Dead Pig Walking: My First Zabijačka

A wonderful, magical animalTwo pigs are to be slaughtered today, which is 200% more pigs than I have ever seen slaughtered. The first one, who I secretly name Forsythe, is led out of her cage while emitting cries and squeals that are sure to make cameos in my future nightmares. These squeals are truncated when she meets her maker via bolt pistol at 7:14 a.m.

At 7:14:30 the first shots of domácí slivovice (homemade plum brandy) are passed around as everyone snaps into action like a reverse ER crew. Forsythe’s carotid and jugular are sliced and the women catch her blood in pots; then she is hoisted into a wooden trough and covered with resin to make her hair easier to remove. Then the  men  pour boiling water over her. We three Americans—Collin, Conrad and I—are immediately put to work. They scrape off Forsythe’s hair with metal bell-shaped tools and I scoop the water, resin and blood out of the wooden trough with a brown bowl decorated with cartoon hens.

After her eyes are cut out, Forsythe is hung by her Achilles’ tendons to a metal rack and her head is cut off. At 7:31 a.m. the next round of slivovice is brought around as Igor and a man called Uncle (no joke) begin eviscerating Forsythe. At 7:35 a.m. Conrad and I are assigned the task of going to pick up the second pig with an older man missing his bottom ridge of teeth.

A half hour later, we load the second pig into the cage on the man’s truck as it exhibits a clear sense of understanding that this is not going to be its day. On the way back, the man tells Conrad about his pet goats and I sit in the back of the truck, the slivovice rushing through my blood as I pledge a life of vegetarianism and plan out a tofu farm.

Zabijačka, a pig slaughter, has been a tradition in many European countries for centuries. It involves killing a pig and then butchering it into specific cuts of meat and making several products. These include jitrnice, which is Czech liver sausage, tlačenka, which is a gelatin and meat product, and škvarky, which are boiled and fried cubes of skin and lard. Soup is made from the jugular blood.

I’ll spare you the sermon out of the batches of “think globally, act locally” homilies, but in this day of mass production and wasteful ignorance it’s impossible not to be impressed with the efficiency of this tradition. Every single usable part of the pig is carefully and tediously processed.

As a foreigner, it is a remarkable event to take part in. It is also a remarkable study of sentences I have never said and jobs I have never done.

“Yes, I brought the intestines into the woods and dumped them for the crows.”

“Wow, I am never going to eat eggs without brains again!”

“Holy crap, Collin, look at that spine.”

I have wheeled buckets of stomach and intestines into the forest; allowed a peep into what being Jeffrey Dahmer might have been like. Igor shows me how to make jitrnice casings out of sections of the small intestine and when he compliments my technique I beam with genuine pride. Conrad and I cut outer fat and inner fat into cubes for škvarky and chat idly about our preference for cutting inner fat.

By the end of the day, nothing bothers me anymore. I am wiping bits of stomach, blood and fat onto my sweater and jamming a finger into the jitrnice mix to taste it before it’s put into the casings. When someone calls my name—Jak se jmenuje? (What’s his name?)—for a task, I comply with eager readiness. The men and women who we have worked with all day are resourceful, friendly, and extraordinarily hospitable and generous. We are rewarded for our work throughout the day with a consistent regimen of food and booze. We eat guláš, škvarky and eggs with brains; we are never without shots of slivovice, hot wine and beer.

As we walk to the pub at the end of the day, I am exhausted and smell like the inside of a pig – two pigs, actually. But I am impressed with the uniqueness of this weekend and with what I took part in today.

Still, it’s hard to forget the squeals of Forsythe and the second pig, which I didn’t name.

  1. #1 by colln on February 20, 2012 - 4:57 pm

    In order to leave a comment one of the words I had to type was “Hartburn,” Seems oddly appropriate despite the misspelling.

  2. #2 by Andy on February 20, 2012 - 11:03 pm

    I don’t know what it says about me, but I love these types of posts. Great (and disgusting) imagery all the way around; sounds like it was an interesting day.

    Collin, one of my captchas was “hopkey” so perhaps it’s messing with you.

Comments are closed.