"We cooked a pig in the ground, Got some beer on ice, And all my rowdy friends are coming over tonight."
Hank Williams Jr.
THE FIRST HINT that it was not going to be a typical Washington party was when the invitation arrived and read "black tie prohibited" and "no Perrier, no kiwi fruit, absolutely no mesquite; baked beans that taste home style because they are home style, greens, and lots of pig."
The mention of pig was the giveaway -- this invitation was to an authentic North Carolina-style pig picking. The two couples hosting the party -- Catherine and John Agresto and Susan and Tom Metts -- "imported" Pitmaster Corbett Capps all the way from Fuquay-Varina, N.C., for the occasion. The Agrestos and Metts met in North Carolina when John and Susan were at the National Humanities Center in Chapel Hill. That's also where they met Capps, the center's physical plant engineer and pig roaster par excellence.
Now both couples are in the Washington area but they are still hog wild about the sweet, succulent pork found at a pig-picking. So Capps agreed to leave "God's country" and come north to put on a full-scale, country-style pig roast for the two couples and a hundred of their friends.
Pig-roasting is an all-day event. The work for this party began at 5 a.m. when the refrigerated 120-pound pig was moved to the roast site. There the pig roaster was readied with charcoal and hickory chips (about 100 pounds of charcoal were used in the course of the day), the pig was prepped and seared, then set to roast by 7:30 a.m. (Capps has roasted pigs in a pit, but he prefers to use a pig roaster, a humongous metal contraption with wheels and a chimney that allows for easy monitoring of the cooking process.) Guests were invited for 4:30 p.m., since Capps figured it would take "nine hours of good cooking time" for the pig -- 40 to 45 minutes per 10 pounds of pork.
Capp stayed near the roaster all day, watching and tending the fire while wearing his roasting hat ("Keep the South beautiful," it read. "Buy a Yankee a bus ticket.") A few hours before the pig was ready, Capps added chickens to cook as well. Only in the last hour of roasting were the pig and chickens basted frequently with his own version of the traditional North Carolina barbecue sauce of cider vinegar, crushed red pepper and just a bit of worcestershire sauce. (Capps made a point of mentioning that the sauce contains absolutely no catsup or tomato sauce.)
Susan Metts already had spent 2 1/2 hours making coleslaw for 100 -- with the help of a food processor. On the day of the event Catherine Agresto filled pans and bean pots with 14 pounds of beans (borrowing a neighbor's oven when she ran out of room in her own). And John Agresto turned a crate of kale into his own Italian version ("that means lots of garlic") of southern-style greens.
Other traditional accompaniments included hush puppies, plenty of beer (preferably New Orleans-brewed long-neck Dixie beer) and brownies and cider for dessert.
As the guests arrived, Capps started slicing the barbecued meat and the aroma of roasting pig drifted across the lawn. And then 100 hungry guests started pigging out.
YOU MIGHT NOT WANT to rush out and cook a pig in your back yard, but the next time you have a pork roast or pork chops, you'll find this coleslaw makes a fine accompaniment. SUSAN METTS'S MARINATED COLESLAW
Serves 10 to 12 Nicknamed "nine-day slaw," this coleslaw keeps well because it has no mayonnaise. 1 (approximately 7-inch diameter) head green cabbage 1 large onion, chopped or slivered 1 cup sugar 1 cup cider vinegar 3/4 cup salad oil (not olive oil) 1 teaspoon dry mustard 1 teaspoon celery seed 1 teaspoon salt In a large bowl, shred cabbage and add onion; mix in 1 cup sugar (minus 2 tablespoons). In a saucepan, combine oil, vinegar, mustard, celery seed, salt and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar; stir constantly, bring to a boil. Pour hot mixture over cabbage and mix. Cool. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours before serving.