It’s Saturday, it’s a public holiday, and I was planning a a long, lazy weekend, starting with a lie-in. Instead, we were woken around 8 a.m. by the sound of a pig being slaughtered.
Actually, I’m not sure the pig itself was making the wheezy, squealing noise: it might have been the donkey disturbed by the proceedings. But whatever it was, it woke me; particularly as the general hubbub was augmented by a couple of roosters crowing, another neighbour’s elderly rottweiler baying – presumably excited by the scent of blood – and the vociferous commentary from four generations of the family who had turned out to witness the event.
Tradition says that a cada cerdo le llega su San Martín – literally, “St Martin’s day arrives for every pig”; more freely, “everyone gets their comeuppance” – but in our part of rural Spain the annual slaughter is more usually celebrated on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We should have been warned when El Pipas (“Seeds”), the elderly local who prunes our trees, said, “No, I can’t come next week: I’ll be busy killing the pigs.”
In the UK we’ve become quite precious about eating offal and other not-so-meaty animal parts, but, as has been pointed out many times, with a pig you can use everything except the squeak. And the Spanish do just that.
An elderly British friend was horrified to buy a can of what she thought were peeled potatoes in the local shop, only to discover when she returned home and put her glasses on that she’d bought pig’s trotters. One of the most common bar snacks is cortezas – deep fried pork skin – or torreznos – a meatier version where the fried skin still has solid fat attached.
The ear (oreja), snout (morro) and dewlap (papada) feature in haute cuisine recipes which pride themselves on the resulting rich mix of textures – “at the same time melting, gelatinous, cartilaginous, meaty and crunchy”, and many dishes call for sangre (pig’s blood congealed to a consistency similar to – but not to be confused with – bean curd) as the main ingredient.
Other pig products include all the different jamones (hams), both cured and cooked, which Spain is justly famous for, and the embutidos (sausages), amongst which are the cured chorizo, often used in stews, and the cooked morcilla, a blood sausage. And there are sweets, too, particularly at this time of year: all those melt-in-the-mouth polvorones and mantecados are made with lard.
By about nine o’clock, all was quiet again in the neighbourhood. Presumably the spectacle was over and all that remained was the cleaning and dissection, the cooking and stuffing and mixing of traditional dishes to conserve every last bit of the animal in an edible state through till next year. I just hope they didn’t manage to bottle that squealing.