Home Cooking with Steve & Michelle Ellis
GRAY COURT. It’s fitting that, the first time I meet Steve Ellis, he’s wearing a shirt that says, “YOU HAD ME AT BACON.” We’re standing in his home, which is located in the middle of his pig farm, and he’s about to cook up one of the tastiest pork tenderloins I’ve ever eaten.
The prosperous pig farm now known as Bethel Trails was once just known as Steve and Michelle Ellis’ backyard. The couple raised a few chickens, then a few cows, and then a few pigs. It wasn’t until 2007 that they decided to start providing meat for others, including retail outlets such as the Simpsonville Farmers Market and Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery and restaurants such as Bacon Brothers, High Cotton and Stella’s Bistro. The couple looks forward to long days at the farmers market, which they liken to “game day,” explaining that it’s a rush to get so busy for those few hours each week.
Almost 70 Berkshire and Tamworth pigs roam the property at the moment, and even though they are harvested at a slower pace than pigs on commercial farms, most of them will end up in the Ellis’ garage before long. “Some people, when they have a midlife crisis, they put a sports car in the garage. I put a walk-in freezer in mine.”
We roam the property so I can meet the pigs face-to-face, from the newest piglets to the 10-year-old sow “retired” after an astonishing nine litters. Steve describes the pigs as social, strong and smart. The breeding stock is named after the cast of Andy Griffith: Barney, Ernest T. Bass, Thelma Lou and Juanita. The pig farming business has been a series of trials and errors for Steve, who loves building and repairing farm structures and inventing better ways of doing things. “I may not know all the things to do, but I can tell you what not to do,” he says with a chuckle.
Meanwhile, the smell of pork tenderloin, a blend of sweet and savory, is filling the small kitchen. It’s a treat that Steve cooks for his family at Christmas and delivers to the same Simpsonville house in which he grew up. One of four kids, he celebrates with 25 family members during the holidays, but the biggest fans of his bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin are the little ones. We return to the house just before the oven’s buzzer sounds.
Steve and Michelle have become passionate about cooking only in the last couple of years as the result of changing their eating habits. (They eat Paleo at home.) A plaque on the kitchen wall reads, “Martha Stewart don’t live here.” Maybe not, but the couple is the best kind of unpretentious, cooking food that just plain tastes good. Cooking is easier since their children have left home, not to mention how readily accessible the ingredients are. Almost every meal around their table includes pork, beef, lamb, chicken, turkey or duck from their farm. Proudly Steve assures me, “If we eat meat, it’s our meat.”