The Way We Were

By Domhnall de Barra

A momentous occasion in rural life was the day the pig got killed. It is illegal to do so now but a few years ago it was at least a yearly occurrence in every household in the country. Some farmers with large families might kill three or four pigs in the year. Some people bought the animal for slaughter but most raised a few pigs, fattened one for the house and sold the rest. We always kept a few pigs and I must admit I had a liking for them as a youngster. They were easy enough to rear from bonhams and as long as they got fed regularly they were happy.

There were great preparations on the day of the killing. The table to be used was scrubbed down with soap and boiling water and a big pot was put boiling over the fire waiting for the arrival of the butcher. Though some people did the killing themselves there was usually a recognised butcher in the locality who was skilled at the job and whose services were in great demand. The pig would be laid on his back on the table with four people holding the legs in the air. This was accompanied by much screeching from the frightened animal. The butcher then carefully chose the correct spot and plunged the knife deep into the animal. The woman of the house was ready with a pan to catch the blood that flowed from the deep wound and it was all over in a very short time. The blood was used to make the black puddings later on. As soon as the blood stopped flowing the pig was taken from the table and hung on the frame of a horse or ass cart, without its wheels, leaning against the wall. Boiled water and a razor were produced and the outer skin was washed and the hair shaved off. Then the butcher opened the carcass from top to bottom and the organs and entrails were removed. The guts were taken away, turned inside out, washed and boiled to remove any impurities as they would form the outer covering for the black puddings.

Every household had its own recipe for making puddings which was handed down from mother to daughter. No two were alike but they were all very tasty. The ingredients were mixed with the pig’s blood and filled into the guts, tied off in circles and cooked. In the meantime the other organs, heart, kidneys liver etc were put to one side to be cooked later. Bits of pork would be cut from the meat to be given to the neighbours with a couple of black puddings thrown in when they were ready. They would be wrapped in brown paper and we all loved getting the job of taking them around because at every house we would get sixpence or even a shilling. The rest of the meat was cut into squares and put into a barrel to be pickled or salted. This was to preserve the meat over a long period. The head was washed thoroughly and boiled, usually after being cut in half. There was great pickings in the head if one had the patience do  so.  The trotters or crubeens, sometimes called rooteens (phonetic spelling)  were also boiled and were very popular with some people.

As kids we were given the bladder which we blew up and used as a football. It never lasted too long as it was easily punctured by small thorns but we had great fun with it  for a while.

Having been left in the barrel for at least 9 days the meat might be hung from the ceiling where it was further cured by the smoke from the fire. This gave it a brownish colour and also gave it a special taste. This bacon provided the meat for the dinner at least every week day. Sunday might be an exception when a piece of beef might be brought from the butcher in town. They say bacon is the one meat you can eat every day and not get tired of it. Certainly, boiled with cabbage or turnips and flowery spuds there is no better fare. It had a completely different taste to the bacon one buys in the shops today which is more like cardboard at times!.

Whatever about the bacon, the taste of fresh pork steak and black puddings is divine. The smell of it cooking is enough to make the mouth water on its own. Over the years it has been my privilege to dine in some of the finest restaurants in the world but I have never come across any food that could compare to the puddings and pork steak fresh from the pig. As I said before, every house had  its own recipe but the best puddings I ever tasted were made by my next-door neighbour Norann Cusack. They had a taste all of their own and it is a pity that we will never again experience that pleasure because times have changed and fresh blood is no longer used. Pigs are now slaughtered in abattoirs without the personal touch that people had when they were providing for their own families. It might be gone but the memories linger on.