I don’t know about you but I associate family weddings with many things – quaint village churches, posh marquees, champagne, trying to remember the names of your cousins, tipsy uncles, and oddly, the smell of pork fat dripping into an open fire. I think I was about 6 when I first saw a whole dead pig, and it was not in a happy state, a pole inserted all the way painfully through it’s body, gently turning as flames licked it’s glistening skin. A strange sight for a young city boy like me, but one I was going to have to get used to. Over the years I’ve seen many a pig roast (mainly orchestrated by my uncle Graham, a proper man of the countryside), at weddings, birthdays, anniversary’s and the like. Until now I’ve been merely a spectator (though I ‘commissioned’ one for my own wedding), but over the last two weeks I’ve got a bit more hands-on, to say the least.
Last weekend was my cousins 25th wedding anniversary , and they threw a spectacular weekend long country garden party, with the centerpiece being, you guessed it, a pig roast. This was no small roast thought, it was an epic 45kg, 10 hour long, 3.30am starting pig roast. As we relaxed around the fire on the Friday night with beer, sheesha, a digeridoo that no-one knew how to play, and anticipating tomorrow’s epic feast, I quizzed my cousin David and uncle Graham about the finer details of how they had affixed the poor swine to the spit, how long it would take, what kind of wood they were burning, and exactly how many spit-roasts they had done. These questions weren’t just polite chitter-chatter though, I was secretly petrified about the following weekend – I had agreed to roast a whole lamb on a spit for my brothers 30th birthday, and wanted to know every last detail.
My cousin David had volunteered to do the early shift and got the pig on at 3.30am. As campers awoke from slumber, the pig turning duty was passed around the party-goers. I eventually got my shift at about 10.30am. After 10 hours on the spit, the pig was finally removed at 1.30pm. Together with David and Graham, I dived in to the carving enthusiastically, taking Grahams lead of course. The pork was served with heaps of salads, homemade apple sauce and bread rolls, and easily fed the 60 or so people in attendance, with heaps of leftovers.
Onto this weekend then and my first start-to-finish, nose-to-tail spit-roast. My brother and I picked up our ‘beyond organic’ devonshire lamb from the Real Meat Company at 7.30am, and headed straight out to rural Berkshire to get our fire started. Sadly it wasn’t quite nose-to-tail as they apparently remove the head as standard. When the fire was roaring, brother and I set about affixing the 20kg beast onto an ash pole. The spit went through the abdominal cavity and out through the anus – the pelvic bone gripping the pole nice and tight (so tight in fact, we needed a club hammer to force the pole through!). We then forced the hind legs under some battening that was fixed to the spit, and nailed each leg to the battening, followed by binding round some metal wire as extra security. The same was done with the fore legs, and the neck was screwed onto the spit. Finally we inserted a metal pipe through the rib cage on either side and wired this to the spit, and wired the back of the lamb to the pipe to keep it nice and close to the pole throughout, avoiding as much movement as possible as the spit turns. I scored the lamb all over and then massaged it with olive oil, rosemary, and loads of Maldon sea salt. At 10.10 it finally went on the spit, slightly to the side of the fire, it’s belly covered in foil to prevent over-cooking. And there it stayed, turning slowly by hand (mainly mine, but also my mum’s, wife’s and my brother’s father-in-law), until 5.30pm when it was due to be served up. We’d taken off the foil around the belly at about 3.30 to colour up it’s middle and by the end it was looking proper tasty. My brother and I got stuck in with our carving knives and it easily fed the 40 or so guests, accompanying the new potatoes, abundant salad, and homemade mint sauce. It’s a great experience to have done it from start to finish, and I can’t wait for the next big family event so I can do it all over again!