Whilst assembling my Victorian Christmas fayre articles, I came across a really interesting entry from my Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management about how roast pork and crackling may have been discovered. I know this is not a strictly festive posting, unless of course you have opted to have roast pork as your Christmas lunch. However, I hope you find it fascinating and amusing, if a little far-fetched.
How Roast Pig was Discovered
Charles Lamb, in his delightfully quaint prose sketches, written under the title of the Essays of Elia, has devoted one paper to the subject of Roast Pig, describing his own inimitable, quiet, humorous manner how the toothsome dainty known as crackling frist became known to the world.
According to this authority, man in the golden – or, at all events, the primitive – age, ate his pork and bacon raw, as indeed he ate his beef and mutton. At the epoch of the story, a citizen of some Scythian community had the misfortune to have his hut, containing his live stock of pigs, burnt down. In going over the debris to pork out the available salvage, the proprietor touched something very hot, which caused him to put his suffering fingers in his mouth. The act was simple, but the result was wonderful. He rolled his eyes in ecstasy and conscious of an unwonted and celestial odour, with distended nostrils, and drawing in deep inspiration of the ravishing perfume, he sucked his fingers again and again. Clearing away the rubbish of his ruined hut, there was disclosed to his view one of his pigs roasted to death. Stooping down to examine it, and touching its body, a fragment of the burnt skin became detached, and in a spirit of philosophical inquiry the man put it into his mouth. No pen can describe the felicity he then enjoyed – it was then that he – the world – first tasted crackling. For a time the Scythian carefully kept his secret, and feasted in secret upon his newly found luxury. When the pig was at last eaten up, the poor man fell into a deep melancholy, refused his accustomed food, lost his appetite, and became reduced to a shadow. Unable to endure the torments of memory from which he suffered hourly, he rose up one night and secretly set fire to his hut, and once more was restored to health and spirits. Finding it impossible to live in future without his newly discovered delicacy, every time his larder became empty he set fire to his house, until his neighbours becoming scandalized by these incendiary acts, brought his conduct before the supreme council of the nation. To avert the penalty threatened him, he brought his judges to the smouldering ruins, and discovering his secret, he invites them to eat! With tears of gratitude the august synod embraced him, and with an overflowing feeling of ecstasy dedicated a statue to the memory of the man who first instituted roast pork. (p. 651 Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, 1915 edition)
If you want dinner guests to display ‘tears of gratitude’ over your culinary skills, then why not try Mrs B’s recipe for roasted sucking-pig.
A sucking-pig, not more than 3 weeks old, butter, or salad-oil to baste with, onion forcemeat.
Make the forcemeat as directed (see recipe below), put it inside the pig, and close the opening by means of a trussing needle and string. Brush the entire surface of the pig with salad-oil or warmed butter, wrap it in several folds of well-oiled or well-greased paper, draw the legs well back, tie into shape, and either roast or bake the pig or 2 1/2 or 3 hours, according to its size. It should be thoroughly well basted, and about 1/2 an hour before the time of serving, the paper must be removed, and the pig brushed over with thick cream or salad-oil to improve the colour, and crisp the surface. Before serving, cut off the head, and split the pig down the centre of the back; lay the 2 halves on a dish, divide the head, and place 1/2 at each end of the dish. The usual accompaniments are brown and apple sauces, and sometimes hot currants: the latter should be prepared the day before. To make them plump, they must be scalded and afterwards thoroughly dried. Re-heat in the oven before serving. Takes approximately 3 hours to cook and serves approximately 9 persons.
Sage and Onion Stuffing
2 lb of onions, 1/2 a pint of freshly made bread crumbs, 1 tablespoonful of finely chopped sage or a teaspoonful of powdered sage, 2 ozs of butter, salt and pepper.
Cut the onions into dice, put them into cold water, bring to the boil, cook for 5 minutes, then strain and drain well. Melt the butter in a stewpan, and fry the onions for about 15 minutes without browning them. Add the breadcrumbs, sage, and seasoning, mix well, and use as required. Takes 30 minutes to cook.