Keeping the festive fires burning...
Dead animal pictures below…if this one’s not for you, sorry, but hope to see you next week!
After eating and drinking to excess over the festive season we decided to relax into a slackening belt, repress the guilt of over-indulgence and take back January.
Rather than sadly drifting into 2022 with clean intentions and an expensively optimistic gym membership, our New Year’s resolution was to resolutely double-down and go big...with a pig.
A dry January? Terrible for Vale das Estrelas: we have a lake still much in need of water and while the sun certainly helps keep spirits high we need a wet janeiro.
And so we settled on an extra January 6th celebration: our personal epiphany was a roast pork feast preceded by a piggy procession.
While our twelfth day of Christmas was lacking in drummers drumming, it was replete with a cane-wielding dancing officiant, four pig bearers and a long line of guests led by a Mardi Gras soundtrack that just felt...right.
The three kings would have been proud.
We had much to celebrate – with our daughter Oda being here and the arrival of her rockstar boyfriend Derek Day.
(His Christmas video is well worth a watch and the reviews are great).
Brigadier Adrian and Artemis, Carole and Danny had another road trip up from the Algarve and Margarida and family cut a similar track.
It was just the second time we’d met and I’m not sure what they thought driving over the hill to see a line of crazy people dancing over to neighbour Daniel’s wood-fired oven to extract the porker and process him home...but they joined the krewe anyway.
The star of the show was one Mr Piggy-Wiggy: a 20kg porco preto black piglet lovingly raised by Medronho Jorge and lovingly prepared by us.
As I’ve said before, pigs aren’t always called pork and don’t always come from shops in packets and in pieces.
If we’re going to eat meat, it’s good to know where it comes from and that the animal has had a good life…and Jorge’s pigs have a wonderful free-range life grazing in the Alentejo countryside on acorns and are killed quickly and humanely.
After last week’s window shopping down the valley, Mr Piggy-Wiggy came in 5kg heavier than anticipated at over a metre long and 40cms wide – only just big enough to fit through the jaws of the oven.
We’d been planning to slow-cook the whole hog for a while, and had drafted brother-in-law Pasi into the planning process.
Portugal’s anti-Omicron rule of keeping the kids remote learning for the first week back has kept the holiday feeling going – and allowed Ana’s sister Rita, husband Pasi and kids Diogo and Valpuri to stay with us for a few days and to home school from the Alentejo.
The first logistical challenge was what Mr P.Wig would rest on for his roasting and so Pasi and I headed into town in search of a solution.
A sheet of zinc and an architect’s eye for structures led us to a sketch, a prototype and some focussed cutting, hammering and bending. A few hours later the platter was complete.
Next up was the fire...and it was roaring with just one match thanks to The Fort Method – a fantastic way to make the perfect pizza oven pyre.
We’ve been experimenting with Daniel’s small house of a wood oven for a few weeks now, inspired once again by Medronho Jorge who built his own.
Armed with a new infra-red temperature laser we decided to make evening pizzas first and then put P-Wiggy in overnight once the temperature had dropped below 200C.
With Pasi’s dough and Oda’s topping the pizzas were a huge hit, and near the strike of the Twelfth Night, the main event entered the oven rubbed in salt, pepper and oregano.
For hours we tossed and turned dreaming of blackened and burned piglet and a ruined Epiphany feast, but by 7am all was good and by 2pm it was even better. It was tender pulled pork falling off the bone and the only remaining question was whether our guests were hungry enough.
Although we have been eating pork every day since then, they did us proud!
And with thanks to the Portuguese Baga grape for some light red wine, we had the perfect pork accompaniment.
Pasi has been on the search for lighter reds for a while and has discovered what he likes on the coast north of Lisbon – the Bairrada wine region – and the local Baga grape has similar characteristics to Pinot Noir.
Dessert came both with Ana’s Basque Burned Cheesecake and the Brigadier crowd’s Galette des Rois – a French puff-pastry, almond-filled King Cake – traditionally served on January 6th.
In the style of coins cooked in Christmas Pudding it came complete with fava bean fève which crowned Margarida queen of the cake.
And there wasn’t even room for the Bolo Rei Portuguese King Cake which came all the way from the Gleba bakery in Lisbon, but we/I have been nibbling away at that ever since.
In our own little way we have managed to keep the holidays going that little bit longer, but I can’t wear baggy clothes for ever!
Thankfully with land to clear, wood to chop and loads more to do besides, there’s still no rush to join the gym...just to roll our sleeves up and get out onto the hiking trails with the dogs a bit more.
Thanks to everyone who sent New Year’s wishes to us last week and for the feedback I got from Frank about the Four Eyed Frogs busy in our lake.
“Frogs? Those are toads mate,” he messaged me. “Spiny Toads to be exact, Bufo spinosus, a specialty of the region, a type of Common Toad.”
Regular readers might remember Frank McClintock – we went to visit him at his hotel and birdwatching lodge Paradise in Portugal in September.
He and his wife have been campaigning for years to protect “Salgados” – one of the last remaining untouched pieces of Algarve wetlands and they are almost there.
After organising Portugal’s second largest environmental petition ever, and with a little help from a rare and beautiful purple flower, the area is now a proposed Nature reserve...if it’s approved.
You can help out here...even if you don’t read Portuguese!
If you have time, please add your comments to the public online consultation – you have until January 20th and can read more about it – and how to help – on his blog.
And Frank also had a great suggestion for next year – a using a Medronho sapling as a Christmas tree: “it comes largely already decorated and doesn’t kill the tree either.”
Medronho bushes produce the ingredients for the local booze, have built-in little baubles of red and yellow fruit and are sprouting all over our land – it’s a great idea.
And talking about Christmas trees, I suppose it’s way-past time we took the bauble-killing pine down and see if we can stretch the holibobs a little longer...