Ah the festive season is over. The presents, now stowed away and forgotten, the decorations taken down, the port decanter be-specked with the last sad sediments, the endless rinds of stilton mouldering quietly in the fridge, the recycling bins once again boast their pre-Yuletide jejune haul of 2 semi-skimmed milk cartons and a single baked bean tin. 2012 dawns fairly drearily- no crisp frosty mornings, no snow, no more Downton specials to dispel the January blues. What, in fact is there to look forward to in the coming months? The next feasible celebratory period is Valentine’s day, and if you are a true Stoic as i am you wouldn’t dream of observing such a horrifying prospect anyway. Pink food, cheap chocolates, red roses, “risque” underwear and non-commital sex-under any normal circumstances that would be an average night in a downmarket brothel. So no, i wont be looking forward to that. There is, however, a small beacon of hope in the form of Burns Night, on the 25th of January. But more of this nearer the time. Though the beginning of a New Year seems an appropriate time for looking forward, i wouldn’t want to alter a lifetime spent in being backward, and instead indulge in my favourtie pasttime-nostalgic reflection. The Christmas just past will go down in family history as one of the weridest and wonderfull-est we have ever had. Predominantly, however, it will be remembered as the year of “The Saga of the Pig”. The pig was to be my great Christmas showpiece- a suckling pig bought in Edinburgh and driven to Devon in a black body bag, then roasted whole on Christmas day. In theory and design, my plan was flawless, in execution it was traumatising. The pig survived the journey, but at this point it was only wednesday, and Christmas day, as you may recall, was sunday. Having been assured by the exceptionally ferrety butcher that the “wee piggy cannae go orff till he’s a cut up” (at least i think that’s what he said-the accent was almost inpenetrable) i felt fairly sure he would last the following few days if i wrapped him properly in clean muslin cloth, and checked him every day. By day two Piggy was sat in a puddle of fluid, and fluid is never good. I took him out, rubbed him down, and rewrapped him, praying for the Good Lord to spare him. By saturday, he stank. And i do not mean the vague pong of meat on the turn. You see he wasn’t meat, he was a pig. A whole one. But a small one. With ears, and orifices, and eyes that you could open. And a tongue that lolled in a half scream of pain from his yellowed piglet teeth. Oh God. However, having endured the endless taunts of my long-suffering father (“why cant you just get a bloody turkey like everyone else?”) and feeling the faint rumbling remnants of what i can only assume to be pride in my gung-ho, “i’m a professional” lack of squeamishness, i remained resolved that i would cook the pig, and i would win. So, as Sunday dawned (literally, i got up at 4 and witnessed dawn) i rallied my strength and opened the fridge. The smell that met my tender early-morning nostrils instantly triggered a gag reflex, but i summoned the strength to lift the bugger out and unwrap him. He was now covered in a vague yellow slime that was the main source of the smell. After a brief ten minute panic about the potential poisonous risks involved in what i was about to do, i decided i was not the sort of person who let an innocent piglet die jut to throw his 70 pounds worth of rotting flesh in the bin. No, this noble piggy was destined for the oven, slime or no slime. So after a vigorus shower and another rubbing down, he still smelt fairly bad, but i rubbed him liberally in salt and oil and put him outside until his time arrived. After 3 and a half hours of traumatic roasting (our see-through oven door allowed me to witness such highlights as his smoking ears and juicing, dripping nostrils) he was ready, crackled and crisp and golden all over, his eyes now finally shut, the half-scream now cooked into a semi-grin. And after all that, he was delicious. The softest, most melting meat i have tadted. The thinnest, crispiest crackling, like a thin ice sheet you lift off a puddle on a December morning. We ate him with sprouts and pancetta, butternut squash and celeriac gratin, devils on horseback and cider gravy and it was a deliciously different Christmas feast. For pudding it was a quiince and sherry trifle, with homemade sponge and custard (and no jelly-yuk) We ate him again on Boxing Day with brasied red cabbage, cannellini beans and more sprouts. And he was still going until we left on the 28th.
So the moral of this very long tale is not perhaps to advise you to eat meat that is by all intents and purposes “off”, but instead to consider an alternative Christmas centrepiece that will make your festive feast that little bit more interesting. Just try and avoid my mistake and choose something that cant look you in the eye. Because all squeamishness aside, cooked face is never pleasant to behold.