Many Trinidadians and Tobagonians are familiar with what is commonly referred to in this country as garlic pork and it has found its way into at least three of our Christmas soca parang melodies over the last few years (including Creig Camacho’s “Garlic Pork”). Many of us, however, do not know much more about this Christmas dish. This short article seeks to provide that additional information and some context, about what is becoming more and more a Trinbagonian dish with every passing year, and which is part of the rich fabric of our great culture.
What follows is a brief section on the historical context of the dish and the method of preparation. There are slight variations to the recipe in Trinidad and Tobago today. This is natural as the dish has been around in this country for approximately 165 years. One would expect that different families would have adjusted the methods and proportions over that time, except that the ingredients would have remained constant.
Garlic pork or the original name in Portuguese, “carne de vinho e de alhos”, later “calvinadage” in Trinidad, is a dish that has come to us from the Portuguese island of Madeira. Almost all persons in this country with Portuguese ancestry would have had their old family migrate originally from Madeira, either directly or otherwise via mainly Guyana (then Demerara) or St Vincent.
The dish remains popular in Madeira today, particularly at Christmas time and as well in other countries around the world that have experienced Madeiran migration, including Hawai’i (where it is known as “vina dosh”, several other parts of the US (where it is known as ‘pickled pork’), Brazil and closer to home, Antigua, St Vincent and Guyana. Full comprehensive information on the Portuguese presence in Trinidad and Tobago can be obtained from Jo-Anne Ferreira’s book The Portuguese of Trinidad and Tobago: Portrait of an Ethnic Minority, published in 1994, her 1999 thesis, and her website ‘The Portuguese of the West Indies’ (with Dean de Freitas).
This recipe that follows is one that has been used for the last 120 in one family in Trinidad. It is acknowledged that there are very slight variations to the method of preparation, based on individual family traditions and essentially, all versions are correct as is usually the case with all of the different dishes that we have in this country.
In this particular instance, the household does 15 pounds of pork per year at Christmas time and this lasts for just over one week and which family and friends consume over the period; a few pieces are usually kept for Easter Sunday morning. Other households do varying amounts of Garlic Pork at Christmas time. Quantities over 20 pounds, up to 80, would typically be done for extended family as well.
The process starts six days before Christmas day and consumption typically begins on Christmas morning.
This household has observed certain specifications or ratios over the years.
The following description includes the original approach and ingredients as well as minor modifications to method of preparation that have occurred over the years.
It is useful to note that the original recipe would have come from a time in Madeira when there was neither electricity nor refrigeration. All preparation is done under the strictest hygienic conditions.
• Pork with all bones removed; leg or belly depending on the amount of fat required
• Apple-cider vinegar
• Oregano thyme (‘Portuguese’ thyme, orégões, pronounced what sounded like ‘oorearsh’ by the early immigrants)
• Large red or yellow peppers, with all seeds removed
1) Use fresh pork (frozen pork is used by many today).
2) Scrape off any remaining hair on the skin of the pork (the frozen pork does not have hair to be removed).
3) Cut the pork into pieces measuring roughly 1” x 3” x 3”.
4) Wash all of the pork three times in apple-cider vinegar, using two large basins to remove all blood from it and to ensure that it is entirely clean. (Today a 50-50 mix of vinegar and water is often used.)
5) Mince (now ‘osterise’, but not pulverize) the seasoning ingredients (altogether now the brine) and place into a large basin, mixing in and covering with apple-cider vinegar. The seasoning ingredients will be apple-cider vinegar, garlic, thyme, peppers and salt. The ratios used are three quarters of a pound of garlic per five pounds of pork; one large pepper per one pound of pork; three level cups thyme leaves (stripped from the stems stem) per five pounds of pork; salt to taste. Actually, the brine is tasted (use a spoon and pour a small bit in the palm of your hand) as you prepare it to determine if more pepper or salt is required.
6) Mix the pork into the brine in the basin and then begin adding to a wide-neck glass bottle/jar that the full ingredients will marinate in. Start by covering the bottom of the bottle with seasoning (the vinha-d’alhos) and then place pieces of pork, but separating each layer of pork with additional seasoning. The liquid part of the brine will also be automatically added as you pour the seasoning, ideally with a large stainless steel spoon. Eventually ensure that the last (top) pieces of pork are properly covered in the seasoning and liquid. Do not pack the ingredients tightly, but place lightly into the bottle or jar.
7) Cover the bottle or jar with a clean, non-metallic cover (this can be a double piece of plastic wrap kept in place over the edges of the bottle or jar by tying with a ribbon or by using a large rubber-band). Leave to marinate in a cool place for five to six days, without opening the bottle.
8) After the marinating period, and when you are ready to cook the pork, take the pork (removing any seasoning that may have adhered to the meat) out of the bottle. Place in a large iron pot on low heat so that the pork springs its own water. Then bring to a boil, stirring and checking to ensure that the pieces do not overcook and become too soft to disintegrate; this aspect is called ‘boiling down the pork’. This is the last opportunity to add additional cut peppers/garlic/salt to the Garlic Pork so that one has to taste the liquid from the pot while the cooking is in progress; placing a few drops in the palm of your hand works.
9) Once the pork is cooked, it is taken out of the pot and placed on a large platter for it to cool. When it is fully cooled, the pork is placed back into the (properly washed) bottle that was previously used. The grease, skimmed from the top of the pot (after the pork is removed) is also put into the bottle to keep the pork moist. This bottle with the cooked pork is kept at room temperature; this can last for very several months and this was one method of preserving meat in earlier times.
10) Some of the grease can be kept in the refrigerator and used as butter on the bread that is eaten with the Garlic Pork. When one is ready to consume the Garlic Pork, pieces of the pork are retrieved from the bottle and warmed to a light brown colour in a toaster oven, spreading some of the grease on it to retain moisture. (The original approach by the earlier generations was to cook the pork down in the pot and place directly in a plate for consumption, placing slices of home-made bread on it while cooking so that the vapours would permeate the bread – tastes great!)
11) The Garlic Pork is consumed with Pickled Onions (cebolas de escabeche) on Christmas mornings and otherwise for breakfast over the Christmas period and for visiting family and friends at that time.
The onions are prepared separately for Christmas. Small peeled onions, immersed in apple-cider vinegar in a small covered bottle, with cloves and cut large peppers to taste and which is good for consumption after being in the bottle for just a few days. Garlic Pork combines great with home-made bread. Sometimes it is served to visiting friends and family in a small bun or separately as cutters when consuming the seasonal scotch and coconut water. Some families also start the Christmas morning with one drink of gin, another aspect of tradition.
There are at least two caterers offering Garlic Pork for sale in the Port of Spain area at Christmas time; why not check them out if you want to sample the taste before preparing your own dish? Sonia Camacho-Silva’s Garlic Pork can be ordered online (website or Facebook) or at UpMarket, and Cecilia Salazar’s La Primeira Garlic Pork may also be ordered through Facebook. Chaud Café’s menu also features a Madeiran-inspired garlic pork.
Chances are that persons with Portuguese ancestry in our country would have one of the following typical surnames in their family history: Abreu, Alves, Cabral, Camacho, Carvalho, Chaves, Coelho, Correia, (da) Costa, de/da Silva, d’Andrade, de Caires, de Castro, de Freitas, de Jesus, de Matos, de Nobriga, de Quintal, d’Ornellas, dos Santos, de Souza, d’Oliveira, dos Ramos, Farinha, Fernandes, Ferreira, Figueira, Francis, Franco, Gomes, Gonsalves, Gouveia/Govia, Henriques, Jardim, Jardine, João/John, Lourenço, Lopes, Luz, Macedo, Madeira, Magalhães, Marques, Martins, Mendes, Mendonça, Miranda, Nieves/Neves, Nunes, Pereira, Pestana, Pinheiro, Pinto, Pires, Quintal, Relva, Rezende, Ribeiro, Rodrigues/Rodriguez, Salazar, Santos, Sardinha, Serrão, Teixeira, Trindade, Vasconcellos, Vieira, and Xavier. Their families would likely have originated in one of the following locations in Madeira: Calheta, Camacha, Camara de Lobos, Caniço, Funchal, Machico, Monte, Ponta do Sol, Ribeira Brava, Santa Cruz, São Gonçalo, São Martinho, and São Roque.