IACP part one: Le Prince de Janvier- a day in the life of a French pig
The best days are cold
Frost in the morning air
Cold clear dry afternoons.
Fields are at rest,
Cows fattening with calf,
Ducks already resting in their golden fat in jars
Lined up by body parts: legs, wings, necks, gizzards…
The French pantry is an Ali Baba’s cave
of summer fruit and golden fat.
Color coded vegetables from the potager line the shelves-
red tomatoes, haricots very verts, golden apricots.
This day begins the last work of the winter-
The last porky activity to finish stocking the larder
for the year to come. Killing the fatted pig.
Once again, I turn to my neighbors, the people who turn dirt into food.
A tractor rumbles already as I arrive Chez Sabadini--
La Ferme Bellevue.
I am a cub reporter at the scene of this gentle crime.
Camera in hand and brain on note taking mode.
Denis is animal husband and knife master,
The farmer’s wife, Brigitte, gathers tools,
boiled white linen cloths
handwoven generations of pigs ago,
Plastic tubs and basins.
Grandmere Yvette is already cooking,
Pots of vegetable-scented bouillon,
perfumed with an armload of herbs,
Kilos of leeks and onions,
Colored with carrots and onion skins.
Grandpere, Camille, hangs back;
No longer strong enough to hoist the carcasses,
Tie the knots,
he watches some, says little.
Oncle Louis has left his dairy herd for the day to come help.
There is a sister and brother-in-law,
Squeamish city folks.
A neighbor drops in to help,
Grabs a scapper and rolls up his sleeves.
And an American friend and I to lend our muscles and appreciation .
Enter the pig.
A cross between a great white & Yorkshire,
docile, well-fed and taken care of,
she is easily coaxed from its pen into a portable cage.
She is one of a half-dozen pigs raised for the family and
a few of us lucky neighbors.
The cage is lifted by tractor into the open air shed barn
where the gentle slaughter and hanging will take place.
Later the butchering and transforming of meat into food,
the cooking and the char-cuit – or charcuterie,
moves to the garage (a sort of spare, second kitchen)
now crowded by the giant lemon tree
perfuming the refrigerator cold space.
Hog-tied, the pig is lifted, back feet out from her cage by ropes,
block & tackle, and the muscles strength of three men.
The pig’s own weight keeps her from bucking and fighting,
the blood rushing to her head, makes her light-headed and less resistant. There is a low insistent grumbling- not the horrible squealing we hear about.
The Sabadini’s work quietly.
The intense calm that prevails is only broken
once the animal becomes meat.
All of Denis’ movements are sure and swift and
above all silent. Talking is in shorthand;
Gossip and joking is delayed until the first, life-ending cut is over.
Denis’ knives didn’t come from a fancy kitchen shop,
rather the farm store up the road, Terre de Sud.
They have been sharpened and honed by time and experience to a long, thin, efficient blade.
He turns his back to us all.
After a quick whip of the chef’s steel,
he turns to the hanging pig.
Oncle Louis and Mark hold the forelegs
Denis steps to the wide white throat and silently,
With a surgeon’s precision, touches the killing place,
Pauses then drives the blade home and down
opening a three–inch mortal slash.
As the first blood spills,
propelled from the beating heart,
Brigitte passes a waiting basin.
Caught in the bright blue plastic bowl
The color-clash is as shocking as the act.
A throaty sigh accompanies the pig’s last moments.
She is held down and hugged into repose.
Long after the basin of blood destined for boudin or
blood sausage is removed,
Brigitte and the uncles continue to hold the pig’s carcass
until it is still
The pig is now pork.
For Kate's photographs shown at the conference please see the Flickr badge at the bottom of the page or click on http://www.flickr.com/photos/34091428@N00/sets/72057594104672330/