Before Drake proclaimed that we all live in The Six, Toronto’s original alias was Hogtown. A number versus a pig; The Big Apple we ain’t. But we sure used to slaughter a lot of pigs.
Sanagan’s currently carries pork from three Southern Ontario family farms. Like all Sanagan’s suppliers, our pork farmers value small scale, humane animal husbandry. The pigs are processed at low volume facilities located near the farms. By contrast the abattoirs that inspired the name Hogtown were anything but small scale. So, while Sanagan’s embraces a different approach to the life and death of the pig, we’re proud to be selling great pork in Hogtown and thought you might be interested to know how the name came to be.
Sanagan’s heritage pork raised on Murray’s Farm
If the name Hogtown can be attributed to one person, it would be William Davies whose ascent from a single St. Lawrence Market stall in the 1850’s to the establishment of Canada Packers (now Maple Leaf Foods) firmly implanted the pig’s footprint on Toronto’s identity. Along the way the William Davies Corporation became the largest supplier of bacon to England, shipping out of North America’s second largest pork processing plant, located in the Don Valley at Front Street. Davies is credited with popularizing peameal bacon, making him the Godfather of Toronto’s signature sandwich. Eventually the animal world tired of Mr. Davies attentions. He died as a result of injuries suffered after being butted by a goat.
It’s not difficult to witness a herd mentality at Keele and St. Clair as shoppers descend upon Home Depot and Canadian Tire, but this area used to support actual herds of cattle, pork, and horses. The Stockyards, a 300-acre network of rail sidings, loading platforms, stock pens, and processors, including Maple Leaf and Swifts, was once North America’s largest livestock facility. The fortunes of the Stockyards rose and fell with the railroad. By the time trucking eclipsed rail as the most efficient form of livestock transport, and combined with the pressures of Toronto’s ravenous real estate market, the demise of the Stockyards was inevitable. The majority of processors moved from Toronto to Cookstown in 1994 but not after doing its share to consolidate our nickname as Hogtown.
Up until its closure in 2014, for many Torontonians the name Hogtown was embodied by Quality Meat Packers on Tecumseth Street near Fort York. Even if you never saw the abattoir there’s a good chance you saw the trucks, loaded with pigs, driving towards it. I remember working at Fort York in my early 20’s. You either got the industrial beer smell of the Molson’s brewery or the raunchy not quite bacon smell of Quality Meats. Grimly, it felt historically accurate. There had been a packing plant on the site since 1914 in the form of the Toronto Municipal Slaughterhouse. This facility was bought in 1960 by Quality Meats. At its height, Quality processed one third of Ontario’s pork. While it defied animal rights protests and condo-mania it was eventually brought down by the cruel variables of the free market. The last straw was the piglet-killing virus of 2014. Thankfully for Sanagan’s, and the pigs, our small-scale pork farmers were unaffected by the outbreak.
The original site of Quality Meat Packers
Things change. The hogs have left Hogtown. Toronto’s de-industrialization has been rapid. But high quality, locally raised, family-farmed pork will never leave Sanagan’s and Sanagan’s, finger’s crossed, will never leave The Six.
Photos: Graham Duncan and Toronto Archives
It was a grey and cool late summer day when Brian and I drove up to Shane and Brenda Forsyth’s farm on the Bruce Peninsula, just off the wind-swept west side of Georgian Bay. The land around this area is difficult to farm – the soil is rocky and not as rich for produce as the land around southern Ontario, where Shane grew up. As a young man, he decided to move north to start his farm; land was cheaper, and anyways, sheep and lamb didn’t need lush vegetation to thrive. This was back in the early eighties – Brenda found her way to the farm the following year, and they’ve been raising a family and their animals ever since.
Shane and Brenda have about 400 ewes on their farm; each one gives birth about three times every two years. One of the reasons I’ve been working with them for over a decade is because their lamb is consistently flavourful, with a lean finish and firm muscle. When asked what they do to maintain this consistency, Shane modestly shrugs and tells me it’s probably because they prefer to raise their lambs in a more traditional way. He explains:
“In modern lambing, lambs are weaned from their mothers at around 6 weeks, then fed a soy-based formula that quickens their development. I prefer to keep them with their mothers for at least 3 months. Then I’ll wean them off, having them eat as much grass as possible. When they get up to eighty pounds, we’ll finish them with lot of hay, and some dried peas, barley, and oats. This will get their weight up to about 110 lbs or so, that’s when they’re ready for market. Sometimes they’ll hit that weight at 5 months, sometimes at 10 months; it all depends on the animal.”
Whatever age Shane and Brenda’s lambs are, one thing is for certain. They produce some of the best tasting meat I’ve had. It may be the wild apples they munch on (wild apple trees are one of few trees that flourish around this part of Ontario). Or maybe it’s the damp cool air blowing off of Georgian Bay that forces the animals to eat a little more to bulk up. Or maybe it’s the care Shane and Brenda have and bring to these animals, day after day. I like to think it’s the latter, and after having spent the day with them, that care can be seen in how they treat guests as well. (I didn’t tell you about Brenda’s delicious cabbage borscht and fresh rolls – that might be for a different post).
Hunting season in Ontario generally lasts from mid-September to mid-December. As we roll into December at Sanagan’s, you won’t have to hunt for delicious offerings to fill any of your holiday needs.
One offering that may have eluded you in the past is our Hunter’s Pie. Chef Anne and her team in the kitchen have refined this recipe over the past few years to it’s near perfect current iteration. Rich venison, elk and wild boar are slowly simmered with red wine and paired with hearty lentils and aromatics inside a buttery, flaky crust, topped with a true trophy in the form of a piece of bone marrow.
Our Hunter’s Pie is the very definition of a special occasion dish. It is rich, and delicious, and one should likely fight the desire to enjoy it every day, reserving it for gatherings with friends and family. My suggestion would be to keep things simple, and serve this with a crisp green salad using a mix with bitter greens and a mustard vinaigrette.
We have a quiet Christmas planned this year, but our centrepiece on Christmas Eve will be one of Chef Anne’s delicious Hunter Pies. Happy hunting, and happy holidays!
Christmas and the holidays are a time to indulge any number of eccentric traditions. We hang totally dry socks on the fireplace. We encourage our children to sit on the laps of strange old men. We bring whole fir trees into the house. And strangest of all, we consume a medieval-ish “pudding” that’s not like any other kind of pudding.
If you’re reading this and you haven’t got your own old fashioned Christmas pudding aging in the basement, have no fear, because this December, Sanagan’s will once again have our wonderful house-made Christmas puddings and hard sauce, stacked like cannon balls, ready to fire into the shopping bags of our holiday feasters.
And let’s get this straight — we’re not just talking any old mass-produced Christmas-pudding-in-a-can. Ours are made by hand by our chartcuterie specialist Scott Draper, based on his grandmother, Verna Draper’s recipe.
The Draper’s lived on a farm in Stouffville and like much of Ontario’s U.K. immigrant population they emphasized the Scottish side things. Their style of pudding, made with brown sugar, dried fruit, suet, breadcrumbs, carrot, egg etc., has a slightly lighter finish due to the absence of molasses. And it’s contained steamed within a cloth as opposed to a metal or ceramic mould. And it’s Holidayliscious!
All you have to do is steam it in its cheesecloth wrapping for one hour, and then dollop on and the hard-sauce (butter, icing sugar and brandy).
Oh — I forgot the best part. Like all Christmas puddings worth their fruit peel, ours is best moistened with warm brandy and then set it on fire. Turn the lights down low and present the flaming pudding. Now that’s an eccentric tradition.
Is it stuffing or is it dressing? Cook it inside or outside the bird? Moist or dry? These controversies had us considering avoiding stuffing altogether. We’re a butcher’s newsletter — not Vice Magazine. But we are undaunted! So here it is; some notes about stuffing (or dressing, if you’re a Victorian, or from the Southern U.S., well, only certain parts of the Southern U.S., actually).
Sanagan’s house-made stuffing featuring sourdough bread, onion, butter, turkey stock, carrot and herbs is a classic addition to any Thanksgiving feast. Or make your own. They’re very few dishes that allow for a more intuitive, loosely-based-on-a-recipe approach to cooking. Just start with bread and go from there. If you want to add your own special touches to bread stuffing, ours or yours, consider the following additions:
• That package of weird bits that comes wrapped up inside your turkey? That’s the gizzard, heart AND WHAT ELSE?. Chop those up and add them in to sauté. More turkey flavour! Just don’t use the neck. (It’s the thing that looks like a neck.)
• More stock, preferably turkey but chicken will do. For those of you in the Moist Stuffing Camp. Make a mini-batch of turkey stock with that raw neck.
• Pork sausage. Because people like meat in their meat. Be sure to order some of our sage and thyme seasoned loose sausage meat when you order your turkey. When adding sausage consider some apple to lend a touch of acidic balance.
• Speaking of acidity — throw some orange juice in there.
• You know what you don’t see in any stuffing recipe? Wine! What’s up with that? I think a splash of something bright and tangy like a Muscadet Serve et Maine, a Gruner Veltliner or a dry Sauvignon Blanc would jazz things up.
• Chestnuts. We’re getting into some real olde-timey stuff here. The chestnuts should be boiled or roasted, shelled and chopped. Avoid chestnuts in sweet syrup — unless you like sweet stuffing. Now THAT’S controversial.
• Oysters. Extra olde-timey. Add the oyster liquor too to really up the oysterishness.
• Bacon. Because.
• Mushrooms: Fresh, wild or dry. Adjust quantities accordingly.
• Dried fruits like chopped cranberries or raisins. Tastes good. Looks good.
All of the above are suggested with bread stuffing in mind but don’t limit yourself to crumbs, especially for those saying no thanks to gluten. Corn bread, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes; rice, wild rice, bulgur and couscous can all be used to fill the bird.
Now that we have freed ourselves of any stuffiness regarding stuffing, let’s consider the suggestions of our Kensington neighbours and Sanagan’s co-workers for their multicultural stuffing inspirations.
Lester, the butcher from the Philippines, where, “about 50% of the people do Thanksgiving” says that his mother would add lemongrass to the stuffing.
Our friends at Caribbean Corner on Baldwin Street cite the Jamaican tradition of cramming the bird full of whole onions combined with clove, whole peppercorns and scallions. Aromatic!
Meat Hawker Angelica suggests a dim sum-style sticky rice stuffing hack with glutinous rice, sweet Chinese sausage, dried shrimp and shitake mushrooms.
So, as we can see, the inside of your turkey is an empty canvas awaiting the unlimited creativity of your stuffing expressions.
And now, a Thanksgiving classic:
A turkey walks into a bar.
The bartender says, “Wattle ya have?”
Make Sanagan’s your holiday destination this year! We have everything you’ll need to create a successful feast for your family and friends, so join us at either location and get your harvest feast on!
To place your order, either call us at 416-593-9747, or email us at (Kensington) email@example.com, or (Gerrard) firstname.lastname@example.org.
We source our birds from two different farms; Shady Grove (Guelph, ON), and Elm Creek (Grand Valley, ON). If the former sounds familiar, that’s because it’s where we get our maple syrup from! Both farms adhere to our standards of antibiotic & hormone-free, and free-run meat. The turkeys come in a variety of weight ranges, and as much as we sincerely try to get everyone EXACTLY what they ask for, there is sometimes a variance (on the heavy end). For example, if you want a 16 lb bird, your order goes in the 16-18 lb range, and it’s possible that the birds dress out on the heavy end, so you might have to take a 18lber. But that’s ok, just more turkey sandwiches in your future!
As for Heritage Turkeys, we’ll be getting some in from The Packing House, one of our preferred suppliers who sources game birds, specialty beef, and other great items like these Orlopp Bronze birds from a farm near Meaford. These are beautiful, pasture-raised birds, and I can say from personal experience that they’re some of the tastiest turkeys around! These birds will be coming in between 15 and 20 lbs – we have a limited supply so get your orders in early!
As well as fresh turkeys, we will be getting in whole Smoked Turkeys from Metzger Meats.
Are you one of the few people who don’t like turkey? No worries, we have you covered!
Capons (usually range from about 8 to 10 lbs)
City Ham (smoked, bone-in hams) We get them whole, so we can cut them to size.
Baseball hams (small, boneless smoked hams, better for a small number of people)
Breakfast Sausage Stuffing (loose breakfast sausage mix to put in your stuffing)
As well as these “main event” items, Anne and her team in the kitchen will be making up some lovely sides to accompany everyone’s turkey dinners. Here’s what we’ll be offering:
Brining Kits (includes a brine bag and the brine mix – just add water!)
It wouldn’t be a feast if you didn’t start with the perfect charcuterie board! Come down and see what Scott has made for the occasion. No one else in the city has the selection of house made pâtés, rillettes, and mousses that your friends here at Sanagan’s have! Impress your friends and your taste buds!