The tradition of placing an apple in the mouth of a roasted pig goes back centuries and crosses many cultural lines including China, the Middle East, Polynesia and Europe. The English name for this dish is "roast suckling pig" and it marks a celebratory occasion.
A suckling pig is not yet weaned from its mother and is a popular choice for this dish. Its meat is extremely tender, and at approximately 20 pounds, it is small enough to be handled by the cook.
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A charcoal fire is made in a pit lined with brick, gravel or rocks and heated to approximately 240 degrees F. The pig's belly is stuffed with 10 cloves of garlic, 5 sprigs of rosemary and 5 sprigs of thyme, then sewn shut with a large needle and twine.
It may take 60 pounds of coal to complete the roast as fresh coals must be added every 30 minutes or so. The pig is fully cooked when a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the rear haunch reaches 145 degrees F. The apple is then placed in the pig's mouth after the pig is cooked. Doing this any sooner would cause the apple to discolor and collapse.
One of the reasons roast suckling pig is so festive is the cooking process shrinks the skin of the pig and forces its mouth into the shape of a broad smile. The apple is an attractive way to fill that gap and make the pig appear happy to be eating.
The cooked pig can feed a large crowd, and for this reason, the "smiling" roast suckling pig with an apple in its mouth is a traditional symbol of celebratory feasting.