Of the dozens of sausage varieties available at New York City’s Greenmarkets, the lion’s share arrive with self-taught butcher Ruby Duke.
The Upper West Side native and former Brooklynite left the city with her husband more than a decade ago, ultimately launching family farm Raven & Boar upstate in East Chatham. There, they raise heritage-breed pigs on forest and open pasture. Restaurateurs quickly noted the quality of their pork, with chefs at iconic spots like Blue Hill and Gramercy Tavern calling in orders.
But Duke and her husband, Sather, felt something was still missing. Outsourcing the butchering process left them disconnected from the final product, and they realized they weren’t getting to use as much of the animal as they would if they did it themselves, Duke says. So, as they had when they started farming, Duke set out to master the unknown.
“I basically just came here into this kitchen and started cutting,” she says. “You just do it, and you make mistakes.”
With support from Kickstarter backers and the New York State New Farmers’ Grant, Hudson Valley Charcuterie was born, run by Duke and only using pork raised by Sather.
There are some skills—and even similar tools—that overlap from her background as a furniture designer. But in many ways, butchering hogs is a wholly unique endeavor for her.
“There’s a kind of respect and honor you feel breaking down a pig when you’ve seen it born,” Duke says. “I wish everyone who was a butcher could raise an animal through its whole life and then butcher it the first time. Then it’s different. You’re not just a butcher. It’s something else.”
Among Duke’s pork products are a range of sausages, some of which are seasonal offerings, that she brings to the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well as the Fort Greene Park Greenmarket. Year round, customers can find more than half a dozen favorites ranging from sweet Italian to chorizo to Thai ginger.
But Duke also makes an enviable variety of seasonal sausages, using ingredients from local farmers to make items like garlic scape coconut curry, spring greens with arugula and parsley, and a jalapeño popper with fresh peppers and mozzarella. She’s working on new recipes for a Greek Loukániko, a pastrami hot dog, an apple breakfast sausage with leeks, and harissa and togarashi sausages, among others.
The diversity keeps ingredients—and Duke’s work life—fresh. And while long market days can be exhausting, Duke finds them invigorating, too, because she gets to directly interact with people who keep their business alive. She’s received plenty of attention for her craft over the years, including approaches to be part of various butchery or cooking competitions, but that’s not why she does this.
“I’m in it to make our farm sustainable and make beautiful products,” Ruby Duke says. “I have to honor that animal and try and make the best product I can from it. That’s the goal, to be a sustainable farm.”
In general, Duke believes people should be eating less meat. But when they do, she hopes more of it will come from a source they know.
“We love these animals,” Duke says. “We give them the best life we can. When we take their life, it’s serious to us, too. We’re grateful for that. People ask, ‘How do you eat animals you know?’ and I respond, ‘How do you eat animals you don’t know?’”