t’s the time of year to slaughter pigs if you live on a farm and keep animals (we do). Italian law gives farmers a small window of opportunity to kill livestock during the cold months. Doing it at home is preferable to trying to get a pig into a truck headed for an abattoir. That is a separate nightmare. So we seize the chance and set to it.
Sales of salt and sausage skins are brisk at the town ferramenta, a hardware store, at this time of year. Whole families gather to lend a hand because killing the pig is merely the start of an arduous process. Two hundred kilos of pork takes a lot of cutting, curing, mincing and squeezing (through tubes). Meat is cold, heavy, slippery and frankly unpleasant to handle. If bacon weren’t so delicious you’d question whether any of this was worth it.
Never undertake this without help from someone who knows the land, farm animals, and what they’re doing. Killing an animal can’t be taken lightly. In modern, urban society, few ever witness animal slaughter (and many decry it).
Swiftness and efficiency are essential. We’ve have had great successes with the help of our neighbors. But on our own, it’s been another story, more in line with our various animal husbandry disasters.
We once had large boar that we needed to slaughter. Ludicrously sentimental, we allowed him some free grazing time before his last breath. Of course he took the opportunity to explore the neighborhood and vanished. Frantic searching and a pointless attempt at tracking pig prints failed to turn up the stray tourist. Before long, I got an irate phone call from a neighbor.
“Your pig has killed a pig and gone berserk,” she shouted. “Do something now.”
My hands turned clammy, my heart started to race, panic was at hand. Miraculously, just as I was trying to calm down the farmer our wayward pig chugged into view. I dropped the phone and seized my chance to lure him home. Usually a pig will happily follow a bucket of food to the ends of the earth. Not this time. Our worldly wanderer was so charged with excitement and exhaustion that nothing would budge him from the middle of the field. We tried everything until we gave up and walked away. Inexplicably, he walked away with us. Maybe he’d had enough independence for a day. In any event he followed us home like a lamb.
But I still had my neighbor to placate. Her scene was grisly. Bits of pig carcasses hung in the trees. Dogs feasted on pools of blood. She walked toward me with a murderous look in her eye.
My daughter said: “Mum I think she’s going to hit you.”
Bravely, I pushed her behind me and faced my doom.
“I’m so sorry,” I stuttered.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “These things happen”.
“But what about your pigs,” I replied, mentally toting up the damages.
“Oh, I was slaughtering them today anyway.”
You couldn’t measure my relief at that moment. At the same time you had to wonder how many places on earth you’d get the same kind of understanding treatment. Not in areas faced with starvation, surely.
So enjoy the holiday season and the march into the New Year. And also enjoy that bacon. It really does make it all worthwhile.