29. La matanza – and a little bit of hypocrisy
Living in remote areas of the countryside of whatever country, inevitably brings you face to face with the real facts of life – including the fact that the meat that you buy sanitised and wrapped up in plastic from your supermarket was once a live animal that had to be killed. Our neighbours’ pigs that roamed our land and that produced the finest ham in the world, and that we had named and occasionally scratched and petted, were all of course destined for the pot. And the process was carried out in December or January of each year in what is known as la matanza – the killing! At this time of year it is deemed cool enough and the meat and associated bits and pieces won’t go off in the sun.
The local farmers were always quite matter of fact about slaughter time. Their animals lived well and they lived the cycle of life of which death is a natural part. ‘Their time has come’ was the saying. ‘We have fed them. They will now feed us’. During the time of the pig killing all of our neighbours warned us of their killing day so that we could be well out of earshot. Pigs make an appalling noise before and during the process and it was one we couldn’t bear to listen to.
For our neighbour Juan, these times were an occasion when the whole family gathered together and everyone from tiny tots to great grannies came to help. The pigs were quickly and efficiently killed and within minutes the various parts were being turned into choice bacon cuts, hams, sausages and blood products.
Huge tin buckets of what looked like red and white flob littered the ground and even the snouts were carefully shaved and scrubbed and cleaned to make snout stew, and I have been told that a pig snout, a pound of dried split green peas, and a pot of water practically make themselves into soup on a cold winter’s night. We never actually tried it but I well remember my daughter Lucy sitting at the dinner table of a friend, staring in horror at her plate on which sat a large, black snout – in gravy!
Anyway, we would stay well out of earshot, and then rather hypocritically return later on to share in the camp fire at the end of the day, when the first choice cuts of meat were cooked with much drinking of the local, home-made wine and much happiness shared after a good day’s work well done. We would appear to the sound of much muttering from the old grannies present.
‘They have no pigs you know’ – said to much shaking of heads. ‘They are foreigners of course’ ‘English I hear…..from down near Gibraltar’. Much nodding and shaking of heads. Maria, our younger daughter, was introduced to a matanza when she was just 7 days old and as we sat down to eat, drink and warm ourselves around the camp fire, on the dark, bitterly cold, December evening, only such an introduction could stop the old grannies from their work of snout scrubbing and sausage stuffing, while they admired and clucked and cooed over her.
The meat was superb and the cloudy local wine, called mosto is such liquid filth that its very strength and roughness somehow perfectly complements the smooth flavour of the succulent pork. Beware however if you go to Spain for mosto is also the word used in many areas for non-alcoholic grape juice!
I try to rationalise our pig killing cowardice without appearing too hypocritical. Like most, we are higher up the food chain, relying on a satisfactorily thick layer of slaughterers, butchers, packers, cling film makers and supermarket workers, to shelter us from the unfortunate details of a slice of meat’s origins. And after all, where would all those people be without cowards like us?
Strangely though, our daughters who were born in the area and who of course went to school with all the other Spanish kids, didn’t think anything of it! ‘Of course you kill the pig, I was told. How can you eat it otherwise?’ How indeed? Stupid me! All the same, I’m glad we stuck with honey, cork and chestnuts.