Saturday, May 26, 2012

Barbecue Memories...

HALLIE EPHRON: With Memorial Day nearly upon us, my thoughts drift to fond memories of lost friends and great backyard barbecues.  Two come to mind: a pig roast and a clam bake.

The pig roast was organized by a dear (and sadly now deceased) friend Gladys Martinez, a Cuban emigre full of life and vitality. She and her cousin from New Jersey dug a pit in her yard and lined it with stones and charcoal  and started the fire the night before, setting the alarm to get up every four hours or so and add coals. Her cousin fashioned a grill out of a stolen shopping cart using bolt cutters and wire, and rigged it so it would hang over the fire and could be hand-cranked.

My husband and I were in charge of procuring the pig. We'd found an old-fashioned butcher in Boston's Italian North End that special ordered us a young pig, to Gladys's specifications, and the day before the barbecue off we went on the subway with our 3-year-old daughter Molly in an umbrella stroller (remember those?) to fetch it.

We had no idea the pig would be so big. It was longer and heavier than Molly. We had to bring IT home in the stroller. Bagged in clear plastic, riding in that stroller, it drew LOTS of weirded-out glances from other passengers.

Gladys marinated the pig overnight in her bathtub in oil and garlic and orange juice and achiote (the stuff that makes Spanish rice yellow) and peppers and seasoning. She started cooking it the next morning. Company (including us) arrived in the afternoon.

What a production! But it was so worth it. The pork was fork tender and redolent of garlic and spices. We fought over the crispy bits of skin. Gladys served it with Cuban style Yucca and of course rice and beans. For dessert: a fantastic flan.

The clam bake was in the Rhode Island backyard of the family home of Linda Laubenstein, a college friend who died about ten years ago. Same deal: dig a pit, line it with stones and charcoal. But then, once it was thoroughly heated up and ready for cooking, they lined the pit with a sea-water-soaked tarp. Lined the tarp with heaps and heaps of seaweed dredged from the ocean. Finally piled on the lobsters, clams, and corn and close the tarp, putting some of the hot rocks on top,

It must have taken an hour or more to cook, but what came out tasted like nothing I'd ever had before. All the wonderful tastes of the seafood were melded with sea and smoke. Absolutely delicious, and there'd be no way to duplicate it other than going to all that trouble.

Do you have barbecue memories to share in the run-up to Memorial Day?


  1. Yum, sounds delicious. My grandfather raised beef cattle, so we were always more of a steak and burger kind of family for our holidays. Have a great Memorial Day!

  2. Hallie, hysterical to imagine you bringing the pig back in a stroller!

    My father used to be big on pig roasts, creating a giant spit over a pit and tending all day. In fact, I had one at my first wedding reception. the marriage didn't survive, but I will never forget that pig in our bathtub, neatly iced in...

  3. In Baja California on a sixth-grade week-long trip, the school we visited threw a goat roast for us. I don't remember the details, but have been trying to find another instance of that delicious meat ever since.

    Not for Memorial Day, but the beef kebabs our cook in Mali made melted in your mouth. He used some kind of marinade that I have been wishing for twenty years I got the recipe for.

    And speaking of kebabs, when I first moved to Ipswich our local (Greek-owned) shellfish company sold marinated swordfish tips that were incredibly good grilled on a skewer. But they don't make them anymore. I'm seeing a marinade theme here!

    Love roasted pig, too!

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  5. I guess my memory is of an event I didn't attend-but if that counts...

    One of Jonathan's old girlfriends hosted a lobster feast at Jonathan's house many years ago. She was so saddened by the imminent demise of the lobsters that she set them all "free" for one last the chlorinated swimming pool.

    They died. The lobsters, I mean. So much for THAT party.

    (She must have had other good traits, right? Except when I asked J what the divot in the dining room wall was, years ago, he said ""Name-of-girlfriend" threw a plate. Eesh.)

    We're grilling out rack of lamb. YUM!!

  6. I grew up in such a different culture. In Louisiana, fall was the time to slaughter a pig and gather for a day-long pig fest called a boucherie. The pig was slaughtered and roasted over a pit after being skinned and blooded. The skin was sliced and deep fried in vats of oil to make gratons. The blood was saved for blood stew. In the really olden days, the intestines were rinsed out in the bayou before being stuffed for sausages. It was a fabulous party. Well, unless you were the pig.

    This time of year, the big party was the Blessing of the Fleet before shrimp season started. Party on a boat, then go to church where the priest blessed all of the (extremely drunk) ship captains.

    Bien times.

  7. Such a fun memory, Hallie. Carry the child; put the pig in the stroller. The mental image will be cracking me up all weekend.

    We thought we were going to a barbecue today, but it was changed to tomorrow, which I in my post-accident fog did not catch. So now we have to figure out what, besides all the strawberries I prepared for shortcake, we will have for our dinner. Some of your ideas sound great.

  8. I've always wanted to attend a clam bake. I adore seafood and seafood on a beach at night would be my idea of heaven.

    We had a pig roast for my goddaughter's wedding in England. A whole pig turned on a spit for hours. I wasn't too thrilled as the meat was cold by the time it was carved off the pig.

  9. I live in the heart of barbecue country, Kansas City. I used to slow-cook beef brisket and pork roast in the oven to tenderize. Then my husband would barbecue it on the grill of our smoker for Memorial Day parties. Barbecued lamb and goat are also fantastic.

    In ER. Blew out my knee. Hope I can get the captcha while on these meds.

  10. I posted a comment here about the Gathering of Elders Barbecue at Tule River Reservation. Does anyone know why it disappeared? Should I repost or just go away?

  11. Yummy to all the barbecues. My favorite memories of Memorial Day were when I was very young, and we would go to a small town in Connecticut, Hebron, for their parade and then a mammoth barbecue-or so it seemed to me. It was moving, so absolutely American-the old soldiers in the parade, the scouts, all those things you associate with the holiday. Coming from New York City, it was a marvelous introduction to small town America. And I fell in love with that.

  12. REINE - Repost! Blogger eats comments... because it wasn't one of us!

  13. Linda, I'm comin' to your house...

  14. Yes Reine, repost. I want to read what you wrote.

    OOWW, Linda! Hope your knee is feeling better or that you've taken enough of something so you don't care. And what does goat taste like?

  15. Thank you, Hallie and Darlene... odd how it was posted one minute and then it disappeared as I was looking at it! Anyway... here it is:

    When we lived in California we used to go to the annual Gathering and Honoring of the Elders at the Tule River Reservation. It was in the beautiful area of Cholollo Campground and lasted all weekend. There was a deep pit barbecue of a deer with good use made of commodities.

    Afterward we went to the sheltered areas in the clearing made with pine poles and roofs of pine boughs. There were traditional gifts, stories, and traditional dancing. It was a long time ago. I don't know if the tradition continues. Here is video produced by the tribe, if you are interested and in knowing more. Some of the beautiful scenery of the area is shown as well.

  16. Linda:

    OUCH. I'm so sorry about the knee.

    Reine: One word for you - REPOST! (So I guess I am NOT the only one whose comments disappear after I have actually seen them posted on the Comments page.)

    There have been few family Memorial Day celebrations in recent years because we are spread out in different cities and states. When we ARE together it feels very special, no matter how we celebrate.

    One Memorial Day a couple of years after our dad died, one of my sisters and I and our mom went to the cemetery to put flowers on Dad's grave. We wandered over to the older part of the cemetery and discovered the graves of many of Dad's relatives, nearly all of whom died in the flu epidemic of 1917 or 1918: parents and children - entire branches of his family died in that epidemic. It was so eerie and sad.

  17. Reine,

    After I posted my own comment,YOURS appeared - hurray! It would be a shame if that traditional celebration has been discontinued.

  18. So fascinating, Reine... a gliimpse into another world. Thanks!

  19. Now I really want some roast pork. Salivating here.

    Linda, so sorry about your poor knee! Not the most fun way to spend a three-day holiday weekend.

  20. Grrr...disappearing comments!

    Roberta, a pig in the bathtub? Now thre's a childrens book if I EVER heard one... hmm...

  21. Hank,

    I have been debating whether or not I should ask this, but here goes: is Jonathan's ex blonde, by any chance?

    Hallie, with each rereading, I have laughed harder and harder at the image of a young couple carrying a toddler on the subway while rolling along a stroller holding a dead pig! The first time I read this today I was at the laundromat. I was dying to tell someone but there was no one else there and the attendant had stepped out for a smoke. I will never lose the image of your little family group!

  22. I laugh remembering it, Deb! If only we'd had a camera with us... I think our daughter was mortified.

  23. Thanks for the well wishes, everyone! I was medicated into unconsciousness most of yesterday. Much better today. The other meds are finally kicking in.

    Darlene, goat, if not prepared and cooked right can taste gamy, but when done well, it's delicious! The best barbecue I've ever had was lamb, though.

  24. Linda, I'm so glad you're feeling better today... pain stinks so much!

  25. I guess old school cooking still works. Time to whip out the wholesale meats from melbourne in the freezer and see if I can't grill a nice steak on the rocks.