Last week I published a pretty picture of a roast loin of pork. A friend who lives in Ireland commented that it looked like a diseased liver, evidently unaware that livers, diseased or not, rarely have any crackling.
On the internet, as we all know, one thing leads to another, and my attention has now been drawn to Charles Lamb’s Dissertation Upon Roast Pig, in which he writes lyrically and at length on the subject of crackling “…There is no flavour comparable, I will contend, to that of the crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, crackling, as it is well called—the very teeth are invited to their share of the pleasure at this banquet in overcoming the coy, brittle resistance—with the adhesive oleaginous—O call it not fat—but an indefinable sweetness growing up to it—the tender blossoming of fat—fat cropped in the bud—taken in the shoot—in the first innocence—the cream and quintessence of the child-pig's yet pure food—the lean, no lean, but a kind of animal manna—or, rather, fat and lean (if it must be so) so blended and running into each other, that both together make but one ambrosian result…”
Couldn’t have put it better myself.
The greedy poet and essayist goes on to quote Confucius on the subject, describing how the Chinese accidentally discovered crackling. A swineherd’s son, one Bo-bo, let some sparks ignite a bundle of straw and their cottage was reduced to ashes, together with a fine litter of new-farrowed pigs which had been living inside it. Bo-bo poked one of the smouldering piglets to see if it was still alive, burnt his finger, sucked it and was immediately transported with delight at the taste: “…surrendering himself up to the new-born pleasure, he fell to tearing up whole handfuls of the scorched skin with the flesh next it, and was cramming it down his throat in his beastly fashion…”.
His father, at first angry, was tempted to try it, and “…both father and son fairly sat down to the mess, and never left off till they had despatched all that remained of the litter…”.
Then “…the thing took wing, and now there was nothing to be seen but fires in every direction. Fuel and pigs grew enormously dear all over the district…” The authorities were not pleased about this outbreak of arson, and father and son were summoned to trial at Pekin. “…The obnoxious food was itself produced in court, and verdict was about to be pronounced, when the foreman of the jury begged that some of the burnt pig might be handed into the box….”
They all tried it and “…to the surprise of the whole court, without leaving the box… they brought in a simultaneous verdict of Not Guilty.”
A happy ending indeed. Perhaps I take particular pleasure in this story because a thirteenth-century Franciscan namesake of mine is the patron saint of things lost, amputees, Brazil, paupers, travel hostesses, boatmen and many other things—including swineherds.