I have the dubious distinction of being the only one of my Irish contemporaries who has managed to get this far in life without ever having seen a dead body. At least, the only one I know of. It’s not that people around me live longer than average – I’ve had my fair share of funerals and wakes – but I’ve managed to avoid the open coffins.
In sharp contrast, there’s my age-old obsession with crime novels and all things forensic, and a bucket list non-entry to witness an autopsy (I want to but know I couldn’t). And I’m left wondering if a pig butchering counts?
The pig was dead, bled, and weighed (158 kg of which 90 kg would be ‘useful’ meat). Next job was to burn off the hair. This was the part that was supposed to smell – but it was so cold that not even an odour hung around. I watched in fascination as the pig turned from pink to black to bronze to yellow as two men worked the hide, one holding the gas flame and the other scouring the hide with a wire-bristled brush. It brought a whole new meaning to the term exfoliation. Once clean, it was time for the butcher to get to work.
Watching any craftsman at work is a joy. That unhesitating certainty they bring to their job is beautiful to see, especially today, in an age blighted with decision fatigue, and caveated with ifs, buts and maybes. One deep body-length incision, a couple of bones sawn through, and the pig was halved. The bits (30 kg of intestines, bladder, etc.) that were going to feed the wild boar were extracted, glistening like large gold nuggets in the dawning sun. Their absence left a large empty cavity in either half, creating a butterfly effect. The carcass was washed once again. I found myself wondering if (and how) I could be halved – N/S through the nose or E/W through the ears? Two inches of fat were peeled away to be used later to make tepertő (delicious pork crackling – I’ve just found out that the city of Veszprém has an annual fat and crackling festival – heaven; and I didn’t know that some recipes call to add beer or even milk to the fat to make the tepertő; and I didn’t know that the famous Mangalica pork is as expensive as it is because those particular pigs are 80% fat and 20% meat).
Did I mention the cold?
Back indoors now, the butchering began. Working quickly and deftly, the meat was divided into meat-meat (joints), meat for kolbász (real sausage), and stuff for puddings (liver and blood), the latter was then boiled in a vat outside for a few hours, ground, added to rice, spiced up, and turned into liver sausage (think Irish white pudding).
The basin of blood that was congealing in the corner was then added to make blood sausage (think Irish black pudding).
Perhaps what fascinated me most was the speed and dexterity of everyone involved. Spices (salt, pepper, paprika, marjoram, caraway seeds, garlic, red onion) were thrown in by the handful with what seemed like pure abandon rather than any sort of reciped measurement.
And it was here that the woman of the house came into her own as chief taster – she had the final word on what was enough and what was need more.
Intestines (sausage casing) bought in specially were filled with the various meats and in minutes links of sausage appeared, as if by magic. I was a tad confused between sausage and pudding as the Hungarian use of the word sausage seems to encompass everything. By my reckoning, kolbász is the good stuff – the one with good cuts of meat. The rest is made from mush – the ears, nose, liver, kidneys and other innards (now that I’ve tasted pig’s ear, the whole silk purse thing has taken on a new meaning). The blood sausage, once made, was then boiled, as the added blood was the only ingredient not already cooked.
It took five hours in all – and in five hours, a 158 kg pig was parsed and parcelled with every gram put to use. Even the fat. Watching various culinary traditions come to life was enthralling, like abált tokaszalonna, a dish made from the pig’s jowls, the boiling of fat to make lard and tepertő, and the saving of the meat water to use later in cabbage dishes, skin and bone boiled to make a pork jelly – kocsonya. Nothing wasted. The meat won’t quite last a full year but it should see the couple through nine months or so.
A 100 kg pig yielding 50-60 kg of useful meat costs in the region of 70 000 huf (€220 / $285). The experience … priceless.