No matter where I see it, when, or how, this word will always make me think of Asterix and Obelix.
A boar, tout court, is, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “The male of the swine, whether wild or tame (but uncastrated).” It’s an old Germanic word. But though pig farmers regularly use boar to refer to the males, I didn’t grow up around pig farmers (in the part of southern Alberta where I grew up, it’s cows, cows, or cows – or horses, but not to eat). I did, however, grow up reading the Asterix comic book series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. And if you know those, you know that a preferred foodstuff of Asterix, Obelix, and their whole village of ancient Gauls was wild boar (in French, sanglier).
And they wouldn’t go and spear them. Heck no. Not only because these were kids’ books (though great reading for adults, too, and translated into English by the redoubtable Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge – by the way, Anthea Bell was the mother of the noteworthy wordsman Oliver Kamm). No, these Gauls had use of a magic potion that made them invincible. They’d just go out and punch them! One and done! If there was a feast coming up, they’d do it en masse – 30 to 50 feral hogs in 3 to 5 minutes, no joke. The cartoon panel would show heaps of them, all blissfully unconscious (dead). And then the merry Gauls would roast them on spits, covered in some kind of sauce (I assumed butter plus meat drippings, because Swiss Chalet didn’t exist then – oh, if you’re not Canadian, you may not know what I’m talking about, but in that case, here).
I used to fantasize about how delicious roast wild boar must be. I imagined it would probably be like the best roast pork ever (you know, with that super yummy fat too). At some time in my youth, I actually had a chance to have some at some chi-chi restaurant. I don’t remember much, other than that it tasted pretty much like a gamey version of pork. It occurs to me that the spit-roasted pork I had once at a Philippine cookout was a lot more like what I had in mind.
The truth is, though, if you happen to kill a wild boar – let alone 30 to 50 of them – you may not be so inclined to feast. According to the New Larousse Gastronomique by Prosper Montagné (1960, in the 1977 translation by Marion Hunter), “Its flesh, which has a pronounced ‘wild’ taste, does not make good eating except in the young animals. The flesh of the adult animals is tough and only becomes palatable if left to marinate for a long time.” But they do have a few recipes, such as “Wild boar ham, sweet-sour à l’italienne.”
Or you could turn from Goscinny and Uderzo to Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Maurice Joyant and their cookbook The Art of Cuisine (translated by Margery Weiner). They have a recipe for “Leg of wild boar from the forest of Orleans in lard.” (I suppose you could get your boars from somewhere other than the forest of Orleans in lard – perhaps even your yard if they happen to run into it, though maybe not while your small kids play.) The first sentence, though, is “A large wild boar of three hundred pounds having been killed, cut off a leg weighing nineteen pounds, leave it out for three days in the winter air, then flay and skin it.”
This presents a couple of issues: First, 300 pounds? Holy crap. That’s a lot of meat right there. Multiply that by 30 to 50 and you have pretty much the same weight as the entire Senate Republican Conference (there are actually 53 GOP senators, but I imagine their average weight is less than 300 pounds). Second, “in the winter air”? What do you do in the summer? Rent a big walk-in fridge?
Anyway, after that, you stick lardoons in your 19-pound leg, cover it in lard, and “put it in a big earthenware dish” (I think this is a particularly large value of big) and marinate it for three days. They have no comment on what to do with the rest of the boar. Put it in a pork barrel?
Then this damn recipe says “On the morning of the day it will be eaten for luncheon, at 6:30 a.m. for lunch at 12:30 p.m.…” Wait, what? OK, listen, the ingredients are all great (the marinade includes “half a bottle of very good dry white wine from Arbois or Burgundy,” among other things) and I’m sure it tastes lovely and everything, but nothing can induce me to get up at 6:30 on a weekend day. Well, except for a flight to somewhere nice. And, on a very few occasions, a marathon or half-marathon. But not to make brunch. Living high on the hog means getting to sleep like a log – or like one of Asterix’s blissfully defunct boars.
Ah well. Fantasies are fantasies. I strongly suspect that there also was no magic-potion-powered Celtic village in Brittany holding out from the onslaught of Caesar’s Latin hordes. And so I can’t rely on the Gaulish method for cooking feral hogs either. But at least, thanks to the inheritors of the Roman conquerors – and their language, which, over time and a steady flame, cooked into modern French, the language of Goscinny and Montagné and Toulouse-Lautrec – I have recipes if I do happen to acquire one… or more.