IV. DOMESTIC SLAUGHTERING OF ANIMALS
Domestic slaughtering of animals to be eaten by the family was widespread throughout the Basque Country, but down through the years, and particularly in the last century, this supplying of animal meat and fats underwent a great transformation.
Obtaining and providing basic ingredients and food from animals and for domestic consumption was the reason they were raised and slaughtered in the traditional household. The slaughtering of pigs, mainly, was an age-old practice in the areas where the provision of vegetable fats was more difficult.
Domestic slaughtering focused on pigs, lambs and ewes, goats, poultry and rabbits. The slaughtering of larger animals, such as calves, cows or horses, was less common.
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Pigs have always traditionally been the most common animal to be slaughtered in the home in all the regions of the Basque Country.
Until twenty-five years ago, pig slaughtering was a common activity in the majority of rural families and homes in the Basque Country, to the point that the households that did not slaughter a pig were considered to be poor and, on the other hand, people's wealth was judged by the number of pigs killed:
Pigs are fattened using vegetables from the market gardens and farms which varied from region to region: turnips, beetroots, potatoes, beans, cabbages, corn, wheat bran, etc. This food was sometimes bulked out with mash that also contained corn flour or bran.
Timing of the slaughter and beliefs Aseguna
Pigs are slaughtered during the cold months of autumn or in winter. St. Martin's Day, on 11 November, is the most popular date for this task according to the common saying in Álava: "Por San Martín sal del cortín" [similar one in English would be "Every pig has his Martinmass"]. Domestic slaughtering is usually in January and February in the southernmost part of Navarra.
Once the slaughter date is set, all the items are bought or gathered that are needed for the many tasks after the killing of the animal.
All the relatives and neighbours are called upon. That help by women and men alike is essential given the many tasks involved in the slaughtering of the pig.
Once the blood had been drained, the animal's skin is singed. The legs and ears are first removed in many places in Álava. The hollows left by the ears and the wound made to drain the blood are covered by a white cloth or stuffed with straw to stop ash entering the carcass.
Once the skin has been singed and the animal cleaned, it is opened up to be gutted, tripie askatu (Bermeo-B). The carcass is hung from a ladder or a hook set up for that purpose and it is cut open using a knife or a poadera (Monreal-N). The anus or cular (Galdames-B) would previously be plugged.
Cooling and resting
Once the viscera have been removed and the animal gutted, the inside is washed out with cold water and a fine cloth. In many places, that cloth would usually be made out of linen ehunezko (Zeanuri-B). The carcass is then hung in a cool place out of the reach of other animals such as dogs, cats or mice, and left to rest until the following day when it will be jointed. Sticks or stakes are placed crosswise using the cut made in the belly to remove the entrails to hold the carcass open so that air circulates and it dries better.
Weighing and jointing
Once it is clean and cold, the carcass is weighed in order to calculate its price and to establish the number of days that the ham and bacon have to be cured.
The meats are cured two or three days after the animal is slaughtered, except for black pudding which is made when the blood is still fresh.
Black pudding and chorizo or longaniza sausages are the most common cured meats and the wife is in charge of making them. The man of the household has very little involvement. He sometimes helps the women to cut up the meat for the chorizos by working the mincer.
Gifts at slaughter time
Neighbours and relatives are given black puddings and other parts of the pig as a gift at slaughter time. It is given as a courtesy and also expresses the links and relationship that sometimes goes beyond the simple physical closeness to relatives and neighbours. The Bizkaia Basque saying "Odolosteak ordea" (Black puddings are given in return) indicates that this gift is part of an established exchange.
Ewes and lambs. Ardikia
The mutton from the ewes is known as ardikia (Zeanuri-B) and from the ram zikirokia (Valcarlos-N). Mutton was frequently eaten in many areas of the country until forty or sixty years ago, but that is much less so today.
Slaughtering the ewe was a job for the man of the household, while the women cured and preserved the meat.
In August, the household would purchase a barren ewe, antzue, with a dried-up udder, errape-galdue, or with poor rumination, ausnerrea gelditu, from the shepherds. They fattened it until October and then would slaughter it at the end of that month. The whole animal was used: the intestines were used to make black puddings, the meat was stored as jerky, and the skin, ardi-narru (Zeanuri-B) was usually sold to the ragmen.
Rabbits, along with hens, are one of the small animals most frequently bred and slaughter in the countryside, along though on much smaller scale than the hens. Their meat has also grown in popularity in the last fifteen years.
Traditionally, eating rabbit was linked to festive occasions, such as special celebrations, guests to be given special treatment or the mere fact it was a Sunday or a festivity to be celebrated.
Keeping poultry, particularly hens, capons, ducks and doves, and turkey to a lesser degree in some inland areas, dates back to earliest times. However, their meat was not regularly eaten, but rather only on special occasions and linked to celebrating certain festivities or events.
Hens, chickens, capons and cockerels
Hens, oilo/ollo (common) are slaughtered when they stop laying eggs. Their meat is only eaten relatively frequently in rural areas, as the marketing of their meat is not as intensive as chicken meat.
Hen meat, as well as the stock obtained, oilosalda or oilozopa (common), was highly sought after in the past and was enjoyed on high days and holidays.