For days afterwards, the smell of onions permeated everything; it was in my hair, on my hands, impregnated in my clothes. My hands were cut to shreds and fingers stained dark brown from the onion peelings. Despite everything, I was glad that I was able to have been of some help in the preparation for the matanza. I still wasn’t sure what part 80 kilos of minced onions was going to play in the proceedings but I was sure that I would soon find out.
The day after the great onion peeling session, Antonia and a couple of other ladies from the village spent the best part of the day with their hands in buckets of tripe and intestines. Out in the yard they’d lit wood fires over which large metal basins stood full of boiling water. Tables had been rigged up and bowls and buckets full of what looked like very long, soggy condoms were being stretched, checked for holes and then bundled up into bunches with string. It was fascinating to watch but clearly something that you needed to have experience in to take part. I swept Antonia’s yard of leaves and watched the ladies go about their work, deep in concentration.
Antonia told me that I should be ready the following morning at 8.30. Paco slapped Irishman on the back, and then pretended to slit his throat making a grunting sound while doing so. We were left in no doubt that the following day was going to be a blood thirty event. ‘Muchos drinky-drinky’ Paco guffawed and slapped Irishman on the back once more for good measure. Clearly killing pigs was something that required Dutch courage.
Friday dawned clear and fine. It was the last week of November and the cold weather and abscence of pesky flies meant that in villages all over southern Spain La Matanza would be taking place. This tradition of La Matanza, which literally means ‘killing’, has gone on in Spain for hundreds of years. It is part of the fabric of rural life and one of the highlights of the year when families come together and women’s and men’s roles are quite clearly defined. The men kill the pigs and the woman do everything else! Each family will get enough pork to see them in morcilla (black pudding) salchida (sausages) tocino(bacon) chorizo (salami) and chicharrones (pork scratchings) for the best part of a year. Every part of the pig is eaten and nothing is wasted. If the pig’s squeak could be utilised, I’m sure they’d find a recipe for that too. These porcine treats are what make Andalucian cuisine amongst the finest in Spain. (Despite the fact that this method of killing pigs with a knife has been outlawed for sometime, it is still carried out by villagers all over Andalucia)
Unsure quite what my role in the day’s events were going to be, I went round to the Antonia’s house at the appointed hour to see of what assistance I could be. A kitchen full of apron glad women greeted me. The younger ones were washing bowls and cups, peeling vegetables and slicing bread the elder ladies were sat at the table tucking into pastries and cakes. I was introduced to everyone in turn and invited to coffee and cake. It turned out that all the ladies were members of Paco and Antonia’s respective families. There must have been at least twenty women there but not a man in sight. Slightly at a loss as to what to do, short of stuffing my face with treats, I ambled back home to get my camera. When I returned, Antonia was out in the yard with a bucket of blood. ‘Go and fetch Pedro’ she said, ‘Come with me’. I walked back to our house and called to Irishman who was already collecting up his sketchbooks and pens.
We followed Antonia up the street, past the church and then up a short path off the road. It was here that we found all the male members of the family. The first of the three pigs had already been slaughtered and some of the men were busy getting to work by cutting the bristles off it with knives and buckets of hot water from a large cauldron which had been heated up on a fire that they’d made at the side of the yard. On a stone wall beside them was a tray of vittells, almond biscuits, a plate of jamon and chorizo and bottles of sherry, brandy and whisky.
Once the pig’s bristles had been removed, ropes to hang it from a metal scaffold levered the beast up. The men then worked on removing the pig’s insides and cleaning it up. Nothing was wasted, every single part of the pig was put aside into buckets which then went into the back of a van. Once the initial butchering was done, the pig’s carcass was taken down and along with the buckets driven down to Antonia’s barn.
The next part was not very pleasant but I felt compelled to watch. I’m not shy of blood and guts but I hate to see anything killed even though I’m a meat-eater, which of course is something of a contradiction but I’m sure prays on the conscience of all carnivores.
The other two pigs had been roaming freely round the yard, grubbing about in the dirt looking for acorns and lying in the sun. One of them had earlier tried to make an escape, a final bid for freedom, but it had been chased back with sticks and loud shouts from the men. Before the second pig was singled out, the men took a break and had a drink. There were no cups or glasses; the idea was to pour the drink from a height, straight in to the mouth. The bottle went round as each man took a glug of sherry. Irishman and I were both handed a bottle and told to get swigging, no encouragement was needed despite the fact that it was still not yet 9am. If they needed Dutch courage to kill, we most certainly needed it just to watch.
Once the men had had their fill they earmarked which pig was next in the firing line. There followed at least five minutes or longer of trying to catch their target. The pig was not going to go to his maker without a fight. It tore round the yard, shrieking and grunting, bashing into the sides of walls while the men tried to corner it. The pigs were large and well fed and must have weighed several hundred pounds. I climbed to a place of safety and covered my ears at the noise. Eventually one of the men managed to hook the pig in the throat and it was dragged squealing to a metal crate where it was then tied up and lifted on top. A sharp knife was then used to slit its throat and Antonia caught the blood in a bucket. As life slowly ebbed out of the poor beast, the blood poured out in a steady stream, all the while mixed by her hands so as not to coagulate.
Once the pig was finally dead the men then set about de-bristling in a similar fashion to the previous one. Scalding water was poured over it and the long process of depilation began. While all of this was going on Irishman was drawing and I was taking photographs. We stayed up at the yard all morning until the final pig had met its end and the last carcass was brought back to the barn.
Back at the yard, the women were already getting stuck in to their first serious culinary job of the day. Morcilla making. ‘Roll up your sleeves, Lottie and come and join us!’ they chorused. I did as I was bade and then spent the next two hours up to my armpits in blood, onion, spices and whatever else it is that goes into making morcilla so delicious. The men on the other hand, cunningly made sure that all that remained for them to do, was to drain every bottle in the bar dry.