Monday, December 19, 2011

Slaughtering a pig in Podrecany

So this weekend we went to visit Terezia's parents in Podrecany because her uncle Jano (who lives down the street) was slaughtering a pig. The pig slaughtering, or zabijacka, is an age-old tradition in Slovakia, whereby in early winter, many families take a pig that they've raised, kill it, and then make sausage and other pork items using just about every single part of the body. This tradition is kind of dying out these days, but you still see it done by families in more rural areas of the country. Terezia's family doesn't even do the zabijacka every year anymore (more like every few years), and in the past they used pigs that Terezia's grandfather raised himself, while this year they used a pig that Jano's son-in-law's parents raised. Nevertheless, ever since Terezia told me about this, I've had an intense and morbid curiosity about the whole thing. I brought along my trusty camera to document the process and spent the day getting my hands dirty (er, bloody) helping out.

Jano woke up super early in the morning to kill the pig. He reportedly shot it between the eyes and slit its throat, then brought the pig over from his son-in-law's parents' house from across the village in a truck.

When Terezia and I got to Jano's, it was about 7:30 in the morning. Jano shook my hand with his mud and pig-hair-encrusted hand, and offered me a shot of slivovice. Did I mention it was only 7:30 in the morning? At any rate, Jano, his son Janko, and son-in-law Marek had the pig lying on its side on wooden pallets and they were scraping off its hair with these metal cone-shaped implements.

Once they removed the hair, Jano took a blow-torch and browned the entire carcass. This softens the skin (and also removes any missed hairs) so that it's more tender and easier to slice through.

Next, they attached hooks to the pig's hind legs and hoisted it up with this contraption that you can see pictured here:

Jano sliced the pig's belly and collected the innards - intestines, bladder, kidneys, heart, lungs, stomach, etc. - in a large bucket. Next, they cut off the pig's head. Apparently it had a stronger-than-usual neck because Jano had to take a saw to its spinal chord, which is not normal. Then he and Janko cut out the spine, splitting the carcass in two. Next, they removed the skin, with its thick layers of fat, and detached the legs and the ribs.

The head was then split in half, and placed in a huge pot of boiling water along with the liver, heart, kidneys, and lungs, and cooked over a fire. We were nibbling on the lungs and cheeks, which were incredibly flavorful - like the taste of pork cranked up to 11.

Terka's dad manning the pot full of innards.
The skin was brought to a table in the garage where we went to work separating it from the fat. We then cubed the fat, which was put in another large pot and slowly cooked over a fire to make lard and cracklings.

At some point, we took a lunch break and ate the pig's liver, which came in a rich sauce, and was eaten over mashed potatoes. The liver was mouthwateringly rich, flavorful, and tender.

Jano removed the meat from the legs to use for making sausage. We sliced the meat into manageable shapes so that it could be put through the meat grinder. Then Jano seasoned it with paprika, ground hot peppers, salt, and dried/crushed herbs. The mix was fed through the meat grinder again, but this time pushed into the sausage casing (made from intestine lining) via a tube affixed to the end of the grinder.

Terka's dad made this meat grinder. It saves a lot of time and energy. 

Next we made hurky, which is sausage made using dark meat from innards and the head, and then mixed with white rice. Some people also put the pig's blood in the hurky, making blood sausage, but for some reason Terezia's family doesn't do that. It's still good, though!

After making the hurky, we cleaned everything up, and, exhausted, we collapsed while waiting for Terezia's aunt, Elenka, to prepare some of the sausages. I'd been given shots of various types of hard alcohol roughly every half hour over the course of the entire day. While I wasn't snockered, I was a bit loopy, but mostly just wiped out from being on my feet for nine straight hours. On the whole, I'd say it was educational and fun. And while a lot of the visuals are definitely not for the faint-at-heart, at least the whole thing was more humane and less wasteful than what pigs experience in slaughter houses. It's a good way to really get to know the food you put on your plate! And I swear, if we were forced to live in some post-apocolyptic nightmare, these people would totally have the skills to live off the land and survive.

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