at the delicatessen counter. But there are other sound reasons for building a smokehouse and smoking your own products.

■ If you raise your own poultry, porkers, or bullpout, curing and smoking is yet another way to preserve the meat, far more delicious than freezing or canning it.

■ People with smokehouses tend to raise stock themselves, especially for smoking, giving them great independence and self-sufficiency. Range-fed chickens or turkeys hatched in the spring, then killed in late autumn, cured, and smoked at home, are a very inexpensive form of protein.

■ A smokehouse can be a community resource that draws rural neighbors together and motivates more people to raise their own meat animals. If you build a smokehouse, share it with others. You can barter the use of your smokehouse for smoker hardwood or a share of the finished meat.

■ Much fish and game, hard-won from river and field, go to waste because they are poorly prepared or unappealing to our overciv-ilized palates. Smoking mellows and enriches the flavor as well as preserves the meat. Once you have learned the techniques of smoking, you can rig up a simple smokehouse on a fishing or hunting trip and preserve your catch in the field.

In recent years dozens of commercial smokers have appeared on the market, most of them expensive, hard to clean, and none of them more efficient than a homemade smoker. You can make a simple smoke box or barrel that works very well, or you can build a strong, tight smokehouse that will endure for decades. In southern hog-raising country, smokehouses a century old are still doing service.

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