Photograph by Selene Latigo
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An organic, pasture-fed pig roast reminds us where our meal came from
By Selene Latigo
Two weeks ago Ted took the first step toward enacting his long-time vision of roasting a whole pig. No easy feat, it required lengthy planning, not to mention the hard labor and sleepless nights leading up to Saturday. With the help of a few key players, Ted's birthday dream became reality and Dave and I were fortunate enough to be on the guest list.
LocalHarvest, an extensive Internet resource guide of regional, small scale, sustainable farms and producers across the country, pointed Ted toward TLC Ranch in Watsonville. The all organic, pasture-fed pig and chicken farm is carefully run by Jim and Becky Dunlop, who share the LocalHarvest mission of truly connecting to our local food sources as well as working at raising heritage breeds.
Over the course of the next two weeks, Ted was able to participate in every step of the daunting process that resulted in Saturday's roast, a rarity in this age of mass marketing and destructive food systems. We are all faced with moral decisions regarding what we consume, and there is a natural sadness to the act of killing an animal, but there is also a deep reverence that occurs in taking such an active role in one's own food choices.
At midnight on Friday, the fire was started in the deep, hand-dug pit, ornately studded with rectangular stones and fueled by madrone and oak. By 5:30 Saturday morning, after hours of tinkering, welding and stoking, the pig roast officially began. An initial brining using hand-harvested Cambodian salt and water was followed up by a mopping of two marinades, the Cuban and Cajun themes of which set the tone for the rest of the menu.
We arrived in time to witness quite a bit of the cooking process; a slow-paced game of pig flipping and coal manipulation to achieve optimal temperature without burning the skin. Gradually other guests and neighbors appeared from the redwoods like magic--a diverse crowd of artists, grape-growers, architects, carpenters and native-born inhabitants of this close-knit community, carrying armloads of offerings. There were appetizers to share, tiki torches, homemade apple brandy and even some label-less local wine from the vines at the Corralitos mountaintop. The circular orchard that housed this gathering was infused with a sense of community and revelry as we awaited the gourmet country feast.
Emily O'Sullivan, who has cooked at Carried Away in Aptos for seven years, created an impressive buffet, blending elements of Cuban and Southern cuisines befitting the main pork attraction. The meat was moist and flavorful, with a succulent ratio of fat and crisp, smoky skin. Spicy black beans were ladled out of a cauldron-size pot next to the pig as fire-roasted corn on the cob with chile lime butter was tossed onto plates. Yams that had simply been thrown into the coals beneath the pig were excavated and squished open to reveal vibrant orange flesh and earthy charred skin.
A huge salad of romaine lettuce, English cucumber, yellow cherry tomatoes, chunks of ripe avocado and crumbled feta cheese, dressed in light lemon herb vinaigrette, offered some fresh respite. There was classic coleslaw with carrot, sweet shredded apple and Dijon, squares of tender cheddar-flecked cornbread and jars of fiery homemade kim chi. Roasted tomatillo salsa was blended with tangy and smooth crème fraîche, producing a light green drizzle for my beans, while the cherry mango chutney with jalapeño, fresh mint and spiced syrup provided a piquant contrast to the rich meat.
As we lingered around the hay bale table, the fire pit, now roaring with flames, created warmth as the fog rolled in over the hills. Two types of seasonal summer fruit crisps with hand-cranked vanilla ice cream finished off the feast and we sang "Happy Birthday" to Ted, an attempt to bestow on him some of the generosity he shared with us. I think we all left, groaning from gluttony, with the hope that this will turn into an annual event.
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