La Matanza – Rural living in Andalucia


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.

how-it's-done-two

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.

drawings-one

boiling-water-and-fire

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.

pig-and-hook

tripe-casings

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)

bucket-one

pete-nevin-one

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.

all-hands-in-the-morcilla

butchering-the-meat

and-outside-in-the-evening

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.

cooking-outside

bicycles-and-morcilla

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.

draining-the-blood

hot-water

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.

spices

chorizo

lottie-morcilla-making

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.

linings

sausages-sausages

46 thoughts on “La Matanza – Rural living in Andalucia

  1. A wonderfully vivid (and somewhat grizzly) description of pig sticking. I think the men have the better of the ceremony. Drinking seems to be the main contribution. Except of course for a little slaughtering. But you can’t make bacon or sausages without sacrificing the odd pig. I think next year you and Pete should run the show and the locals can sketch and take photos. When do we get to the 3rd little piggy?

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    1. Andrew, I couldn’t do it, neither could Pete, it was bad enough watching. But, I’m glad we were able to be part of something very Andalucian, it’s a big deal here. That morcilla was so good, I was given a goody-bag of chorizo, morcilla, salchichon and various bits and pieces over the following days and weeks. We were invited over to lunch a couple of weeks ago and had the cheeks, tail and tongue for lunch – Pete drew the line at the tail but we both had some tongue and some cheek. It would have been bad form not to!

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  2. Yes, it is well known that the only part of the pig not eaten is its squeal. All the food you mentioned here are among my favourites, especially the morcilla, I love it, and so healthy, but difficult to find here in Brazil.

    AV

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    1. Weirdly, we could get black pudding/sausage on Bali and it was very good. It wasn’t easy to find good pork on Java being mainly muslim, but Bali being Hindu, we had access to some fine pork dishes. I agree, morcilla is something else, very, very delicous. Antonia often serves it up in the bar as a tapas with our drinks – it’s one of Pete’s favourite things.

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      1. When I do a BBQ at the bar, I have BBQed it if I can get it. It is avaialble at one distant street market on a Sunday, but for me on a walking stick it is difficult to get to. Definitely goes well with beer.

        AV

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      2. Extremely well with beer! I hope you can get hold of some soon, your idea of BBQ’ing it sounds very good. I can’t get that story of the tractor and the rotisserie chicken out of my head! 😀

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  3. I quickly scrowled through your narrative and only read the first paragraph. This is the seocnd post that I can not bring myself to read/view. The other one was of the goat or what ever the animal was in Indonesia.

    I had a pet pig when I was very young and pork is not on my agenda. Nor is any bird or animal with fur or hair. I can not hardly look at a pig or hog. These are some of the most intelligent animals who actaually form attachments to people. They are easy to house break and act like dogs.

    All that aside, I understand that most folks need to eat meat and that is all well and good. Meat is what makes the world go round or something to that effect. 🙂

    Will look forward to your next post which I’m thinking will be without gore. 🙂

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    1. Yvonne, I’m sorry, I know you don’t care for these posts and I do understand. I write about what I find and the Matanza is an important day in the rural calendar.
      I promise, there won’t be anything like this again! I’ve written about it now so it’s done and dusted so to speak. Thanks for leaving a comment, your opinion matters to me, Lottie xxx

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  4. Had to ‘scroll-down’ quickly, as I was just (coincidentally) grilling my pork sausages for our tea-time! WoW Lottie . . . you are very brave . . . x

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    1. I’m not brave at all, I just tried very hard to look brave! I’m fascinated by customs and traditions and the way things are done. The rural Andalucian people are very self-sufficient and tough, they grow most of their own veg, keep chickens, goats, and nothing is wasted. It’s a pretty much a self-sustaining lifestyle which I admire very much. Jealous of your sausages, hope they were good. We had ratatouille made with the dregs from the vegetable basket, Mr Nevin was not impressed, he’d much rather have had sausages! 😉

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  5. Well, I’ll have black pudding for breakfast anytime, especially the home made brand. Of course it is grisly, first the cows in Java and now the pigs in Andalusia. But, I have been told vegetables feel pain too. Anyway, a shrieking carrot is something to think about when eating pork.
    The culture of Spain, apart from music, Picasso, and Don Quixote includes blood and gore. Spain would not be Spain.
    Your story is inspiring Lottie. I am sure I would have fainted watching the pig get hooked and then its life ebbing away and bled out in a bucket. So sad, and yet there is poetry there, isn’t it?

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    1. I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head, Gerard. Spain would not be Spain without the blood and gore, it’s part of it’s cultural identity as you so rightly point out.

      I wish that I could send you some morcilla, but aside from customs and exise, i’m not sure that it would relish the long trip to Australia. Antonia preserves everything in buckets of oiive oil in her kitchen. No wonder everything tastes so good!

      I shall spare a thought for the shrieking carrots when I make soup at lunctime and
      Thank you as always for your excellent comments 😀

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  6. This past summer hubby and I tried our hand at making sausages and what a hoot it was! I have no problem with the pig slaughter, just as long as nothing goes to waste, I’m a meat eater. In my freezer, I have both bear and venison courtesy of my neighbour, again nothing went to waste when he killed the animals.

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    1. I thought I was quite sophisticated having Hare in the freezer, but BEAR! now that’s waaaay out there! Makes a change from fish fingers I guess 😀
      Funnily enough, I helped out with some sausage making last Sunday, you are right, it is a hoot, especially when made under the influence of rioja!

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    1. Practically native! I wish, I’m getting so frustrated not being able to speak enough Spanish. everyone is so patient with me but the weeks are ticking by and i’m not anywhere close to being able to hold a proper conversation. It will come!
      I love black pudding too, it’s one of my most favourite things, I even prefer it to sausages. Years ago in N.Yorkshire, I had it in a restaurant. Picture fat slices of fried black sausage atop slithers of apple cooked in butter with a drizzle of calvados over the top….out of this world. HUGE HUGS to YOU! XXXXX

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  7. This took me back. Every year my family held THE GREAT CHICKEN MASSACRE, an event that kept all of us in poultry for months. Kids played tag amid chickens literally running around with their heads cut off! Women plucked and gutted at long tables under tarps. It’s no wonder I became a vegetarian, and it didn’t come close to the blood-bath you’ve described here!

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    1. The Great Chicken Massacre sounds enough to put any one off meat for life. I’ve had periods of my life where I have been vegetarian, 2-3 year stretches but (and I know this is a feeble excuse) living with meat-eating men makes it a lot of hard. I enjoy meat. Not everyday, I can go for days without it but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t like it. Our diet has changed living here, we eat fish at least 3/4 times a week which is a great improvement on before. It’s cheap and very good – I’m having a run on mackerel at the moment……

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  8. Oh my goodness! You are really brave taking this pictures, it very hard to look at this poor pig. Spanish friends of mine used to have a pig leg=Serrano ham in their kitchen.. and right now, I stay in this german area near the dutch border, people are “devoted” to meat… they have a custom called “sausage singing”, where young men go door to door and: first: drink schnaps and second: get a sausage.. in the end all the sausages eaten altogether with more schnaps… Strange habits 😉

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    1. Marta, the sausage singing sounds totally mad and very germanic. I can imagine there is lots of thigh slapping as well 😉 Sorry about the pictures, I had to include a few piggy ones but I made sure not to put any pics up that showed ‘the act’.
      Talking of schnaps, I haven’t had any in years, it’s a nice drink 😀

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  9. really gruesome pictures. I don’t eat meat these days (I ate it in Asia because it was too much hard work not to) and I think few people would eat it if they had to do this themselves.
    I think it’s great how you are being accepted into the Andalucian way of life. I didn’t find the people particularly welcoming, more suspicious of anyone ‘different’. So it just goes to prove not to judge on one bad experience.

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    1. I sifted through over 1,000 photographs of the matanza and these were the least gruesome of the lot. I’m acutely aware that this is not for everyone but it’s something that I wanted to write about as we were invited to be a part of that day and as I wrote in the post, it’s part of the fabric of rural life here.
      Oddly, I ate leas meat in Asia, so the reverse of you but I think you are right, if everyone had to kill their own meat, a lot more people would become vegetarian.
      As to being accepted here, I think a lot of it has to do with our village. They are a very friendly and welcoming bunch of folk and genuinely interested in having us integrate into life here. It also probably helps that Pete and I are both quite extrovert and make the effort to embrace village life, La Matanza and all!

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  10. A touching post Lottie and well handled. Isn’t it beautiful how the locals have made you both feel welcome? You are both ‘simpaticos’ and creative people 🙂 My favourite photo is the ‘black pudding dawn’ and Pete drawing of course. Actually the images remind me of summer holidays in Portugal, especially the year my grandmother cut a chickens throat before our eyes and caught the blood in a bowl. I’ve forwarded this blog to my best friend who leaves his family at home to drive around Spain and sell skins to Chorizo factories. Thanks for sharing Lottie 🙂

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  11. Thank you, George. I’m really happy that you felt that I handled it well. It’s difficult to write a post like this – lots of people are quite squeamish and I have to be sensitive to the fact that anything to do with animal slaughter can be an emotive subject. I have great respect for vegetarians and vegans and I can see that the subject of La Matanza is unpalatable for many folk. But I am a meat eater and I’ve also farmed and importantly, I’m passionate about embracing and recording our new life here.
    It’s lovely of you to forward my blog to your friend, i hope he gets in touch with us, I’d love to meet him. Don’t forget to factor a visit in to us when you back on the Iberian peninsula! xxx

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  12. Oh dear! As a vegetarian, I had to scroll through this post quickly! Poor, poor piggies. It was cool that you got to take part in a local tradition (even if I had to skip over it 🙂 Looking forward to your next post!

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    1. Lorijo, I’m sorry 😦 this was not a herbivore friendly post. Forgive me, and thanks for your comment, it’s always good to hear from you. I promise you that my next post won’t be so grizzly xxx

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  13. Very interesting. I was raised near my grandparents’ farm in the 1960’s. We didn’t slaughter there, but I did understand what was going on when I ate; the cycle of life, and all that. I have, however, been involved in hunting for food (deer, fowl, rabbits). I appreciate that you took a documentary style on this, and didn’t sanitize it.

    I just finished reading a novel which, although not graphic, did bring home the fact that death and gore are facts of life (even birth is gory). It is only the very privileged of finance, class and culture, who are able to “sanitize” their work, their home environment and their eating, so they don’t have to think about the grizzly realities of survival. I do understand wanting to clean it all up, though. I was vegetarian for a time–just couldn’t stand the thought of eating animals. But I couldn’t manage to keep my nutrition (especially iron) intake up to par without meet.

    I still don’t eat blood, however. I suppose I’d have to, if my neighbors invited me to. I don’t like to offend people offering hospitality, by being persnickety and appearing ungrateful

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    1. What a great comment, thank you. The book you’ve just read sounds really interesting, and I think you are so right about everything getting sanitized, it also drives me mad. It’s hard sometimes if you go out and what your hosts have given you is not what normally eat. I’m ok, I’ll eat pretty much everything which is a jolly good thing as our neighbours fed us lunch the other day and there were parts of the pig eaten that I wouldn’t normally have eaten, tail, tongue, cheek etc but as you said, it would be rude not to!

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      1. The book is And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini. It’s not about food at all; it’s about cultures at war, about 3rd world and 1st world, and explores how one’s sense of entitlement comes only after that person has transcended a life of pure survival (through economy or sheer luck of being born in a privileged place). I just read it for the second time, for a reading group. I got a lot more out of it the second time. It’s a very complex novel. The story is good, too.

        And I’m with you — I have my eating preferences, but I want them to take second seat to showing gratitude and honor to the host who is offering hospitality.

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      2. Thanks Tracy. I shall add it to my reading list. I enjoyed The Kite Runner and from what you say, this is definitely worth reading. Sometimes books need to be read twice or more, to really understand them and we can learn something new on each reading. I’ve often found that books that I read years ago, hold something different for me now. I still enjoy them but maturity and experience make me value them in a different way.

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    1. Good for you, Steve and I don’t blame you in the least. In truth I’d rather not have gone but I wanted to show willing. Our neighbours have been so lovely, and this was their special thing. I don’t want to watch it again, once was more than enough but I’ll always lend a hand peeling onions and making sausages.

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  14. I have just discovered your blog and am enjoying reading your stories from Andalucia very much. You were brave to stick with it through the pig killing but as you say it is part of the culture there and so it is important to join in if possible. I am a vegetarian so would have found it difficult but I think if you eat meat why not see the whole process!
    Looking forward to following your story
    Kate

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    1. How very good to hear from you. I’m delighted that you are enjoying reading my stories from Andalucia. Thanks for stopping by and for your comment 😀 More adventures soon!

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  15. Hi Lottie. Am enjoying my revisit and these awesome pix. I’ve not seen shots like the ones in this post. Uh, not sure I’m ever having sausage again, though LOL.

    Let me know if you’d like to participate in the Race Around the World, share your stories from my platform. Info on my front page. I’d be happy to promote your blog.

    HW

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    1. Hello! Wow I’d be honoured to participate in Race Around The World, thank you for the invite, I look forward to taking part.
      The pig killing event was a bit gruesome but I must confess, the sausages were absolutely delicious. I recently took part in the olive harvest and today there is a big party to celebrate the end of the olive picking season. I’m sure that sausages, ham and all sorts of piggy treats will be part of the feast 😀

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  16. I worked as a butcher, briefly, the intestines were best used for sausages, reminds of your ramadon piece, the slaughter of goats… i bet the food is yummy and worth it… i use to be vegetarian when i worked at the meat works, oh that was dirty work….

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    1. Pete worked for a while in a meat processing plant, he said it was the worst job that he’d ever had. I can imagine. The sausages here are marvellous, especially the morcilla, the black pudding. It’s off limits now as I really am trying to lose weight but I tell you, if you ever get a chance to try it, go for it. Oh and the big hams that you buy on the bone and that are sliced very thin…..

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  17. Yes Pete is right in saying that. I got a parasite in my eye and bad hand infection from pulling out kidneys’ from sheep carcasses, not good, but great money back then, the weirdos that work in the meat industry too….

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