7:00am on Saturday morning, I woke up to a booming voice yelling “The pig is on fire! Get up! The pig is on fire!” Obviously I turned over and tried to fall back asleep, but the sound of the world’s most annoying, yapping dog barking from the tent next door pulled me even further from my slumber until I finally threw on my hiking boots and went to find a crisp morning full of fall colors, people cooking breakfast over propane stoves, and a pig happily roasting in the corner. This was my first pig pickin’.
A pig pickin’, for those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), is an event in which an entire hog gets roasted slowly over a BBQ, or in this case, a makeshift cinder block smoker. Wikipedia seems to think this is done with an 80-120 pound pig, roasted over about 8 hours. Ours was 250 lbs. and took over 24 hours. Wow. Well, there were over 150 of us, but still.
The event took place on a Saturday night, but I was lucky enough to get there Friday afternoon, early enough to see the process from beginning to end. The initial process of watching them load the pig was really cool. They (friends of friends who did the cooking) bought the pig from a local farmer who apparently rocked a mean cowboy hat in true form. If any part of this process was going to bother me, it was the initial load in because it’s when the pig looked like a pig, complete with head wound and dried blood smeared on its forehead. One of my vegetarian friends was really upset by the photo I put on Facebook (sorry). I thought that I, too, would be really grossed out by it, but I wasn’t. In fact, I’ve never felt less bad about eating an animal. This was how animals were meant to be eaten, I believe. Grown on a local farm, delivered straight to the hands of people we knew, cooked by and prepared by the community, and shared among everyone. This was no commercial slaughter-to-grocery store endeavor, this was the real thing.
The cinder block structure was about 3.5 feet tall with the pig placed about two feet off the ground so that the wood coals could be placed under. First the wood was burned down in a barrel drum, which gave us happy campers somewhere to huddle for warmth. Once the coals were burned down enough, they were shoveled from the bottom of the drum into the bottom of the smoker, which had one side made of wood that could be lifted and lowered as if it were an oven door. At one point in the night they let me shovel the coals in. I think I might have been the only girl to do it. Probably not, but since I didn’t see anyone else, I’m going with that. It makes me feel cool.
The temperature needed to be maintained at about 200 degrees at all times, which means that the coals needed to be shoveled in 1-2 times an hour at least. So… someone doesn’t get to sleep. And the pig should never catch on fire. Oops – it did. Twice. The second time provoked the early yet hilarious wake-up call at 7 in the morning. There was some fear that this might have ruined the pig, but if my novice taste buds could gauge anything, it turned out perfectly.
As delicious as the meal itself was, the most intriguing part was watching them butcher it. It was past 9 at night in the wilderness, so it was black out with the exception of the police style lamps surrounding the chefs and pig, creating an oddly crime scene-like atmosphere. The crowd surrounded the butchering with opened mouthed salivation and fascination. Hunger, anticipation, and intrigue all in one. No one could rip their eyes away as the discarded parts were flung to the side for the hounds to fight over. And then…. Succulent, succulent pig. Yum.
After the meal came the celebration, complete with glow-in-the-dark Bocce, a bluegrass band, and at least 8 different fires. The fall cold had set in enough that most of us were happy to take a glass of our keg beer and huddle by the fire, though I made sure to get at least one set of hoe-down in before I lamed out to campfire land. I really thought when I left Colorado that my time of wilderness adventures had come to an end. Guess I was wrong. Why move to the country when the country comes to you? I hope they do this again next year, and I hope I am lucky enough to be able to go.