Critters (chapter two, speaking of pigs)

Years ago, when the wheat crop was too small to sell, we ended up with a small pile of unsalable  grain in front of our gate.  As night fell we found we had a visitor who was nibbling away at the pile.  I heard the dogs becoming agitated, barking furiously with that steady staccato rhythm which means, “Come and see, this is important!”  I got there just in time to see a black shape, the size of a calf, shambling off into the brush of the fosso.  I wondered how a calf might have found its way to our gate, but stranger things have happened.  The next morning I discovered deep prints in the soft soil of our apricot orchard that showed clearly that the animal had been a boar, and a huge one.  I was so impressed by the size of the prints that I mixed up some plaster and cast a mold of one of the prints, which I still keep as a memento.
These days, what was once a rare occurance has become commonplace.  We have boar!    And by this I don’t intend the usual feral pigs which have reverted from farm stock, but huge, unkempt and tusked porkers that have been in these woods forever.    Recently they have been augmented by the hunting associations which set free young boar during the  Spring into the woodsy areas.  The contadini* are not at all pleased with this development, as they often see their hard work destroyed by these rooting beasts during the night.  One evening I barely avoided hitting one one which galloped across the road in front of my car, slavering and wild-eyed in the moonlight.  It was as tall as the hood of my tallish SUV, and I am thankful we avoided impact as it would not have ended nicely for either of us.
                                    painting:  “Colline, Pomarico”  pastel on paper, 2011
When I go walking with my dogs, I often take pepper spray.  The woods are dense, and signs of the wild  boars’ nighttime activities are everywhere.  They can ruin a field of vegetables in a couple of hours, and will strip an olive tree of bark if it appeals to them to use it as a scratching post.  I once saw a Fiat 600—a smallish, but by no means microscopic automobile—-with a freshly-killed boar strapped onto the roof.  A hoof dangled over each window and its head lolled down over the windshield.  The tires on the car were flattened and it was stranded by the sheer weight of the creature.  Somebody had quite a barbeque that weekend.   I hope they invited lots of  friends.
On another occasion, I was summoned  again by frantic barking, and as I peered out toward the front gate I saw not one but five boar milling around.  My son and I immediately had the idea that feeding them dry dog food might be amusing. Never ones to let common sense interfere with our fun,  I gave him a bucket.  He climbed up onto our big iron gate and perched there, throwing out kibble as a king might have strewn gold coins.  Or was that pearls?  When the bucket was empty, we were faced with the fact that now they wouldn’t  go away!  From that day they would regularly return, of course, looking for more free food, and we could hardly get the car out of the gate for fear that they would come inside.   Luckily it was the golden age of  my  boys’ all-consuming interest in air rifles, so a couple of well-placed stinging shots in their nether parts  solved our self-created problem.  I’m afraid that particular group ended the Autumn season as spicy meatballs because we never saw them again.  I understand that I am  probably to blame  for having introduced them to the “nice” humans.  I can put my imaginary  “Hunter’s Friend” trophy on the mantelpiece next to the lump of coal that I earned from the scrofulous swine ranks for my dirty deed.
Sometimes  friends who hunt will bring us a cut of boar meat.  It is always a moment in culinary perplexity for me because the meat is very gamey and requires specific preparation which involves soaking in brine and such.  I did once manage to create a wonderful stufata di carne* with the meat, but I’m afraid it was a one-time endeavor.   I have to admit that most of it, after occupying a forgotten corner of my freezer for a couple of years,  has gone towards an excellent repast for the dogs.   But even though I’m not the most appreciative consumer of boar meat, I have a healthy respect for all things cinghiale* these days.   I can only hope they maintain enough respect for me to steer clear when I am out and about in the fields.
*contadini : small farmers
*stufata di carne :  meat stew
*cinghiale : wild boar
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5 thoughts on “Critters (chapter two, speaking of pigs)

  1. Too too funny. You are inspiring me to make the roast pig I have never dared to prepare. My favorite coffee table cookbook, of course Italian, of course written by a wine producer, has a recipe. Porceddu is very simple,
    6 1/2 lb/3K suckling pig
    7 garlic cloves
    4 Tbs salt
    Fresh herbs such as rosemary and bay leaf

    You make a rub for the pig with the harbs salt and garlic, rub it on the tiny beast, put bay leaves inside, tie the legs together.

    Roast it at 350F or 180C or Mark 4 for 1.5 hours then
    roast at 400F or 200C or Mark 6 for 10 minutes until the skin is crispy
    Remove the bay leaves, present whole, then slice and serve!

    Yes, I was a vegetarian for about 4 years – until my 1st trip to Italy, whereupon a simple pasta a la carbonara at La Maddelena, which I hope is still near the Pantheon in Rome, or the roast goat at the festa near Pizzica Pantanello, celebrating the end of a successful excavation season* convinced me that my “veggie” days were over!

    * I hope our children have even half of that fun in their late adolescence!

    1. Can you get a suckling pig at the grocery store? I know they have them here, I should try that recipe. But there is something about al those baby animals in their shrink wrap that creeps me out. At Easter, celebrating the rebirth of Christ by killing hundreds of thousands of small–still emotionally attached to mommy–just doesn’t seem right somehow! Octopus? I won’t ever buy veal, either, for this reason….but hey, baby pigs? Lets just hope they aren’t smart enough to get their revenge! The thing is, they ARE pretty smart. But then again so are asparagus, right?

  2. I am sure I could ask for one at a meat market or some such. I haven’t actually used that recipe for the same reasons! I do believe there’s a difference between asparagus brain and piglet brain but since I am from the USA I don’t understand the science well enough to explain it :). …

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