It was following the great Violet Beauregarde incident of 1982 that I first came face to face with the reality of pork. As my aunt struggled to free my hair of chewing gum I had lodged behind my left ear, I sat and stared, pale and wide eyed at the steaming plate of pig’s trotters before me.
I don’t have a memory of what they were doing there exactly. They were plonked, in the middle of the table as you would a bowl of chips. Not a meal, but something to pick at. I remember as I later gazed at my lopsided new haircut and greenish pallor in the mirror, that I would never see pork the same way again.
I don’t know why this shocked me so. As a child I remember seeing plucked chickens that my Nonna had herself dispatched, dangling from the washing line in the moonlight, patting rabbits destined for the pot, and helping with the pig carcass that hung waiting to become cacciatore, cotechini and more.
Sausage making day in particular was eye opening, and real. I learned about the origins of food by getting my hands dirty. Into tubs of pigs intestines we thrust our hands to pick out the slippery casings. As children we watched our parents and grandparents hoist the pigs body up high, helped set up the mincer and cut up lemon wedges to cleanse the casings. We all tried our hand at making a sausage.
I come back to these conflicting experiences to help explain my relationship with food, and to the pig.
Perhaps it was the wobbly, white flesh I objected to. Coarse, tasty sausages; fresh, dried or preserved in rendered lard from the same beast might be more appetising. I can still sense the sneaky thrill of tasting a fresh sausage that had been cooked up to “test” the balance of spice and salt in the mixture.
Perhaps it was the pale, rubbery skin. Though now one of my favourite kinds of sausage is Cotechini, made from skin, fat and a little offal. Rich and gelatinous, if you are lucky this meal would also include small rolls of skin, secured with a toothpick like some macabre canapé, all cooked in the red sauce. Want.
It was probably the pigginess of it all. They were feet. Hard to get past that as a fact. Despite having seeing the pig’s head in a pot, the liver resting on a plate in the refrigerator and the bones being used to flavour sauce, the trotters jarred me to the point of refusing pork for a while. I got over it, obviously.
I now take on the task of teaching my children about the origins of their food. It is so easy to avoid the subject of meat especially when you must field questions like “Mummy, do real chickens make the chicken we eat?” Hmmm.
We’re getting there, but I do pine for these family food traditions that teach hands on. These grainy old photos are of sausage making days gone by in my family. The memories have been fun to share.
These experiences have contributed to my desire for a food system where the animal is treated with care and dedication, and respected in the end by eating it all. Even the feet.
If you’d like to tell your food story, hit me up @flavourcrusader or email me at info AT flavourcrusader DOT com