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The slaughter of the Fattened Pig

BeitragVerfasst: Fr 18. Dez 2015, 02:34
von John Tschinkel
The most memorable part of the harvest in our Gottschee village was the annual slaughter of the fattened pig.
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The preparations started after the start of the lasting frost and lasted several days before the event. Knives were carefully sharpened on the great circular grindstone mounted on a bench created out of a six foot section of a split log. Round stakes, hammered into holes drilled into the round portion of the log were the legs of the bench while on its flat surface, part of which also served as a seat, the grindstone hub was mounted on risers. The stone was spun by a crank through the water trough hewn out of the flat portion of the log.
The wooden storage box in the barn was rummaged for discarded steel spoons with sides worn sharp by years of use. This side was ground even sharper on the grinding wheel.
The great wooden trough was hauled out of the barn and placed upside down, strategically near the barn in the freshly swept yard, hardened to a solid surface during the nights and sunless days of early November frost. The watertight trough, about eight feet long and three feet wide and deep was made of sturdy timbers held together by wrought iron bands made by the village smith. The uppermost planks extended on either end as handles to allow it to be carried four strong men to the place where it was needed.
Two heavy, big linked long chains, normally used to secure logs to the wagons transporting lumber to mills, were laid alongside the trough, and benches were arranged to allow hanging the carcass on the overhead beam of barn gate for butchering.
They were also busy inside. The big cellar barrels, now empty of last year’s crop of solidified fat that had covered the small cubes of cooked pork, were carefully scraped clean and washed out with hot salted water. All available large pots and the copper water boiler of the kitchen stove were filled with water from the drinking well, brought home on the heads of Mother and aunt Neža, Grandma’s younger sister, who came from Dolenja Vas to help out.
The meat grinder, fitted with newly sharpened cutting blades and a sausage making spout, was secured to the kitchen table and the pantry was re-supplied with salt, pepper, thyme, onion, garlic, barley, rice and other necessities, obtained well ahead from Ivanka’s store.
There were also several loaves of black and white bread and a strudel baked the day before in the big oven that provided welcome warmth in the already chill autumn air seeping into the large living room which was also the bedroom of my parents.
One of my jobs was to stack the space next to the stove with choice pieces of dry firewood and keep the pile high throughout the next few days.
The preparations included, well in advance, a visit by Father and me to neighbors and get the promise of their help on the morning of the following day. At least five strong men were needed to fetch and hold down the animal to be slaughtered. To get this help was easy since the fine breakfast was well worth the short effort lasting at most one hour. A few extra helpers usually showed up but there was enough to go around and satisfy all.
The event, lasting at least two days and repeated several times in late fall, had its beginning in early spring with the purchase of one or two pigs large enough for fattening during the coming summer. They were bought at the farmers market in Ribnica or Kočevje, or from other farmers who put part of their maturing litter up for sale. Pigs were not bred by my family since the sties were not heated and the winters much too severe for the furless creatures. At home, the pigs were let run loose in the fenced-off part of the yard, but locked up every night in the sties. Being fed rich swill three times a day made them grow quickly during spring and summer and got them heavy and fat for slaughter in late fall when the cool weather arrived.
By now the field produce had been harvested and safely stored in cellar bins and enough firewood was cut and stacked to last the winter. It was the end of November; cool enough to make you shiver morning and noon and the right time to convert the pigs into hams, sides of bacon, long links of sausage and wooden vats full of solidified lard heavily laced with bits of precooked pork. Throughout the year scoops of this dripping would be heated and poured over the full communal bowl, turning the simplest cornmeal dish, covered with sauerkraut or sliced cooked vegetables, into a delicious meal.
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Less than the usual urging was needed to leave the warm bed on the morning of this eventful day. This, in spite of the much needed and welcome space and peace left to me after Mitzi and aunt Neža got up hours before. I normally shared the bed with my sister, but Neža shared our bed whenever she came to stay. She was a big woman who took much of my allotted space in the large bed which sagged in the middle under all that added weight, forcing me into a crevasse between the snoring women. Both of them did it with gusto, but Mitzi was outdone by Neža in rhythmic variety and sheer sound power. My complaints were eventually listened to and I was moved to a sofa bed in the large room, but not until I got a little bigger and had to leave the bed to my eight-years-older sister.
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Everyone else had gotten up when it was still dark to start events, which throughout the day were to follow one another in a long established sequence. The pigs were fed except, of course, the one selected for slaughter. It had not been fed several meals and was isolated from the others for the final night. The kitchen stove, fired to capacity, was already heating water in large pots, which covered most of its available flat surface. The little space left was heating milk which, with a slice of black bread, was the usual breakfast. The invited helpers started arriving and needed little encouragement to rid the chill of the morning with a few shots of slivovitz. By now it was light; the water started to boil and it was time to start.
With everybody at the ready, the struggling and squealing pig was dragged from its stall, lifted on to the trough turned upside down and held down by the strong men. While somebody also held the head down and the snout closed, Father shaved away the bristles at the bottom of the throat near the front legs with a long, sharp and pointed knife. This done, Mother washed the shaved spot and then stood ready with a wooden bucket and long wooden spoon.
Father carefully pushed the knife into the animal at the cleaned spot, cut the critical artery and quickly withdrew the knife to let the blood gush out from the clean 2 inch cut. The steaming flow was expertly caught by the waiting bucket and stirred vigorously to prevent clotting. This went on, spurt after spurt until the flow ceased and the animal stopped struggling. By this time the bucket was quite full and carried off to be mixed later with barley and herbs into long strings of blood sausage, delicious either hot or cold.
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With the animal quite dead, slivovitz was passed around again. After that, no time was wasted to lift the heavy weight of 250-300 pounds by its legs on to the ground and turn the trough right side up. The two sets of chains made ready the previous day were laid into it so that they touched the sides and the bottom approximately at the one and two thirds point of the trough. Then the carcass was lifted, legs down, into the trough with the chains positioned on the inside of either set of front and rear legs. Their purpose was to allow the four men, one at each end of the chain to jointly lift and turn the dead animal in unison during and after the next step of the process.
This done, the men made for the kitchen and brought out the pots of boiling water, which they carefully poured over the carcass. This blistered the outer layer of the skin containing the bristles, which were then scraped off with the sharp sides of the old spoons sharpened the day before. The chains were used to turn the carcass to expose other parts to new buckets of boiling water from the kitchen. This process was repeated until all parts of the body and most of the legs up the ankles were free of bristles and sparkling clean.
Now, the chains and all available hands lifted the gleaming carcass out of the trough on to clean boards on the ground along side the trough. Four strong men carefully carried off the trough and tipped the still hot contents into the dung pit next to the stable. Others brought buckets of cold water and poured it over the carcass to wash away sticking bits of skin and bristles and get it ready for the next step.
The trough was brought back, turned up-side down, with one end just under the barn door beam. The carcass was lifted on to the flat bottom of the trough, this time on its back with the head facing away from the barn. With a shorter but equally sharp knife, Father opened the belly and expertly removed its contents. The kidneys and the heart were placed into a bowl, held by Mother who disappeared with them into the kitchen where she cut them into slivers for immediate frying into an exquisite breakfast for all.
Meanwhile, the lung, and liver were removed from the carcass and put in separate vessels. The stomach and entrails, largely empty due to the recent enforced diet were placed in metal tubs for turning inside out and cleaning at the trough of the village cistern.
The opened carcass, still steaming, continued cooling in the frosty morning air. The spot behind the heels and tendons of the hind legs were pierced and the hook ends of two chains inserted and secured. The other ends of the chains were swung over the beam of the barn door and with the men jointly pulling and lifting; the carcass became suspended at a height to make its systematic dissection easy.
By now, breakfast was ready and mother called all to take a place at the kitchen table with its big pan of fried slivers of kidney harvested only a short while ago. This and freshly baked black bread dunked in the drippings was washed down with jiggers of slivovitz from the bottle that was being passed around.
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The next and most urgent task of the women was to clean the entrails, which were to be used as sausage skins. The seemingly endless string of entrails had to be separated and cut into manageable sections for cleaning. This done, Mitzi and Neža took them to the pump at the cistern where the insides were first flushed then turned inside out and scrubbed clean.
At home, the dissection of the hanging carcass continued. The head was separated first and placed on the trough where it was opened with a saw and a hatchet, the brain removed and placed in a container for later use. The rest of the head was stripped of all meat by one of Father’s remaining helpers and the pieces thrown into a vat for processing.
The butchering continued from the bottom up by removing the fore-legs and shoulders and trimming them into small hams by removing the legs below the knee. The two hoofs were pulled off and each leg trimmed for later reduction by boiling, with various ingredients, into a thick broth which after chilling solidified into aspic. Again, all trimmings were stored temporarily in vats for later processing.
Next was the removal of the fatty sides in sections, which ultimately, after prolonged exposure to smoke in the smoke chamber of the attic became sides of bacon. These sections, three to four inches thick, were trimmed and cut into approximately one foot squares, kept strong and intact by the remaining thick layers of skin from which the top layer with its bristles had been removed by the spoons. The thickness was reduced to about one and a half inches to permit penetration of the preserving smoke. The trimmed-away meaty portion was cut into small cubes and placed into the large pans together with the other bits of meat from the process so far.
Handled next was the exposed breast cage for spare ribs and loin. Section by section was removed and trimmed of excessive fat. The lower rib cage was cut away with a small axe and shaped into spare rib pieces, 12 inches long and six inches wide, the 6 inches being the length of the rib.
The loin section was cut into 6 inch chunks. The chunks joined the fore hams and rib sections in the vats for pickling.
Eventually, only the large hind sections were left dangling. They were heavy and help was needed to get them down on to the platform of the upside down trough which was the chopping and cutting block throughout the proceedings. Extensive trimming, shaping and removal of the lower parts of the legs eventually produced the prized hams that were eaten only on special events and holidays such as Easter and Christmas.
The hams, loins and ribs were taken to the cellar where they were placed in large barrels and covered with salty brine spiked with crushed garlic and various other spices. They were left in this brew for many days after which they were wiped clean and dry and hung on steel hooks in the smoke bin of the attic. And for the next few months, all cooking on the kitchen stove and fire in the house heating oven, both the source of smoke in the bin, was done by using hardwood only, since this produced the best flavor of smoked meat.
All this while in the kitchen, effort was underway to prepare the ingredients for blood sausage and liver dumplings. Mitzi and Neža had long ago returned from the cistern with the cleaned entrails and were now busy mashing the liver into a paste. The paste was mixed with breadcrumbs and spices into a doughy consistency that was spooned in lumps into the boiling soup, made from the bones that had become available earlier. This soup, together with slices of dark bread became a satisfying lunch. The soup also contained some of the barley and rice, cooked separately as ingredients for blood sausages.
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After lunch, when the partially cooked grain had cooled, blood, herbs, salt and pepper were added and mixed into a paste. The large intestine, about three inches across, was cut into 12 inch lengths and one end stitched together in a looping fashion with 12 long wood splinters made earlier for this purpose. The other end was held open and stuffed with the mixture. When full, it was sewn closed with another splinter. After that, all were cooked in boiling water and hung on hooks in the cellar until reheated for eating, usually with Ganzallein and sauerkraut covered with drippings, during the next few weeks until Christmas.
The trimmings of fat and meat that had accumulated in the vats during the butchering at the barn door were also processed in the kitchen. Pieces of meat interlaced with fatty parts were selected to be ground for sausage stuffing, using the hand cranked grinder with the sharpened four bladed cutting knife. The cut and ground meat fell into a bucket under the grinder until it was judged that enough was ground to fill all available small intestines. Again, as with the blood sausages, to this ground meat were added the required ingredients of herbs, pepper, salt and a briny mixture of cooked bay leaves and crushed garlic, strained to keep out the solid bits. After a good mix with bared arms, the sausage making was ready for stuffing.
The coarse strainer on the meat grinder was replaced with a finer one and a 12 inch long slightly tapering tube of approximately one inch diameter was screwed on behind it. A one meter section of the small intestines, with one end tied with a string, was pushed and accumulated on this tube. The grinder with its spiral shaft pushed the meat mixture to the knife for cutting and then through the strainer into the tube. The meat, emerging from the tube filled the intestine which was being pulled off the tube. When the long section was full, it was partitioned of by pinching and twisting it into 5 inch sausages and tied with string.
With all the stuffing done, the sausage strings were taken to the smoke bin to start a several month process of smoke preservation that made the sausages, like the hams, a treat in many lunches and dinners throughout the coming year.
This event was repeated in quick succession during late fall in our and other households of the village. At the height of this slaughtering period, the air, a mixture of smells from melted fat, hardwood smoke, spilled blood and offal emanated from every house and its surroundings and hung, like a umbrella, over the valley and lingered there for weeks. But it was noticed, like the flowing sap from the pines in the spring, only after coming home to the village from a distance where the desensitized nostrils had a chance to recover.
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Excerpted from "The Bells Ring No More" available on Amazon.