One of the qualities that I enjoy about Slovakia is how many traditions are still observed in rural areas, whether it be folk singing and dancing, draft horse competitions, or lighting cemeteries up with candles.
Some of these traditions are cultural and remeniscent of the past; others are born from survival. In December, my husband’s parents had zabíjačka (za bee yach ka), killing the family pig.
In the not so distant past, everybody in the village had a pig. It was necessary for survival. Now its less common though still practiced, particuarly by older people.
I grew up on a farm in Canada, but the style of slaughter is very different. In my experience, a number of animals were slaughtered at once but not much was done with it. The meat would be cut up (after hanging if beef) and stored in the freezer. I remember making sausages once at my grandparents and the smoke house in use, but it certainly wasn’t the same day as butchering.
In Slovakia, one, max two, pigs are killed and a variety of goods are made that same day. Many of the recipes use up the organs, so that you can’t even tell when you eat it. Everything is used, besides the toenails, contents of the intestines, and ear drums. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll share those recipes here at Almost Bananas. Today, it’s about the set up of how they do it, which I think is fascinating.
The night before, out come two barrels adapted to fit a cauldron. The 50l (13 US gallons) cauldron pots, for lack of a better word, sit inside the barrel, set on the rim. Underneath, a grate has been placed in and a door made to make a fire on top of the grate. The fire then heats the contents of the cauldron. It’s a practical and portable solution for cooking a large amount outside. We use these for making gulash for large groups, or even for selling sauerkraut soup at events like the draft horse competition.
Also prepared the night before is a great amount of peeled onion and garlic. I think we used 5 kg (11 lbs) of onion and 1 kg (2 lbs) of garlic. They used to also go through the rice, to make sure it had no pebbles in it, but my mother in law says that the rice is cleaner now. A myriad of pots and pans are washed and set out.
Early in the morning, my father in law gets up early, fills the cauldrons with water, and makes a fire in each barrel. It takes about an hour to an hour and a half to heat the water to steaming.
Some families do zabíjačka themselves but my inlaws have a butcher come. He is 78 and still full of vim and vigor. He uses an electric shock to down the pig, then the main artery in the neck is cut and they gather the blood that comes out in a pail. You must stir the blood (with your arm) as it cools so it doesn’t coagulate. It will be used later on.
The hot steaming water in one of the cauldrons is used in a metal watering can to pour over the pig, it’s scrubbed with bell-like triangles, and washed again. Toenails pulled off. This repeats until the pig is clean on all sides, and then it’s hung up.. Time for a drink.
The pig is sawn down the centre of the spine so that we can get the spinal cord and brains, which are used for lunch in mozgy. As the butcher cuts the animal, the meat is carried to tables to rest, while the organs, head, various bits and bones are put into the cauldrons of water. The butcher puts bones into one and organs into another, although he said it’s not necessary.
Meanwhile, in the basement is a wood stove, where my mother in law is chopping and caramalizing onions. “How much do you cut?” I ask. “Oh,” she says, “until it’s enough.” This is indicative of the amounts given when I ask for recipes throughout the day. We figure she cooks 3 kg in the first pot.
The butcher cuts apart the meat into chunks, his knife deftly finding the right space between muscles or the secret spot in a joint. A massive cleaver hacks bone. Fat is cut for lard, even the fat around the intestines is stripped and used.
The stock from the cauldrons is used to cook rice, gel the tlačenka, and make the black pudding. As it gets used up, the stock is put in a separate large pot so that the cauldrons can be used to render lard and make the black pudding.
Other things that will be made today:
- mozgy: ground meat mixed with eggs and brains that is always lunch.
- jaternice: sausages made of rice and organs that you simply pop into the oven to eat for a quick meal. You would never tell there are organs in there.
- tlačenka: head cheese, which is bits of meat, herbs, and garlic held together with gelatin (remember filling those cauldrons with bones?)
- lard and cracklings (and I’ll show you what you can make with the cracklings).
- podbradnik: literally meaning under the chin, it’s basically fat smeared in garlic and paprika.
- black pudding: barley is cooked with broth and blood to a pudding consistency.
- klobasa: Slovak style smoked sausages.
- liver pate (here’s a beef liver pate recipe, inspired by the butcher)
- baked meat, which is supper, although at this point I usually just want a salad
It’s a long day. Black pudding must be stirred for three hours and it is dark before we finish. But the person with stir duty can chat with the person on stir duty for the lard. Dishes are washed and washed and washed again. The meat sits over through the cool of the winter night to be packaged, labeled, and frozen the next day.
Subscribe in the sidebar to find out when more recipes for the products listed above are posted!
More photos on my Flickr account.
Shared at Simple Life Sunday, Clever Chicks, The Art of Homemaking, Maple Hill 101, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Homestead Blog Hop, Simple Lives Thursday, HomeAcre Hop, Front Porch Friday, Farm Hop, Old Fashioned Friday, Simply Natural Saturdays