Caveman graffiti from an old Far Side comic, quoted in the title above, inspired our most recent primal cooking experience. This past weekend, we lucked into a last minute cancellation at Little Cove Cabin in Pennsylvania, one of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club’s nearly 40 rustic cabins. Little Cove is on 160 private acres with a great trail system, is quite spacious (ok, more like a house) and is pretty modern–with electricity and well water and a wood stove for heat. It also has a big outdoor fire pit, perfect for our test kitchen (we’ll just pretend that we didn’t know there was a beautiful new stove inside the cabin).
After a great hike and mountain bike ride, we turned our attention to dinner. Our plan was to cook a pork tenderloin using a technique that doesn’t quite go back to the caveman era, but one that was first popular during medieval times—roasting over an open fire on a spit. The medieval era featured things like barbarian invasions, plague, and famine, so we’re somewhat relieved that rotisserie cooking is the only true holdover (although I do really miss catapults).
We had bought a nice two pound marinated pork loin on the drive up and had already schemed about how to make our own spit (so to speak). We could have just hacked down a sapling at the cabin, but that would have been against the rules–not to mention very poor form. The alternative we had in mind was greener: buying a wooden dowel at the nearby True Value hardware store. Suzy then asked later, “hey, didn’t that dowel used to be a living tree?”
Back at the cabin, we immediately lit a fire to get started on building some coals, and we soaked the dowel in water to lessen the chance of it cooking more quickly than the tenderloin (best avoided, we’ve been told). Then we began scrounging materials: some deadfall, some discarded parachute cord, a few rocks, some bamboo, and a few old metal fence posts (we’ll leave aesthetics to the magazines; this entry is about cooking meat). We used the parachute cord to tie up tripods out of the posts and bamboo, and then we tied adjustable loops on each tripod using tautline hitches.
Next, we speared the meat with the dowel (you might want to sharpen the end first if you use a large diameter dowel), tied it very tightly in three places using string, and suspended it over what had now become a nice base of coals. The adjustability of the tautline hitches was a huge help, as we were able to move it vertically with ease when the flames kicked up. To provide tension so that the spit wouldn’t spin heavy side down, we girth-hitched a piece of webbing around one end and weighted the webbing with a rock. As for rotating the spit, there are all kinds of fancy gadgets you can make or buy—but you might just try turning it with your hand (I’m pretty sure that’s what was happening in your average castle).
We used a single use thermometer to gauge when it was done, but any meat thermometer would work just fine. We also wiped the dowel with a wet rag a few times to prevent burning–but it never really got close to igniting. Fifty minutes later, we had a beautiful piece of juicy tenderloin. The whole process was probably an hour and 15 minutes, including building the fire.
Meat complete, we let it rest a bit before carving. Then we paired it with steamed broccoli, dutch oven macaroni and cheese, and a little red wine for a meal that would have made King Arthur proud. The tenderloin was juicy and had a really nice natural wood flavor. We capped off the night with dutch oven apple dumplings (our friend Joe’s amazing recipe) and reveled in the satisfaction of the first dinner we’d ever made that involved old fence posts. You should try it sometime (the meal, not the posts).