Happy Holidays and Happy New Year’s to you and yours. I hope you had a great turning of the year.
(A heads up, pictures included in this blog might not be for everyone’s viewing pleasure, although one of my favorite 9 year olds took most of them)
This year, I was lucky enough to be able to go back to Fram where I lived my first two years in Paraguay. I spent Christmas Eve and Christmas with some of my favorite big and little people out there. In Paraguay, December 24th is more important than the 25th, as. you are preparing for the birth of Jesus. Everyone comes together and prepares a feast. Then some eat around 10 or 11pm, while others wait for the celebration. As the day comes to a close, and everyone watches the countdown to midnight, when everyone yells “Feliz Navidad!” and Christmas has officially begun. As it’s summer down here, Christmas feels very much like Fourth of July. meat on a grill, the family all together, and after midnight, fireworks everywhere.
Especially with people in rural areas, an important part of any festivity is the food that everyone has worked so hard to provide for throughout the year. The corn in the corn bread is harvest from the field, shucked in a circle of women, cut off the cob, and ground down with a hand cranked grinder. The meat also is a thing to celebrate, as you’ve also seen the animal you will butcher since birth, and upon killing it, you will have all kinds of new resources to use in the kitchen and in the entire house.
This Christmas season, I was able to help make one of my favorite foods, morcilla, or blood sausage. I had tried it before Paraguay, and was not a big fan, but fresh, homemade morcilla is delicious! And I want to share the process.
You start by picking your cow or bull. Its usually a young bull, as the cows are very valuable for milk. You call your usual friends and accomplices over to help, because it takes many hands to kill an animal of this size. To make morcilla, you have to kill the animal a little bit differently, intentially going for the jugular so that the blood can all come out at once and immediately.
Then, you have to butcher it. Some families have a tree that they hang the animal from, but a bull is HEAVY. As the animal needs to be skinned anyways, the bull is left on the ground and it’s skin becomes the clean mat that is used to work on. Keeping the meat as clean as possible is important.
I really like to butcher! Its a beautiful process and with the people I’ve worked with, its a mix of years of anatomical knowledge and practice with a good dose of “not caring as long as its cut into manageable pieces” that I work quite well with.
Don Martin led this butchery, and I love watching him. He was trained by his father in law and brother in law years ago, later becoming one of the community’s butchers. Before refridgerators, Don Martin would kill an animal a week. Everyone would come together, working and chatting, and bring home that week’s meat. No one paid, because everyone took turns giving an animal and doing the work.
Another interesting thing about this is that it created Radio So’o, or the ‘meat radio’ in Guarani. Imagine the water cooler at the office, where all the juicy gossip was spread. Well, pre-fridges, the weekly butchering was often the only time you saw many of your neighbors and it was when you caught up on the news. The term radio so’o is still used although its been 15 years since it was such an occurance, and i find many of the younger generation don’t quite know why they say ask for the ‘meat radio’ when wanting the freshest gossip.
There are very few parts of the animal that are not used. For this bull, the gall bladder was tossed aside, but besides that I cannot think of what else that wasn’t used.
One of my favorite innards is called librillo.. I’m not quite sure what it would be called in English, besides stomach. But a cow’s stomach does some heavy digesting, and this part of the animal has many, large flaps of skin, like pages in a book, laid next to each other for this process. To clean it out, you take a page and wipe off the green grass, fold the page and continue. It’s delicious!
The next step for blood sausage is to take out the intestines of the animal, because this is used as the casings for the sausage. They are long, long, long and are put aside for later.
Below is me emptying the intestines of their own green, liquid waste. After this, you put them inside-out and give them a good rinse off, ready to be used for sausage.
Get ’em good and clean!
Then add your other ingredients.
- Blood sausage can have any of the following:
Cow or pig blood
The stuffing always takes
forever! One time we cut off the top of a soda bottle to use as a funnel, but this time we just used our hands. The large intestines are like a dream to fill, very easily and quickly you can finish one. The small intestines are much harder, and you have to get your fingers in it to open the whole wide enough to get anything into. But my dear teacher, Rosa, says its all the same, it just takes practice. HA! Well, ain’t that the truth about everything…
And Voila! Below is our finished project, ready to boil. From killing the animal to eating the sausage, it took about 4 or 5 hours. But its funny, thinking about it, I’m not quite sure. The job is divided by everyone, and everyone is laughing and catching up and working hard. It goes by fast.
As my friend and I were making the sausage, the men continued with their saws and freshly sharpened knives, cutting down the pieces into more manageable sizes.
All told, there were probably 10 solidly participating participants, between the ages of 6 and 60. Life and death are complete cycles here, and shared by all.
Finally, I want to thank Ceci, the 9 year old at my side with the sausages. She was my photographer du jour for this, and she helped me very much! Hope everyone had as great of a day as we did.
It’s an art.
Talking to some men in my community that work in the near by pig factory, they say they kill 500 pigs a day. It was the evening after our own butcher.
That is about a pig a MINUTE. Killed, skinned, butchered and hung.
I turned to my friend, one of the 10 working with us. “How long do you think it would take Don Martin to get that good?” I asked her.
“A looooooong time.”
It might be faster, but I bet the factories have much less of the good ol’ radio so’o.