Cooking a Pig in the Ground
Cooking a Pig in the Ground
Left to right; LRM, Scout, Bob Baker, John of the Latitudes wrapping the pig.

Cooking a Pig in the Ground

by Lynn R. Miller of Singing Horse Ranch

One of my partners, Larry Brewer, has an older Ford pickup truck on which, in the winter-time, he hangs a snow plow. We live smack dab up against the east side of the Cascade Mountains and we usually get snow in the Fall and Winter. Our ranch is accessed by ten miles of gravel road from the south. Larry, and his wife Sue, live right in the middle of that ten miles. That road gets the very last attention, if any, by the two different county road maintenance crews. That’s not a complaint it is an observation of fact. When the snows come, there are times when it can get fairly deep before official snow plows make it in. For years now, Larry has, without hesitation and with no reward, plowed those ten miles of gravel road and many miles of long private driveways. Two of our neighbors on the road, Bob and Gayle Baker, had the idea to do a thank you celebration for Larry this summer and, having heard my stories of remote Caribbean childhood memories, asked if I would cook a pig in the ground. I agreed with relish and it turned out delicious. Many folks have asked if I would share the recipe I used. I hesitated realizing that once I did there would no longer be a reason to invite me over, but I figured it would be okay as long as I left out some measurements, and some key ingredients by feigning amnesia and occasionally referring to them as secret sauces or rituals. (If you are serious about trying this yourself, I suggest careful consideration of hiring a professional to assist you or an successful imposter such as myself.)

My first requisite of Gayle was that the whole dressed pig be in the seventy pound range rather than the more typical 250 pounder. This was because, for a crowd of 40 adults, experience has shown that the larger pig is too much meat and a physical challenge to handle. The handy smaller pig will always cook completely whereas, if surprises occur to reduce the fire (say heavy rainfall or poor fire building), the larger pig may not cook completely. That said, this process may be ramped up for the larger pig and made to work.

Cooking a Pig in the Ground
A vast army of draftees lift the cooked pig from the pit.

MILLER’S PIG

Ingredients:

  • 70 + pound dressed whole pig
  • a hole in the ground, 4 feet wide by 5 to 6 feet long by 3 to 4 feet deep. no combustibles or loose dirt around the top lip, no living roots exposed in the pit.
  • a box of banana leaves
  • light cord suitable to stitch meats
  • 20 burlap sacks, condition unimportant but must be free of combustible solvents
  • 1 inch mesh chicken wire
  • four or five boxes of unusable (throw away) lettuce, the wetter the better
  • four or five wheelbarrow loads of round rock (not river!) preferably lava, about the size of grapefruits
  • newspaper, the equivalent of Sunday New York Times
  • a wheelbarrow load of finely chopped dry kindling
  • two wheelbarrow loads of dry hardwood in customary cordwood lengths and sizes (fruitwoods are excellent)
  • a 6’ x 8’ poly tarp
  • a bag of rock salt
  • 20 pounds of wet clay
  • cubed dried bread (stuffing mix) enough to almost fill cavity premixed with chicken broth
  • chopped Turkish dried Apricots (1/2 lb.)
  • dried Cherries (1/2 lb.)
  • chopped mixed nuts
  • lots of Aziote paste premixed with lime juice (from 4 limes)
  • pure orange juice
  • eight or more of the best fresh pork sausages
  • 4 or 5 baking apples
Cooking a Pig in the Ground
Larry, the snowplowman on the left watches the unwrapping of the pig.

Procedure: Dig the pit well in advance so its one less thing to worry about.

Plan your cooking in reverse; decide when you want to serve and eat and go back 14 hours in time. Soak the burlap sacks in water for at least six hours.

Line the entire bottom of the pit with crumpled newspaper, then stack the kindling cross-hatched over that whole surface. Next sprinkle lighter fluid. Next stack on cord wood, occasionally pulling up corners of newspaper through stack. (You’ll be lighting these.) Over this surface lay on a bed of the round rocks, single layer. Light the newspaper, careful to have a fire going over the whole bottom of the pit. Once the fire is going strong throw on the remaining round rocks. Leave someone, preferably self-reliant, to attend the fire and take two subservient humans with you to prepare the pig.

On a clean surface, lay out enough banana leaves to make a bed for the pig. Rub the whole pig, inside and out, with rock salt. Brush on the Aziote marinade over the entire surface of the pig, especially the cavity. Prop the mouth open with a clean rock or stick. Mix nuts, fruits and stuffing together, and fill cavity and carefully insert the pork sausages so that they don’t touch the cavity wall but instead are completely surrounded by the stuffing mix. If any space remains fill it with clean, cored, whole apples. Sew the cavity shut. Don’t put an apple in the pig’s mouth at this time, it will only go to mush in the cooking. (After the pig comes out of the ground, we put a roasted apple in its’ mouth – first remove stick or rock.)

Wrap the banana leaves around the pig, covering completely, and tied with cording. Next: note which will be the side which lays down on the fire and cover that side of the wrapped pig with a generous layer of clay, roll pig over carefully and continue with clay. It is not critical that it be a solid continuous covering. The clay protects the bottom side from the extreme heat and makes a defacto cooking “dish” for the pig, it is also a big part of what keeps the juices in. Next wrap the clay covered pig in another covering of banana leaves and wrap that in chicken wire to hold the entire thing together.

Cooking a Pig in the Ground
Gayle Baker, center, gathers the stuffing.

At the pit: Two hours after the fire was first lit, the stones should be white and red hot with glowing from the wood underneath. Now throw on that fire all those wet lettuce leaves. Wow, what a lot of steam! That’s what it’s supposed to do. Next gently lay the wrapped pig down, remember which side you first put the clay on – put that side down, in the center of that lettuce steam bed. Now, lay the wet burlap sacks over the pig, one at a time, overlapping and completely covering the pig. Next cover that pile with the poly tarp. With shovels, cover the tarp at least six inches with dirt and make sure that all the steam leaks around the edges get extra dirt, to shut them off. Check you watch, what time is it? Ten to twelves hours hence you will be removing the pig to prepare for eating. This is not a precise cooking regime. Don’t worry about overcooking, you can’t.

Get some sleep.

When you are ready, remove as much dirt as you can from the tarp surface and peel tarp back. Next, peel off the burlap sacks one at a time. Careful, it will still be very hot. Once the sacks are off, carefully lift the wrapped pig from the pit. Don’t try to do it alone!

Unwrap the pig, steal several pinches of the first meat you see pretending you are testing for done. (These stealings will be some of the best morsels and by all rights belong to the dummy who took on this enormous project.) Put the apple in the mouth, pretty up the presentation, maybe with some fresh banana leaves, and cut open cavity to get at stuffing. If you want to impress someone make sure they get some stuffing with a sausage from the cavity. The rest, as they say in children’s books, is pure fun!

(Special thanks to Al Emel for his helpful suggestions, especially the lead on using lettuce for the steam bed.)