Let’s Talk Food: Living high on the hog at a LaBelle hunt

Listen up, dudes: I need to confess that I left home and hearth and went to Hog Heaven.

It’s just down the road a piece, and my trip took me to another universe: a universe where the hog reigns supreme.

At a recent auction my friend Jennifer Harrell bid on a weekend in Hog Heaven and won. Reluctant to experience three days and two nights out on the range alone, she persuaded me to join her. And so we were off with directions to the Hog Heaven Lodge, just a few miles outside of LaBelle.

In the tiny settlement of Muse, Bob and Diana Joyner have manifested every good ol’ boy’s dream. Their Hog Heaven Ranch is considered one of South Florida’s best and most challenging hunting facilities. There are thousands of acres teeming with wildlife, particularly wild pigs. Their home is at the center of the ranch, and they keep pet deer, some domestic pigs and plenty of dogs and cats.

We stayed in the “bunkhouse,” a simple but comfortable place to rest and relax after a day of seeking out the game.

I must confess that I have never hunted and can barely stomach the killing of any living critter. However when Jennifer brought down a wild boar I experienced a rush of excitement and pride in her marksmanship and skill. And a great deal of anticipation for consuming tasty ribs, roasts and chops.

When we left the ranch, we celebrated by indulging in a victory lunch at Flora and Ella’s famous eatery in LaBelle. The menu has not changed since the two sisters established this watering hole in 1935. Their descendants continue to conjure up the best kind of genuine Southern cookin.’

After being out in the woods it was great to indulge in such sustenance as fried green tomatoes, fried chicken, string beans in fatty pot liquor, fried okra, turnip greens, biscuits, cornbread and coconut cream pie. Thus sated, we headed back to Naples, where we hoped we would regain our sanity and freedom from a fat attack.

The adventure in Hog Heaven reminded me of all the powerful porkers that are so much a part of our food culture.

I love animals, but there is something about a pig that is totally endearing. Domestic pigs seem a jolly lot and are not sullen beasts like cows, horses, goats and sheep. They seem to smile and have great personalities. Although I do not fancy one as a house pet, there are those who swear by them, maintaining they are smart and fun.

I’ve have had my share of experiences with pigs, even such foreign species trained to work as well as provide food. My favorite was Hermione, a French aristocratic swine, much beloved by her truffle-hunting master. It remains a highlight of my life that I went into the forest with Hermione and the farmer and gathered the black gold of the culinary world.

How could anyone not love pigs after being exposed to Miss Piggy, Babe and Gretchen, the famed pig from Houston? She made headlines throughout the world when she saved a young boy from drowning.

Pigs are no newcomers on planet Earth. They date back 40 million years and were first domesticated in China in 4900 B.C. and in Europe by 1500 B.C.

Columbus was not exactly ecstatic when Queen Isabella insisted that he take eight pigs with him on his voyage. However, it was Hernando De Soto who became the most important pioneer porker, when, in 1539 he brought 13 pigs to the Tampa Bay region. The 13 soon became 700 within three years and thus began America’s place in Porker Paradise.

Even Sir Walter Raleigh got in on the act. He brought several sows to the Jamestown colony in 1607.

Pork is now one of our most popular meats, and breeders and producers now offer less fat and a healthier viand. Throughout the world millions make their way into their own “hog heaven” and partake of all manner of delicious dishes.

This is my favorite pork recipe. It’s easy to make, especially since the meat is marinated the day before. I cook it in a crock pot and it is perfect when served with sweet potatoes and steamed tomatoes stuffed with creamed spinach.

Pork loin Seville

Ingredients

2 pounds boneless pork loin, cut into 1½-inch slices

1 cup fresh orange juice

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1-1/3 teaspoons oregano

1-1/3 teaspoons cumin

1-1/3 teaspoons white pepper

10 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered

1 bay leaf

2 cups chopped sweet onions

6 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 oranges, peeled and sectioned

Preparation

■ Place pork in a shallow ovenproof casserole. In a medium bowl combine orange juice, lemon juice, oregano, cumin, pepper, garlic, bay leaf and onion. Mix well and pour over pork slices. Turn meat to coat well and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight or for several hours.

■ When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and bake for 3 hours until done. When using a crock pot, after placing meat and marinade in pot, turn to high for about 15 minutes and then to low for 4 to 6 hours.

■ When ready to serve pour the remaining marinade and pan dripping into a saucepan. Stir in the marmalade into the marinade until the marmalade is melted. Add the orange slices and pour over meat. Serves 4

Ask Doris

Q: My husband and I have been in Florida about three years, and I love it here. I do miss Chicago (not the weather) and its great restaurants. We used to go to the Polish section for stuffed cabbage. Now I would like to prepare it at home and hope you have an authentic recipe.

— Marsha Glover, Bonita Springs

A: I also have indulged in that great Polish cooking in Chicago and while there bought a great cookbook, “Traditional Polish Recipes.”

Polish stuffed cabbage

Filling ingredients

2 cups water

1¼ cup converted rice

¼ cup olive oil

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 large yellow onion, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1¾ pounds lean ground beef

¼ pound ground pork

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Filling preparation

■ Bring water to boil and place rice in, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Allow to cool and drain off any excess water.

■ Heat a frying pan; add oil, garlic and onion. Sauté until the onion is transparent. Stir in the parsley and allow the mixture to cool.

■ In a large bowl, combine the ground meat with the cooled rice and onion mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Prepare cabbage.

Roll ingredients

3 medium heads cabbage

Salt

3 cups tomato sauce

¼ cup distilled white vinegar

Roll preparation

■ Cut out the cores of the cabbage with a paring knife. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add a bit of salt. Add the cored cabbages, one head at a time and blanch for 5 minutes.

■ Place in a colander and carefully pull off 25 of the largest and best looking leaves, one at a time. Rinse with cold water just as soon as you pull each one from the head.

■ Place about 1/3 cup of the filling in the center of each leaf and roll up, folding in the ends so that you have a nice bundle.

■ Place the stuffed leaves in a 10- to 12-quart stove-top covered casserole. Be sure they are packed rather tightly together. Place some of the leftover leaves on top.

■ Mix the tomato sauce and vinegar together and pour over the cabbage rolls. Add boiling water to just barely cover the rolled leaves. Bring to a boil slowly over medium-heat and simmer, covered for about 50 minutes or until rolls are tender. Do not overcook. Makes about 24 cabbage rolls.

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Doris Reynolds is the author “When Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet was Fried” and “Let’s Talk Food.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a 4-part DVD. “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds.” For comments and questions regarding today’s column, contact Doris Reynolds at foodlvr25@aol.com.

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