Eating Over the Sink
So there I am, in the pig pen, with little piglets running to and fro under my feet, squealing. I’m lurching back and forth, holding a roasting pan upside-down over my head, swooping down with it at intervals, and all the while seriously wondering why I ever agreed to this scheme in the first place!
About two months before Christmas a few years back, Glorious Spouse suggested, “Why don’t we have a Roast Suckling Pig for Gourmet Christmas?” You understand that since most of our friends are with their own families on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we host a yearly dinner party a few weeks before the holiday so we can all celebrate the Season at a more convenient time. The party used to be called The Christmas Dinner Party, but in the past seven or eight years it has come to be known as Gourmet Christmas. Everyone is so jaded, you know. Everyone wants Gourmet. No one just wants dinner.
Roast Suckling Pig seems like a simple-enough plan, right? Wrong. First off, we live in the Big City. There are no pigs, suckling or otherwise, within 45 miles in any direction. Where is there a pig farm (or do you call it a ranch?) with a farmer/rancher who would still have some baby pigs in early December, a farmer willing to sell just one pig, and a small one, at that? Where is there a real butcher, not one of these meat-cutting people who works at the supermarket, and who wouldn’t have a clue how to kill and butcher an actual animal? How do we get the pig home within a few days of the gathering? The whole idea – fraught with difficulties!
But, Glorious Spouse did her homework, and after two Sunday drives out into “the country,” we were successful in finding a pig farmer who said he would have some baby pigs in early December. (This is California, remember, where all things are possible.) Although he undoubtedly thought we were a few piglets short of a whole litter, the pig man agreed to provide us with an appropriate critter. He also agreed to dispatch and dress out the little fellow, and have it ready for us to pick up two days before the party. So far, so good.
Next dilemma. Take a look at your oven. Is there any chance you could get just any whole pig in there? Fortunately, since we’re soooooo very interested in Gourmet cooking at our house, we have a really large oven, having remodeled our kitchen to accommodate Incredi-Stove. However, we needed to get a much-larger roasting pan. The two-week hunt for the largest roasting pan in the Free World was undertaken, but that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say, that a pan was located, and we only needed to take out a small second mortgage to pay for it.
With the new roasting pan riding along in the back seat of the car like an honored passenger in a limousine, we took the penultimate trip to the pig farm on the first Saturday morning that December to choose the pig, and make the final arrangements.
At the farm, Glorious Spouse and I approached the pig enclosure fence, and the piglets looked us straight in the eye. With roasting pan in hand, I opened the pen and went inside. Here was my plan: I would lower the upside-down pan over the backs of the pigs, one at a time, until I found one that was shorter than the length of the pan. The piglets (no surprise here) ran back and forth and did nothing to cooperate with my taking their measurements. I lurched this way; they ran that way. I ran that way; they fell into a pile. I fell against the sharp chain link fence tops and poked my side; the little pigs ran through a special hole in the fence to the safety of Mama’s enclosure. Mama looked at me through the holes in the chain link, and was not happy. It was not a pretty sight!
In the fullness of time, a pig was chosen, and we brought him home on the Thursday before Party Day. But, where should he be kept until Saturday? Both the kitchen refrigerator and the one in the garage were chocked full. So, I had to give the pig a bath.
We lined the bathtub with a plastic painting drop cloth, wrapped the pig in a giant plastic trash bag, lowered it into the tub, and poured on 60 pounds of ice cubes from the liquor store. Then we covered the tub with several blankets and both our sleeping bags to keep in the cold. Thank goodness for second bathrooms.
On the day of the party, I began putting ‘All-The-Way-Home’ into the roasting pan, only to learn something else pertinent to this undertaking: a standing-up, running-around pig is shorter along his back than a lying-down pig with his feet stretched out in front of him. ‘All-The-Way-Home’ would not fit in the pan, except on the diagonal, and even this did not give quite enough room for his feet. His feet had to be crossed demurely, one over the other, thus requiring his name to be changed to Miss Piggy. We stuffed her mouth with a roundish rock wrapped in foil to hold the space for an apple, oiled her down, and slipped her into the waiting oven.
The Pig on a Platter was presented with crossed legs, a red crabapple in her mouth, and a little pink ribbon on her head. All that wonderfully-roasted pork skin! She was a huge success. Another thing we learned that day is that a suckling pig does not actually provide much pork meat, but not to worry. We had plenty of other delicacies. Our guests would not be expecting only one main course, be it Beef Wellington or even Pheasant Under Glass. It was, after all, Gourmet Christmas!
ZACK GRADY writes from Southern California. He was once in the bar business, and if you ask nicely, he might tell you about that fiasco, some time.