Lost traditions

A popular tradition which exists in several European countries, customary since ages past and carried out in an artisan way once a year, coinciding with the coldest months of winter, which provide the best possible conditions for manipulating the fat and meat from the pig. It continues today but is no longer performed like it used to be. A tradition that was normal in the villages is being lost, as nowadays fewer and fewer people live in the country. We want to reinstate the traditional pig slaughter and make it into a special feast day to promote it and so that this popular custom is not lost. Let’s keep tradition alive.

The pig slaughter has been considered, since it began, the time of year when the family had food from a humble animal, which had been raised at home. And so, for years, this has become a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation.

During spring and summer, the pigs are fed in moderation with corn and whatever else they can find: grass, insects, roots and even snakes. But it is not until the end of October, and until the time of their death, that the animals gain 50% of their final body weight.

The death of the pig fits historically within the context of the fertility rituals of the Earth, which is why traditionally, and for some, this is maintained today, there is the custom of staying ‘pure’ before the party. Strange as it may seem, neither women menstruating or men who have had sexual relations in the two days prior to the slaughter, can touch the paste that the sobrassada is made with.  That is what tradition commands. And tradition knows what it is talking about.

We took note, and on the 30 January at Raventós i Blanc we enjoyed an authentic day of pig slaughter, a party with family and friends.  Pepe wanted to re-live one of his most significant memories from childhood, the pig slaughter in the Pyrenees, where the neighbours from the family farm still keep this tradition very much alive.

The day began very early on the estate, an early morning encounter because of the pig slaughter; a very cold dawn, full of excitement, intrigue, exaltation and happiness. With the first rays of sunlight we greeted old friends and new wonderful people we had yet to get to know. The fire was in embers on one of the coldest days of winter.

A hearty knife and fork breakfast before starting out. Today, we would learn how it is done, step by step, in the old way.

Bru, the horse, acts as the host and carries the animal. All together we inaugurate the party, donning our aprons for the occasion.  We were fortunate to have expert hands to guide us throughout. Sharpening the knives, stirring the blood so that it didn’t coagulate…

On two very large tables, we scatter the parts of the animal used to prepare sobrassada, white, black and raw sausage, fuet and pork loin.

Don’t tell anyone, but we will let you in on the secret of making a good sobrassada. We need to weigh the minced meat and add the recommended amount of pepper, salt and antioxidant (from 2 to 4 kg per kg of fat). What are the ingredients? 60% lean meat combined with fatty parts: the best part of the pig, including the upper part of the loin;40% fat, sweet paprika (50 grams per kg), salt (25 grams per kg) and spicy paprika to taste (between 3 and 5 grams per kg) and ground black pepper.

Wines were also the stars of the show, accompanying the meal with the excellent result of our day’s work. We all felt at home and you could tell, background music on an unbeatable Tuesday. Thanks to everyone for making it possible.

The denouement? A great experience, many hours of work, and some incredible white sausage. We will need to wait for the sobrassada – a recipe from Mallorca -, the fuets and the ham.  Time will tell.

The pig slaughter is a universe of traditional knowledge that dreamers like us can only contemplate, admire and be in awe of how it still survives in the twenty-first century and try to reinstate it.

We will always remember it. And we will do it again year after year.

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