(This piece was originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
You know you’re loved when someone pit-roasts an entire pig in your honor. During the last three years, Eddie Kim, a poet and the most recent friend of mine to depart from Fairbanks, has become, as another friend put it, the “central hub of our social circle.” This means that we had to throw an awfully big party. And since everyone loves a good pig roast, we decided that was the way to go.
As it turns out, Homegrown Market in Fairbanks will butcher and dress a 79-pound pig for $3 per pound. Throw a party for 30 people and the per person cost is only $8 or so. That’s a darn good price for an animal that you know is raised locally, fed a healthy diet and slaughtered humanely.
In a prehistoric but time-tested fashion, a few of Eddie’s closest friends decided to pit-roast the pig. They stuffed its belly full of onions and oranges and herbs, put a green apple in its mouth, coated the skin in spices, wrapped the entire pig in cabbage leaves and then tinfoil, and then lowered it into a pit that had taken them 2 hours to dig. The pit was lined with coals and then covered with a tarp. By the time I showed up Sunday, the pig had been cooking for more than twelve hours.
We were all a bit nervous about the results since we were all pit-roasting virgins, but the result was succulent. It was the best goodbye any of us could imagine. And the next day’s farewell softball game ended up lasting all of three innings; one can only run so far after a feast like that.
I was unable to help with the prepping and roasting of the pig, so I spent Sunday morning preparing a few side dishes with the help of a fellow Southerner who I sometimes call Miss Tequila. Miss Tequila cooked up a baked bean casserole, a lemonade pie that elicited more than one bribe for the recipe and I brought out my grandmother’s recipe for cornbread. It was a sight better than the cornbread of my own making, which was more like packing material than food.
My grandmother, rest her soul, was the generous sort, so I don’t think she will mind that I’m sharing her recipe with you:
Grandma’s skillet cornbread
2 eggs, beaten
1 can creamed corn
1 large onion, chopped
2-4 jalapeños, chopped
1 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup cooking oil
Combine corn meal, baking powder, and garlic salt in a large bowl. In separate bowl, combine eggs, creamed corn, milk, cheese, and oil. Fold the wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add jalapeños and onions, then pour entire mixture into greased iron skillet (or shallow non-stick baking pan) Bake at 350 degrees until edges are golden.