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Real Rural Traditions in Bulgaria

Not to be read by those of a nervous disposition, animal activists, health and safety inspectors, environmental health officials, people who think that the meat they eat is born looking the way they buy it from supermarkets or vegetarians! Everyone else read on and realise how different life can be in Bulgaria. So on a Friday night a week before Christmas we got the call from our friend "My father in law's pig is getting killed tomorrow morning".



First let me explain. Here in the villages a large majority of people grow their own food, make their own wine/rakia and keep a few sheep, goats and a pig.  It’s common to see chickens clucking away at the side of the road, a donkey grazing and the odd stray cow roaming around.  A piglet is bought at the beginning of the year and is well fed through to December.  This is when it’s usually dispatched, providing a whole years supply of pork, plus goodies for Christmas.  As far as we can tell most of these pigs ‘seem’ to have a reasonably good (but short) life.  They live fairly naturally, get well fed and are not stuck in some factory farm where they never see the light of day.  Our Bulgarian friends work full time and live in a large house together with their extended family.  The grandparents live in a small house next door and between them all they grow all their own stuff, have goats, sheep, chickens, a horse and the obligatory pig.

Each December the pigs meet their maker. It’s a traditional thing for people to make quite a thing of it, with family and friends mucking in to help. My other half went to his first pig killing one Saturday mid December at 7.15am and didn't return until 19.00pm at night. He arrived home with a happy grin and the air of a man who had been well fed and watered!! On that day I walked our dog through our village and stepped around a large pool of blood in the street from a local pig killing, they were butchering it in their front garden!.  Not a pretty sight but the dog was very interested.

Now back to the original story. On the designated Saturday we looked out of the window at 7.45am to see the cars across the road and the men going in and out to get things ready. We heard the gunshot at 8am just as we were leaving the house to join in! Minutes later the executioner left with the rifle slung over his shoulder. There was a lot of scurrying about with buckets.  We waited for this to calm down and made our move.  The pig was lying in a shed at the back of the house, quite a big one but not looking his best.  At this point he’d already been half blow torched (done to get rid of the hairs) and he was being washed all over in boiling salted water. Surprisingly, it wasn't too gory and there wasn't a lot of blood. However, I didn't wait around for the next bit i.e. the butchering.

I joined the women in the warm and cosy kitchen. There was a table covered in a plastic cloth and the range was blasting out enough heat to melt the antarctic. We waited and chatted until the meat started to arrive. The problem was once it started it didn't seem to stop, there were mounds of it. We started skinning the large pieces and chopping pork into small sized pieces. The skin had the fat scraped off and was sliced into pieces and put to oneside. The small pieces of pork were put into large flat dishes sprinkled with salt and herbs and put straight into the range. The pigs liver was brought in and it was huge. We sliced and diced the liver very small and mixed it with tons of finely diced leek. Next came the skin from the pigs stomach. We stretched this out and cut it into pieces, we then put small amounts of the liver/leek mix into each piece of stomach skin and rolled them into dumpling shapes. These were then laid in a big dish and put into the range. At this point the pork dishes from earlier came out and were finished off on top of the range (the smell was amazing). The skin from earlier was put onto small saucers with salt at the side as were the pigs ears which had also been cut up, believe it or not this was eaten raw dipped in salt. It was argued that this wasn't raw as the skin had previously been burnt and covered in boiling water but I wasn't convinced. I tried a piece and thought it was horrid.

Then the wine came out and that was NOT horrid, a gorgeous home made white, nicely chilled. Also the rakia of course! The table was cleared and wiped before being laid with pickled salads, the cooked pork, the liver parcels, bread, wine and rakia. The men came in and we all sat down to eat and drink.  The food was amazing with the crispy small pieces of fried pork and the liver/leek baked dumplings. There were many many 'nostravay's' it was heaven.  Afterwards we were told it's time to rest come back at 16.00pm for the next session!

We went home and slobbed a couple of hours. At 16.00pm we went across the road and it started again. This time huge butchered sections of pig came in and the men stripped the bones of meat. Other family members came to help after they had finished work. Us women had the job of cutting up all the fat into small inch size pieces that kept disappearing into buckets. This would be used for cooking by melting it down and storing until needed. There was loads of it and my God it was greasy. I can now understand why all the other women had beautiful unlined hands, forget the expensive hand creams, a bucket of pig fat is king. The head was stripped and tongue removed. They used every piece of the animal and the blood was taken to make a version of black pudding. It was hard work but strangely enjoyable to be part of it (or maybe that was just the drink). Yes, by now the white wine had reappeared and we were drinking again. Not a good idea when there were seriously sharp knives flashing around. Needless to say by then, I had a large plaster on my thumb.

When we had finished it was clean up and back into the big house for dinner and yet more wine. We sat down to a delicious pork and cabbage stew that had been flavoured with red pepper and was very filling.  More wine appeared and lot's of 'nostravay's' later I was feeling quite tired!  We eventually left at 19.30pm with 2 massive bottles of home made wine, a bag of pork and the promise of bones the next day for the dog. True to form the next morning the promised bones arrived for a very happy pooch.

The thing is that's the way people do things here. They help each other out as and when they can and when someone is able to give something in return they give it. Everyone who gave a bit of help that day were fed and 'wined' and took a small bit of the meat away. It was also a social event. I can’t imagine how the day and the butchering would have been perceived by the health and safety brigade and a lot of it was totally the opposite what to I’ve been taught in the UK but we wouldn’t have missed it for anything.  PS ...........we are still alive and didn't die of salmonella or anything.

It's a strange old world!
oink oink


Article by PH Properties - High quality Professional Home Care and Practical Help based close to Bourgas and delivered across Bulgaria’s southern Black Sea coast.
www.phpropertiesbulgaria.com