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Hog Roasts - The History of Pig Roasting and Cooking

Updated on July 6, 2013
hog roasts
hog roasts | Source

Hog roasts

Hog roasts are fast becoming a very popular catering service around the world but what is a hog roast and why are they so popular?

In this hub I want to explore the history of cooking whole pigs as far back as I can find not just on-line but also a offline study of this tradition.

The History of The Hog Roast

Starting with the basics the term "hog roast" and "pig roast" do not appear in the Oxford dictionary the word "hog " does have a meaning "a domesticated pig, especially a castrated male reared for slaughter"

"roast" also has a meaning "cook - by prolonged exposure to heat in an oven or over a fire"
If you put the two together it makes sense of the term "hog roast"

The history of the hog roast dates back as far as you can imagine it was one of the first foods man had access to and is visible throughout history.
I have missed out some ages in time because from my research nothing changed for the hog roast during that period and there are so many time periods from around the world pin pointing each would be difficult to say the least.

I've decided to concentrate on Europe's time frame as this has some interesting references probably because I live in Europe and the history books/information I have access to is more detailed considering my location.

Paleolithic
"age" or caveman era I've read in various books how "man" relied heavley on hunting and cooking a pig or boar over a wood fire, so this is as far back in time I can find a reference to what we now call a hog roast.

Information from this time period is scarce and and percentage of guesswork must be taking into account considering how long ago it actually happened.

Bronze
"age" is a particularly interesting time for cooking whole pigs with the introduction of metals, cooking in general instantly became more advanced, in this time period experiments where made with metals giving cooks new tools and equipment to assist with the day to day tasks.

Cooking a whole pig became a frequent part of the diet and the metal rotisserie was born providing a strong frame and poll that could be used regularly unlike the wooden predecessor.

Iron "age" Again a very interesting time period for cooking in general with the introduction of steel a modern stronger metal enabling cookware to become even more advanced, even to this day the use of steel is very common giving you an idea of how advanced it must have been for the people living in the iron age.

Cooks now had long lasting tools and high quality kitchen areas giving them the opportunity to experiment further with recipes including the pig roast.

Roman "era" I was surprised to find during my research that the Romans where not big meat eaters their diet mainly consisted of fruit, vegetables and a porridge style of food called wheat meal.

The Romans still had a use for the roast pig and this use is very similar to how we use the hog roast today, the Romans where quite vain people who felt the need to impress one another and a banquet party in their home was one of the main ways of achieving a higher status in society.

The roast pig was a regular show piece of the banquet centred in the middle of the table along with other fine quality food and drink, everything the Romans did had to be a high standard and the pig roast definitely impressed guests.

Middle "age" In this time period the hog roast more commonly known as the spit roast during this time was just as popular as it is right now 2012, the use of a full pig for feasts and other social gatherings was more than just common place it was expected and the modern hog roast is often compared to this time period e.g you will find hog roasts services advertised as "ye old hog roast" or the hog roast thought of as a barbarian style of food fit for warriors, soldiers and other combat figures.

When viewing the middle ages in history books there are drawings and sketches of people feasting on large legs of pork just chewing on a bone while drinking beer similar to the French Asterix cartons.

Renaissance "age"
An interesting change happened during the renaissance time period, people became more sophisticated, experiments with sauces, spices and flavourings where taking place to make food more appealing visually and on the palate.

During the renaissance it was roast beef not pork that people mainly chose but the hog roast was rescued by the chefs of Florence, the Florence chefs decided it would be a good idea to bast the pig with orange juice, rose water and sugar to give the pig more flavour.

At this point the chefs must have noticed a distinctive difference of the pig skin and I would imagine they would have to either adjust the mixture to prevent the pig from turning black or continually keep basting the pig during the cooking process, I can't find any information regarding this but at some stage they must have realised depending on the mixture, the skin of the pig turning hard and crispy and I am confident at this point in time during the renaissance era cracking was discovered.

The best thing about this era was how documented everyday life was though art, some of the finest artists to ever exist came for this time period.

Below are some examples.

Grace anthonius claessins

Grace
Grace

Rinascimento gastronomico

Rinascimento gastronomico
Rinascimento gastronomico

renaissance cooking

renaissance cooking
renaissance cooking

Early Modern period At this point in time Europe became highly influenced by the wider world due to the shipping trade expanding through Asia, Africa and the middle east more and more products becoming available to entire nations on a monthly basis.

It seems the pig roast at this point in time was used but with so many new food options available people wanted to try to experiment a new era of cooking had been established.

Meat in general was a luxury to the common man and tended to be eaten by only the very wealthy, any animal used for cooking was used in it's entirety with many parts of the animal developing classification of waste (next to nothing) right through to high quality cuts enjoyed only by the super rich.

The hog roast was still available but chefs tended to buy cuts of meat or if a full pig was bought it would be divided into sections and stored as we do today.

I imagine the pig roast was still used for celebrations and feasts however after hours of searching I was not able to find one reference in this time period.

My only conclusion so far is either the new foods available became centre stage or the hog roast was just to expensive to contemplate but I will keep reading and researching this era and update this section once I have more information.

Modern "Age" I've read countless books dating from the Georgian era to the Edwardian period and found very little reference to roasting pigs I am disappointed to say, however I did read two different references both in the early 1900s regarding festivals based in the south of England.

It seems the hog roast was a very important factor at social annual gatherings with activity's taking place during the day such as entertainment, music, games and gambling.
Both references where vague and didn't give me a massive amount of information but after the day time activity's the nighttime became a relaxed affair with a bonfire and music but the highlight of the evening was a spit roasted pig.

I've seen two very distinctive drawings of these activity's but I have not yet gained permission to post them as yet, the drawings show a large fire with a spit roasted beast presumably a bore but it's difficult to tell, either way I was delighted to find the sketches providing a little evidence people still enjoyed the roasted pig and even more interesting is if you compare this to our time period it is not to different.

The Hog Roast Today

Today the hog roast isn't to different from the caveman era the basics are exactly the same, you need a pig (dead at some point) a fire to cook it and around 10 hours later the pig will be ready to eat.

To hire a hog roast for your event click here
What has changed over the years is the reason why we roast a full pig, in the beginning it was because we needed to eat but over time our lifestyles have changed and the hog roast is not part of our regular meals simply because it is not practical to cook a full pig every other day.

Our lives now consist of pre portioned cuts of meat that make our life manageable so we have time to do other more meaningful things with our time like watch TV or play video games (I'm joking)

But all is not lost for the pig roast, we have managed to retain probably the best part and that's using the hog roast at celebrations including weddings, festivals and my personal favourite bonfire night.
The hog roast is now a symbol of social gatherings and has been for sometime and lets hope this tradition keeps going for years to come.

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