It’s that time of the year again. The city is lit up, the nighttime air is spiced with cinnamon and cloves as the steam rises out of the warm glasses of wine, venders all around town are pushing goods of all shapes and sizes into the faces of eager consumers, and in the thousands of small villages peppering the countryside of Romania, pigs are dying. “Ignat” takes place on the 20th of December. The word “Ignat” is actually the Romanian version of the name Ignatius and like most things Romanian, the 20th of December has religious significance. Even though the 20th is the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Antioch the word is synonymous with the annual pig slaughter because of its convenient timing, 5 days before Christmas. There’s just enough timing in between Ignat and Christmas to get the meat checked and ready to feast on after the long Christmas fast. Due to the busy week schedule, the onrush of capitalism and the slow fading of tradition, the annual event of “Ignat” no longer actually takes place on the feast day of Ignatius, unless of course that day falls on the weekend. This past weekend was the weekend before Ignat, and even though blood was spilled the courtyards of many country homes, good food and drink were offered in remembrance of the pig freshly slaughtered.
It was about 9:30am on a Sunday morning in a small Romanian village that bears the name “Valley of the Monks” when three PCVs stumbled into Nico’s courtyard awaiting the feast day’s events. The PCV’s were late and they had missed the actual killing of the pig. They halted shortly after entering the gate with eyes fixed upon the scene. There was an older man and a younger man each with torches in one hand and a knife in the other, burn scrape, burn scrape. Despite their seemingly carelessness of where they set down their torches, it was clear that this wasn’t their first hot dance. They were pros, and this was just one of their many pig slaughters of the season. Soon after arriving, our host, busy with preparations of sorts, came out of the house with a large welcoming smile across his face. In one hand he was holding a steaming pot and in the other he had a large tray with mugs. After clearing off a spot on the nearby table he began to pour the not so clear liquid into the mugs and handed them out. A morning cheers quickly followed and then we drank. It had been two years since I had tasted tuica fierta and I had forgotten how much I had actually liked it. My last taste of the drink took place at the same time of the year, while watching another pro clean a recently butchered pig, several hundred kilometers to the west. Meanwhile, looking around the group I noticed that the one of the men working on the pig put his scraper down for his glass of tuica. Tuica in one hand and a torch in the other, drink, burn, drink burn.
|Grandma cleaning out the intestines.|
After burning the hair off and cleaning and salting its skin, the men methodically began taking the pig apart starting with the head. The first cut was the traditional cross cut in the head of the pig, reminding those present that they are thankful to God for the large healthy pig on the table. The pig started as a 200+ kg mass on a table and in about a half hour all that was left on the table was one last flat slab of flesh. I watched them pull the different parts of the pig off while standing next to my friend Jeremy who has a passion for food. As they pulled off each part he explained what it was and what it is used for in the culinary world. For him, knowing his way around food, it was obvious that seeing the slaughter was an interesting experience. Meanwhile my other friend Aron was carefully documenting the activity by taking pictures, and our host Nico was lending a helpful hand to the professionals cutting the pig. After all, it was all his meat. Aside from the group, we were accompanied by some entertaining animals. Between watching the butchers and chatting with Jeremy I was noticing the cats roaming around the scene slopping blood up off of the cold concrete. Despite how domesticated an animal can be there are still instincts that kick in.
Pomana porcului was the culmination of the day’s activities. Pomana porcului is the meal that the host offers those present who helped out with the slaughter. Even though we didn’t help out very much we were guests and therefore we became direct beneficiaries of the delicious food served. The meal consisted of some of the meat taken from the pig recently killed fried in fat from the pig. There was also mamaliga, tuica and wine served, all products produced by the host. Despite the cold, the meal was served at a table in the courtyard. After enjoying the meal we continued to sit and enjoy the day and our great host Nico who brought out a pair gloves that he used to box with. Back in the day Nico was one of Romania’s star boxers.
For me, the event acted as a reminder of the beauty of the countryside. After spending so much time in the city sometimes I forget how much I enjoy the fresh air, traditions, and hospitality that can be found not far beyond the limits of the city. In some cases these traditions can also be found within city limits. I remember walking to school on a cold morning before the winter break began last year and seeing torches lit in between city blocks at my old site. Even though last weekend may have marked my final pomana porcului, it will not be the last time I make the trip to spend the day in the beautiful Romanian countryside. In so many places in Romania the beauty of the countryside means incredible mountain scenery, rivers and lakes, but in so many more places in Romania the beauty of the countryside means much more than that. It is the tradition, stories, and hospitality of the people who reside there.
Romania, te iubesc!