Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column


November 14, 2001 - Pigs


November is traditionally the month for slaughtering pigs on the small family farms in France. It is usually cool enough in November to complete the three days of hard work without spoiling the meat. Although it is a rare event today, the tradition still exists and the pig remains an important part of the French diet. Of course modern farms are no longer constrained by the weather or tradition but butchering a pig was a common occurrence on small family farms just a few years ago. I witnessed the slaughter of a pig on my grandmother's farm fifty years ago and although I was only five years old, I can still remember my father and his six brothers and sisters working all day long in pools of blood and guts. It was very impressive and many of campagnards of the Loir Valley remember how it is done.

The pig has always been an important weapon against famine and starvation in Europe. Absolutely nothing is wasted. Everything is eaten. That thirty-pound porcelet purchased in April now weights three hundred pounds and is ready for slaughter. At the turn of the last century, the aid of a segnur (pig butchering expert) or charcutier specialiste was necessary but the whole family participated in the work.

Segnurs are hard to find nowadays so I did a little research to find out how the slaughter is accomplished. Monsieur Jean arranged a visit to the pig farm of Gilles Capps near the village of Houssay. But Gilles tells me that modern farms no longer kill and butcher their pigs. They are all sent off to an abattoir in Clermant-Ferrand for processing. However, I met a donkey named Mr. Ed who knew a lot about the subject. When I approached the donkey to take his picture, he commenced to sing something that sounded like the Marseillaise. He didn't stop until I left. The pigs were less colorful but more poignant. After five minutes in the building where they are kept before that big truck ride to Clermant-Ferrand, my cloths were completely impregnated with the smell of pig shit. Jean and I were pursued by packs of dogs all day long as we traversed the valley in search of a segnur. All of my clothes had to be washed but it was all worth the trouble. I learned how to butcher a pig. Here are the instructions:
Attach the pig's right rear hoof (or whatever a pig has at the end of its leg) with a cord. Use another cord to tie the upper jaw of the pig to your ankle. Tighten the cord so its head does not move. This allows the animal to squeal a long time when its throat is cut. Squealing speeds the bleeding.

When the pig is tied and secured, make two cuts in a V shape in its throat. Empty the blood into buckets. Pour the buckets of blood into a larger vessel where one member of the family should begin to stir the warm blood by hand to prevent it from clotting. The blood will be used later for making sausages.

Stretch the carcass out on a bed of straw. Cover it with another layer of straw and set it on fire to burn off the fur. After burning off all the fur, scrape the skin with tiles or the edge of a knife. Wash the scraped skin with clean water.

Remove the testicles by a quick twisting, snatching movement. Wipe the cold sweat from your brow.

With a sharp knife, make a long slice the length of the stomach and chest until the innards are revealed. The French argot for these innards are la boufie, les rognons, le chodin, la coeffe, la pire dure and la pire molle. La boufie is the stomach, les rognons are the kidneys and la coeffe is the heart, lungs and spleen. The rest are just parts.

Pull out the entire contents of the cavity and separate them with care. Use a hatchet to break the spinal column from top to bottom. Distribute the various innards to the family members for processing. The stomach (la boufie) when dried and inflated makes a great balloon for the children. The tail is usually given to a young woman in the family and everyone makes phallic jokes about it.

The next day fires are built and ovens are heated. The heavily larded meat is simmered all day to make rillettes, rilles, rolets and pates. Part of the coeffe (heart, lungs and spleen) is used to cover the pates. The blood and intestines are used to make blood sausage (boudin noir). The intestines are also used to make another type sausage with the couane and the viande moulue. I believe these sausages are called andouilles.

The best parts of the pig are the hams that are rubbed with eau-de-vie, covered with salt and pepper, and wrapped in a type of rough cloth. After ten or fifteen days they are hung high in the chimney for smoking.

The third day is dedicated to making fressure. Fressure is the meats not yet used which include the heart, liver, spleen and lungs. It is simmered all day in a large cauldron with bread and onions. At the end of the evening blood and a broth of milk and flour are added. I believe this is consumed like soup.

Lard, rillettes and rillons are stored in ceramic pots called saloirs. Salt is used for conservation. Andouilles are hung in the kitchen to dry in winter but in the summer they are also stored in brine in a saloir. The roasts, pates, and blood sausage are consumed immediately. One pig could feed a family for several months.

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 October 31, 2001 - The Ghost of Chateau Chevre
 October 25 - Battle of Poitiers
 August 22, 2001 - Confrerie
 August 15, 2001 - Liberation
 August 8, 2001 - Le Cyclop
 August 1, 2001 - The Finger
July 25, 2001 - La Resistance
July 18, 2001 - System D
July 11, 2001 - The Accident
July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou
June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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