Slow Food Edmonton’s Winter Solstice 2011: Pig Roast and Pot Luck

A head to tail winter prairie potluck in the depths of Winter!

Yes, the Winter Solstice is December 21, but we celebrate it after Christmas when we have more time. This is the second of what I hope to be many more yearly gatherings with the Edmonton Slow Food Convivium members at our home. And, it was the worst winter snowstorm in twenty years.

We are a winter city and are used to driving in what others may find scary and precarious conditions, but we also have amazing road crews usually out all night long cleaning the streets: major arteries that is. For the first time in years, many people were snowbound and had no way to get out of their neighbourhoods. I didn’t take my mini to the Farmer’s Market early in the morning and I was fine, but it was a rare experience driving on the side streets! The cancellation calls started coming in before noon.

We had about 40 people booked into the party. By party time, we had 24 cancellations. Of course, I was crushed. But, what could we do? We had picked up the pig from Alan at Irvine’s Farm Fresh, delivered it to Vanja’s buddy for brining and roasting, and had everything else prepped and ready to go. I teach for Edmonton Public Schools and in over 100 years, they have never closed a school due to the weather, so I kept that Northern “Yes we can!” attitude, and hoped for the best.

There was no parking available on the streets. The snow was so high, that was impossible. We made arrangements for cars at some neighbours, then did pick ups at the 7-11 two blocks away. Our third guest (and a new member) got stuck at the corner, so Kevin and Jeff were out without a second thought to help Brian out of a very deep drift at the corner. That was the theme of the day… and the evening.

Look at what would be arriving soon! Ooooooh, my! This is Vanja’s celebratory food, so I like doing this so close to his Orthadox Christmas, though he doesn’t “practice” the religion, like so many, he enjoys the traditions that accompany the holidays. This is a nice way to get pig into our home during the winter. This year we charged five dollars a person as we went for a Berkshire piggy and got one a fraction under 40 pounds cleaned weight. YUM.

The fellow that roasts these (and has for years) for people from his home country during celebration season, was dumbfounded that little Berkie, below, was completely done in two hours. He is a little darker than last year’s pig! Very little fat under the skin, too… it was woven throughout the meat. This was the most moist, succulent roast pig I have ever tasted! The colouring here is not distorted. He did have a “surreal” glow!

As people arrived, there were drinks and appetizers. This is always my favourite time of the evening: meeting and greeting! Below, left, is Kevin’s amazingly delicious homemade apple wine. To the right is Xina’s generous array of tastings she provided from her fruit wine business: en SantéWinery.

Katherine is dipping into the non-alcoholic fruit punch that is my standard: with or without vodka. I love it.

Brian and Adele visit waiting for Vanja to arrive with the hot pig!

Jerry was on a role and the conversation around the charcuterie and cheese was very focused and animated for awhile. Darn! I missed it! Kevin and Maria were definitely focused.

William was focused as well… on the food! Yes!

The pig arrived just before 7 am as planned. There is something novel and primal all at once seeing a whole beast roasted in it’s entirely. I get a little thrill of curiosity and excitement. I don’t even eat meat. But, I do taste it! The ears and the tail of a roasted pig are coveted, and this one came with them broken off!

There was no shortage of volunteers to “carve” the beast: Vanja, Jeff and Corey.

I think that smile on Corey’s face, below, is due to the perfectly extracted pig cheek he has either already eaten, or has hidden to eat with his meal.

I was tickled pink that we had sixteen guests! Two even came that we were not expecting which was a bonus under the specific conditions of the evening.

Everyone was definitely hungry.

Ginetta and Ron were filling their plates followed by Katherine and her brother, William.

Jerry and Lisa dig in.

The Parade of Potluck Dishes

Above are my oven roasted garden tomatoes (which I absolutely love) with Bocconcini cheese. Behind that row, are my Yogurt Cheese Balls and my Crème Fraiche with more young cheeses.

Below is a collection of Sylvan Star specialty cheeses for Christmas (the yellow mini Gouda and the red mini Edam) with their delicious Feta. Holly’s special Tome (not for sale but to enjoy at this potluck) made iwith unpasteurized milk was particularly special. They all were, actually: Piavê Vecchio and (Kevin will remind me) from the Italian Center Shop with Jerry Kitt’s yummy Bison Pepperoni (from his farm: First Nature Farms). The salami is an Iberico chirozo specialty that is incredibly delicious and Jerry informed us that Slow Food International was instrumental in saving the Spanish Iberico pig. The shunka is a traditional smoked prosciutto type meat from Vanja’s country bought at the Budapest Deli.

Below, Irvine’s Farm Fresh Berkshire boar baby.

Basic white bread made by moi when the cancellations started to come in. I decided to make a big loaf at 4pm. I am happy with it as it was a last minute quickie!

As I had made Sarma (sour cabbage rolls cooked with smoked ribs and bacon) for Christmas and New Years as that is a traditional celebratory dish from Vanja’s country, I put out a casserole full of it. To me, you cannot have pig without sarma! Maybe I have become a “former Yugoslavian”, too! Bless-Wold Dairy Sour Cream was the perfect accompaniment for this!

I had also recently made an abundance of Ground Turkey Jumbo Pasta Shells, so put out a dish of these, as well (recipe to be posted, soon! If you want it right away, e-mail me, and I will send it to you.) These are definitely a family favourite and I smothered them in Sylvan Star Award Winning Medium Gouda: a favourite of both Vanja and myself!

Corey and Katherine made the most amazing savoury bread pudding at Mary Bailey’s Annual Christmas potluck (yet to be posted) and the most amazingly rich and delicious Mac and Cheese for this potluck. YUM!

They also brought some vibrant and flavourful honey glazed carrots…. and… I suppose I should confess…. some foie gras. Oh, my! It was such a treat yesterday as a reward for cleaning up the very low maintenance party. I said I would share it with those that stayed last, and then I forgot! Really!

Deanne brought the couscous salad which was a nice addition to the hot dishes.

And would you believe that the only dish I do not have a photograph of is Kevin’s gorgeous roasted beets. (I meant to save some for the next day!) He bakes them for hours, very slow in his oven and they smelled like they were fresh from the garden. I was actually startled by how fresh the aroma was. YUM.

Below is Ginetta and Ron’s homemade big batch of homemade potato gnocchi. YUM! Her Nona taught her how to make it!

Xina brought her ethnic wheat dish and I asked her twice what it was called. Xina, please help me again! Poppyseeds, honey, wheat and something else. Sooo good. It reminded me of my youth when I used to eat boiled wheat from breakfast… my University youth!

Adele and Brian brought the potatoes and carrots. They tasted as delicious as they look!

Jeff and Maria brought the most amazing roasted root vegetable smothered with fresh ginger. Delectable. And, enough to feed two armies!

So much food from so few people. We had a feast in the middle of this incredible blizzard! Deanne is selecting some of the succulent piggy!

Xina arrived late after a looooong and busy day at the market, but just in time to dish up her plate! Whew.

Guest eating in the dining room.

Guests in the Living Room.

So much food! This is the prairie tradition. Everyone brings enough for Thrashers as if it was harvest season!

Time for relaxing and visiting.

Lisa brought the most amazing tart Lemon Tart! She lived in France for two years and learned more than a few tricks while she was there! I must say, the crème fraiche went perfectly wonderful with this tart!

Anita brought some chocolate cups!

New members to meet means new friendships to be had. What a wonderful group of people!

Lots of laughs!

The glasses remained representing the people we missed.

You can see how treacherous our roads must have been the evening before with the snow blustering all over. Certainly, there was no place to park, and there is still barely a trail to get in and out of the neighbourhood on.

Dissecting and Eating the Pig’s Head: Not for the Faint of Heart!

The skin on this little baby was definitely crispy and yummy! Look at Corey’s perfect dissection of the cheek, below. He had apparently been dreaming about it for days and was polite enough to leave the second one for another cheek lover.

Then, Kevin got his fork in the head and started to extract the eyeball. Apparently that is a very delectable part of the head. Below, he has lifted the skin over the eye, and the cartilage, or the shiny fibres, are evident as he pulled the skin up from the side of the face.

Below, a close up view of the fibres in the eye socket.

You can see the fork under the eye socket lifting the eyeball, below.

There it is.

The black lens needed to be removed and usually pops out, but needed a little coaxing on this young fella.

Below is the meat that was in the eye socket upside down. I had a little strand of the meat extracted from the socket and it was the most flavourful unctuous gorgeous part of the pig I could even imagine. There was nothing gross or unappealing or foreign about it. It was meat. But the most delectable part of the pig imaginable.

Below, is a piece of the meat from the temple. That was also delicious. But, look at it. It looks like meat. It is meat. It is just that it is meat from the head that some find off-putting. More and more are recognizing the importance of valuing and using every part of the animal. If you read Kevin Kossowan’s blog, you will see that he has weighed the meat on the average adult pig head and it is considerable. So considerable, he eats all of them now.

This little piggy was so small he didn’t have a lot of head meat, but what he did have was definitely worth taking a knife and fork to. I am not sure who got the other cheek. I forgot to look at how wide Corey’s smile was before he left!

And, as this pig cost $175 plus $50 dollars to roast, I was careful to save some for Vanja. Apparently far too careful. There was a lot left in the table in the garage and I certainly should have been more generous with the care packages home. I regret that!

Any ideas what to do with the bones? I am not a lover of “pork stock”. What else can I make?

Subscribe to A Canadian Foodie so you don’t miss a post! (top right)

There is still one seat left in the Greek Escapes Class January 22

Register for Canadian Food Blog Finalist’s Cheryl Arkinson Pyrogie Class January 29th

Register for Allan Suddaby’s Sausage Making Class February 12th in the evening: a really fun friends or partner’s night out!

Register for: Kevin Kossowan’s Big Game Tasting and Cooking Demonstration Lunch February 26, 2011 at 11am

Register for:BénéGamier’s French Tart Class: Sweet and Savoury SUNDAY, March 6, 2011 at 8:30 am

Watch for Culinary Tour and Trips in June to Niagara on the Lakes Wine Country and in September to Paris!


  1. says

    I enjoyed your party vicariously save for the multiple shots of that poor pig’s head. I like the bread and the cabbage rolls you made, probably would have stuck to these two, with a slice of lemon tart for dessert; the snow is incredible. I would be frozen already.

  2. says

    Valerie, what a gorgeous and magnificent spread of deliciousness. I’m sorry the weather had to interfere with your plans. We got back from Vancouver on Sunday and spent a good at least 2 hours clearing all that snow from our driveway. Definitely couldn’t have been good for my back pains…sigh. Weather like this is exactly why we chose to buy the car we bought. On the bright side though, the kiddies got to really enjoy the snow.

    I’ve seen a lot of whole roasted pigs at Chinese and Vietnamese weddings, but never seen the head get devoured like that. Haha. I’ll bet Gary and my Dad wouldn’t have had any problems helping out. By the looks of the remains of the head though, I don’t think you guys needed any help. Even though half the people weren’t able to make it, there still were a lot of people. May seem like a small party to you, but twenty some people is a pretty big party to me. You sure love to entertain, my friend :-D. Hope the roads get better in your area soon. Gary spent half an hour today helping out 3 cars stuck in our area…yikes!

  3. says

    What a fun party! I’m glad to see that you guys made the best of it even with all the cancellations and the snow. The pig looks like it’s cooked to perfection. Oh so good.

  4. says

    Oh my, how fun! I wish I lived near you. With that pig, I don’t think you could have had a bad time. Hopefully you had enough booze. You should have had a sleepover! Pig for breakfast! Why no pork stock? Red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo?! Even Pho. Your piggies (cabbage rolls)look soooo good. I need to make some soon. Your pig has given me inspiration to experiment with them. I am thinking some shredded pork butt and pot roast instead of ground meat.

    • Valerie says

      Really?? I have NEVER ever made or eaten (knowingly) pork stock. Glad to hear your matter-of-fact retort. I will do some investigating as I do hate to waste anything. But, wasting my time is up there, too – so if you have any specific ideas…. well, I will be e-mailing you on this one!

  5. Valerie says

    From Jerry Kitt via e-mail:
    Wow Valerie, You’ve been busy!

    A great job of summarizing the evening. I realized after I was on the road that I left no contribution toward the pig. I can send a cheque or offer you $20 of meats from our booth at the market. Your choice. Great event, super photos!
    Made it home at 11 AM the next day.

  6. says

    The other Italian cheese was Crotonese, and Xina’s dish is Kutia made with wheat from their farm.

    Those were the worst roads I’ve been on in my life. Glad there was good food and company to compensate!

  7. says

    Sounds like this has been the year of horrible weather for everyone! Making a whole etching pig is definitely one of my bucket list items.

  8. says

    I had been ages since I’ve tasted a whole, roasted pig. It is truly the best pork I’ve ever had. What a wonderful annual event and what a feast! We have one really good Serbian restaurant in town that serves delicious Sarma and many other delicious regional dishes. I’m so sorry the weather didn’t cooperate. That is a LOT of snow!

    How about split pea soup or bean soup or even a Chinese or Korean soup using some of the bones? Just Google ‘how to use pork bones’ and I think you’ll find a few ideas.

  9. says

    This lovely post is a real feast in every sense of the word! What a great group of people, and you are so sweet to open your home for this wonderful event. I’m glad that so many were still able to show up despite the snow. It looks like quite a meal and I’m sure fun was had by all!

    By the way, thank you so much for the sweet comment you left on my blog. Your kind words always make my day. :)

  10. says

    Look at that gorgeous pig! I don’t eat much meat, but I think I would be clamoring with the guys to have a chance to carve that beauty 😉 (Somehow, I never knew you didn’t eat meat, Valerie!) I’m sorry the weather caused many people to cancel, but now you had a more intimate party with your friends :) And there’s always next year, right?

    I’m so impressed that you were able to whip up a loaf of bread the afternoon of, especially with all the other things you had to do! I love the look of all those goodies, but I have to say, that lemon tart has me salivating, mmm.

    Glad you had a good time, Valerie! Good luck with the pork bones – I’m sure you’ll come up with something tasty :)

  11. says

    Valerie…I never thought I’d say this…but send some snow our way. It’s the strangest thing…Montreal has recieved very little white blanketing this year…not much x-cross skiing for me so far…sigh.

    I love the way everyone joined into that festive feast.
    I do love pork, however, just as I have a hard time seeing the dead heads of any animal…the pig’s head was a tinch disturbing to me. Well, alright, once I would have had a taste…most would be forgotten ;o)

    I’m thrilled that your living it up my dear…great fun ;o)

    Ciao for now,

    • Valerie says

      Claudia –
      I completely understand, thus the warning that the faint of heart go no further. A couple of years ago, I would have had nightmares seeing someone eat a pig head, but I have a different frame of reference now – and the idea is that if the animal is sacrificing its life, we need to be respectful of that and use every bit of it.

  12. says

    Yikes on the snow photos…I remember it well. I was raised in Michigan.

    I’ve had roasted pig in Hawaii and simply loved it. That skin is so crunchy and divine. It looks like you had a fabulous time with a bunch of yummy dishes, Valerie! I love parties like these. Such fun to share it with you online. Lemon tart is one of my fave desserts too.

  13. Christan says

    I still wish I could’ve been there, it looks so amazing! So sad to have to cancel but my poor little Volvo wasn’t very happy with the roads. :(

  14. says

    Oh my! Look at that snow!!!! Living in Florida, I am always enchanted with other people’s snow.

    Your dinner party looked amazing. How I wish I were your neighbor (sigh). What a great feast.


  15. says

    Holy smokes that certainly does look like a pig!! How appropriate at a Slow Food function to have no question about where and who your food comes from :)

    I will confess I had to skip the eating the head section (thanks for the disclaimer)

    I have tried Kutia before at my in laws. I found it took a little getting used to – such different flavours.

    Impressed that you had such great attendance. All your guests will remember it as Slow Food Snow Storm. Is that a tongue twister?

  16. says

    Hey Valerie! Wowzers! There is a lot going on here. I admittedly don’t know much about pig roasts (smile), but it looks like you guys know not only how to properly roast but also how to properly host (smile). Ooh, that rhymed and I didn’t even do it on purpose:) By the way, I haven’t eaten today due to some personal upset, and I’ve seen some delicious things on blogs that have helped me get that hungry feeling. This one is making me get up and actually make myself some food though. Yum!

  17. says

    What a wonderful get-together! I WANT THAT PIG! …Seriously. I’m having a hard time keeping it together right now!

    Also I can’t believe how much snow you have. We have about 4 inches and everything is closed down. My kids have been out of school all week-crazy!

  18. says

    Oh my goodness! What a fun post this was to read! I want my husband to see this pig…what an amazing event to bring people together. I’m sorry that the snow caused so many people to stay in, but it seems like you still had a great group of people who brought some AMAZING food. I wish I lived closer. I would have happily trudged through the snow to get to this pig and party. Thank you for sharing with me. Stay warm and safe during the rest of the week!

  19. says

    Incredible feast, Valerie! I’m so glad some folks were able to brave the snow and make it in safely. That pig looks amazing – the skin so gorgeous and crispy. I’d happily dig into that!!

  20. Lisa Hrabec says

    Valerie, your pictures do the party justice! It was absolutely worth it to brave the roads and weather. Your bread and cheeses and warm hospitality instantly melted away those pesky, snowy chills. It was such a lovely group of people and the food they prepared was wonderful. Thanks so much for opening your home to all of us. Next year we should plan a follow up “leftovers and stock” party. I can’t believe I’m excited already for next winter!

  21. says

    Hey, I’m back! I put you in my sidebar under ‘Super Foodies’. I always tell people when I do something like that to make sure it’s okay. If not, let me know. If so, don’t feel the need to do anything (smile).
    p.s. if this seems weird that I’m even telling you this, just know that my C.B. is an attorney and he told me I should always do that;-)

    • Valerie says

      You’ve been in my sidebar under sites I read for ages! Maybe I should have asked, too – but, thank you so much. It means a great deal to me.

  22. Alan Irving says

    So glad that you enjoyed our pig.I dont know what happened to the ears they were there when i droped it off.
    Sorry we couldnt attend the evening.
    We will catch up @ the market.
    Thanks aagain

    • Valerie says

      Hahaha! I know the ears were there! That is why the fellow who roasted it phoned us in a panic (as he over roasted it a bit). a forty pounder usually takes 4 hours n his spit. He has it down to a science. He has done hundreds. But the Berkshire, for some reason – took 2 hours on his spit and the fire ate the ears! He was so apologetic and didn’t want to take his pay. But, clearly, the Berkshire cooks similarly to any other pig. Something else went wrong for him that he was not expecting – but, lucky us. He caught it in time. The pig was FANTASTIC even though we didn’t get to eat those crispy ears! Thank you SO much for all you did to facilitate this for us, Alan!

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