“A miracle has happened on this farm… in the middle of the web there were the words ‘Some Pig’… we have no ordinary pig.” – Mr. Zuckerman referring to Wilbur, in Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.”― Charlotte in Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
My daughter, Alice, is marrying a Viking. An honest-to-goodness, lives-in-Oslo, eats-fish-for breakfast, skis-in-the-dark Viking. Not a marauding Viking, quite the contrary. Henrik-Olav Osvik is a handsome, funny, intelligent guy who calls Alice “Hawny.” We have met his parents and visited them in Henrik’s childhood home, an A-frame on a fjord. He has visited our Cincinnati home three times, most recently Christmas week.
“Of course, “ I said. “Just tell me what you need.”
“We will have svineribbe. It’s what we have for Christmas. You will need to buy pork ribs with the meat, the bones, the fat, and the skin.”
Skin? I had never in my life had “pig skin” on my grocery list, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to find it in the Newport Krogers.
I googled it, and there were dozens of pertinent hits . . . all in Norwegian, though. I let Google translate the recipes, but the translations made less sense than the Norwegian.
Armed with pictures from Google images, my dad made a recon mission to Stehlin’s Meats, a full-service Colerain Township butcher that’s been in business for 101 years. Their website boasts that their pork comes from a local family farm. I am imagining Zuckerman’s farm, the home of Wilbur and Charlotte and her famous web.
All the fellas there speculated about what cut I’d need, but Dad wasn’t sure enough to place the order.
I called Stehlin’s the next day and, lucky for me (not so lucky for Wilbur), they had just butchered and cut the pork to my specifications.
Now, I know nothing, nothing about meat. I can sling around some of the meat lingo, like “marbling” and “prime” and “Quarter Pounder with cheese.” But there is nothing that brings out the little girl in me more than going to a meat store with all that protein and testosterone swirling about.
I prefer the anonymous aspect of looking in the Kroger’s meat cases and turning over the shrink-wrapped packages, hoping for pictures and instructions.
But for my Viking (“Wiking,” is how Henrik would say it), I would go to Stehlin’s Meat Store for his svineribbe (pronounced “sveenaribba) .
These cleaver-wielding guys couldn’t have been nicer, and they cut me a huge hunk of pork that, they assured me, would deliver the flavor trifecta of meat, fat, and skin. I felt confident that I had the right thing because (1) ignorance is bliss and (2) one of the meat cutters said he had seen something like this on the Food Network.
I was only concerned that my Honda Civic wouldn’t accommodate the 13 ½ pound slab which measured 9” X 21”. When I got home, I had to eliminate (orally) all the ice cream in the freezer to make room for the svine. I stuffed it in, curling a third of it around the ice maker. To defrost it, we had to take it to my daughter’s refrigerator because there was not enough room in ours.
We designated December 27 as Svine Day. On the 23rd, Henrik does an inventory. He is satisfied with the slab of meat/ribs/fat/skin, but then he says, “I need a saw.”
Henrik’s English is excellent, but sometimes there are a few glitches in communication. “You mean a knife.”
“No, a saw. Where is a hardware store?”
On Christmas Day, with the family looking on, Henrik sawed the ribs. Nathan’s mom, Helen, said, “Why didn’t
you tell me you needed a meat saw? I have two.” We all turned and looked at Helen. She has two meat saws? What you learn about friends in the midst of a pork sawing session!
Now it was time to make the skin fancy. With surgical precision, Henrik attempted to cut crisscross lines in the carcass, trying every knife I had. My $125 knife barely made a scratch. Eventually, Wilbur returned to the freezer for a little while to firm up, which
made the process easier.
Then there was much salting and peppering to be done. I asked if Henrik wanted Kosher salt. “Salt,” he replied. “Just salt. We don’t have Kosher salt in Norway.”
Henrik and I discussed side dishes. When I suggested sauerkraut he said, “Perfecto!” Mashed potatoes met with his approval. Then he suggested mashed kohlrabi. He cut a sliver of what I brought home from Kroger’s. “This is not Kohlrabi,” he said. He pulled up a picture on the Internet of what he considered kohlrabi.
“No, that’s kohlrabi.
When I returned from the grocery with turnips, Henrik cut a sliver and declared, “This is not kohlrabi.”
“Henrik, I’ve used up all the root vegetables I can think of.
We worked side by side on his iPad, trying to figure out what the American version of Norwegian kohlrabi is. He found a description of kohlrabi on Norwegian Wikipedia, then hit the translate button. “Oh, it’s rutabaga!” I said.
Four hours before the company was due to arrive, Henrik shoved the meat into the oven. “Do you want a meat thermometer to know when it’s done?” I asked.
“No. It’s common sense.”
Every 15 minutes, he basted. As he fussed over and petted his svine, I worked on the sides. He suggested I add the fat drippings to the potatoes and the kohlrabi. We agreed that “fat is flavor.” As I whisked away at the contents in a saucepan, he asked, “What is that sauce?”
“Gravy,” I said.
“Yes, gravy.” I was proud that I had expanded his English vocabulary with this very important word.
Then we started drinking Aquavit, a potent Norwegian elixir that Henrik’s dad, Gunnar, says you must drink before, during, and after eating. Well, we wanted to be authentic!
Minutes before the guests were due to arrive, Henrik turned on the broiler to crisp up the skin. As the guests walked in, Henrik pulled the svineribbe out of the oven. My dad made a beeline to the counter and started cutting off snibbles of fat and skin and popping them into
his mouth. “Mmm. Delicious.” He was in hog heaven! Dad’s partner, Maryann, scolded him, and informed all of us that, according to Google, a serving of svineribbe has 1700 calories.
“Thanks for that information, Maryann, “ I said. Maybe I was a tad snarky. (We’re inviting Maryann back here when pigs fly.)
I had to throw my dad out of the kitchen to make room for Henrik, who cut thick hunks of steaming pork and put them on the platter.
Succulent. That is the perfect word for the svineribbe. I had planned to cut the fat off my serving, but there was no longer a layer of fat — it had melted right into the meat.
It wasn’t long before the bone bowls were full, but the plates were clean. The dishes went right from the table to
I will always remember the Christmas Henrik and I cooked together. He will always remember “gravy.”
I look forward to the day when I go to Stehlin’s for lamb rib. Henrik can show me how to salt it and dry it and boil it in milk and sugar.