Sunday, March 30, 2008

Ok, where did March go????

March is always the busiest month of the year for me, work wise. In the weeks running up to the end of the tax year my workload seems to increase 100 fold – I seem to spend the whole month fighting against things spiralling out of control. Still, it does make me realise how cushy life is for the other eleven months of the year.

Hence, my nose has been well and truly glued to the laptop all month, with hardly a moment to do anything but work, work, work.

At least the weather hasn’t proved to be a distraction – March has been cold, wet and windy. We are in the region’s rainy season, and we certainly need the rain so that the clay soil can build up reserves ahead of the (hopefully) long, hot summer, but at times – especially after such a wonderfully balmy February – it has felt as though we are slap bang back in the middle of winter. Somehow a wet and windy day always seems so much colder than a dry, crisp frosty day.

Believe it or not, I have two finished knitted projects to show, but a combination of the poor weather and lack of time mean I haven’t had a chance to photograph them yet. Both were finished before work became manically busy – there’s not been much time to knit in the last few weeks.

We are also bang in the middle of kidding – 15 kids so far, and 3 mums-to-be still to go. We reckon that we should just about have finished with kidding by the time lambing starts! Again, no time to take photos but I will try and take some in the next couple of weeks.

Right, as I am stuck in the office on a grey Sunday afternoon waiting to check into my hotel I have a few hours to myself, so I’m off to catch up on all your blogs and see what you’ve been up to!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

La Tue Cochon (The Pig Killing)

Warning: post contains pictures of a newly slaughtered pig.

Years ago, most families in the village would have raised their own pig for meat, and each year neighbours would go from house to house helping each other with the killing, butchering and preserving. In an attempt to maintain something of that tradition, and the coming together of the community to help one another, each year Beaumarches holds a pig killing in the village square.

We were in two minds as to whether to attend or not. On the one hand, we hope to raise our own pigs one day, so to see the procedure for killing and butchering one was of practical interest to us. On the other hand, we were concerned that what we might witness was an incredibly stressed animal being slaughtered in front of a baying crowd. After some deliberation, we decided to attend the killing.

We got to the village just as the pig arrived. He was in a small trailer, which was driven into an area cleared for the event in the market place. Saturday morning is market day so while all of the following was going on villagers were going about their normal business of buying their fruit and veg, etc. A crowd of about 30 or 40 people had turned up for the killing, including quite a few children with their parents.

The pig was on a comfortable, deep bed of straw in the trailer, and was completely and utterly relaxed. So far, so good. A group of men had several fires going on which were large cauldrons of boiling water. Eventually, the pig was led out of the trailer. He did squeal a bit at this point, but showed no real signs of stress. Chains were placed around his back feet and he was hoisted into the air. He made no noise, and did not struggle. Very quickly, the butcher plunged a long knife straight into his jugular. Whilst this does not cause instantaneous death, the loss of blood is so incredibly rapid he would have been unconscious in a matter of seconds. I’m happy to say that in my opinion the animal was treated with the utmost respect, the kill was swift and clean, and he did not suffer. Having taken our own animals to the abattoir, I feel this was a far less stressful end to his life than theirs.

The blood was collected in a large metal container, and then whipped away to the kitchen in the village hall were a group of women had been toiling since 6 a.m. preparing lunch.

The pig was then lowered into a long wooden trough.

Boiling water from the cauldrons was poured over him

and the men began to scrape off the bristles.

Once the pig was clean he was hoisted up again to be gutted and butchered.

The offal was thoroughly cleaned ready for cooking.

I’m glad we went. I guess it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to watch an animal be killed, but I sometimes think as a society we’ve become too far removed from the animals we eat. Sanitised plastic wrapped packages of meat are a long way from a living, breathing animal. People don’t seem to want to be reminded of the fact that they are eating something that died to feed them. That’s their choice of course, but I can’t help wondering if the £1.99 chicken, and the truly appalling way in which some of our meat is raised isn’t a direct knock on effect of this.

Lecture over.

Once the pig had been butchered and all the offal cleaned and prepared it was lunchtime. A communal lunch had been prepared and we sat with a group of villagers to enjoy a plain but hearty meal. We were the only English people who attended the killing and the lunch. I lost count of the number of times I was asked “Do you do this in England?” Somehow, the very idea is laughable when you think of what DEFRA, the Food Standards Agency, Health & Safety officers and all the other bureaucrats who determine what is and isn’t acceptable would think of it!

We returned to the village hall in the evening for what was really the main event – the eating of the pig. Course after course of pork in all its many and varied forms from black pudding to pork cutlets (some less palatable than others – the tripe wasn’t something I’d be in a hurry to eat again). Over 200 villagers gathered for this celebration, and once again we witnessed their kindness and generosity towards us. A screen had been erected on the stage as France & England were playing in the Six Nations Cup, and even though the Gers is a rabidly fanatical rugby region they didn’t hold it against us when we won :)

We finally staggered home some time after midnight, feeling just that little bit more integrated into village life.

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