When the refugees from Nova Scotia arrived in Louisiana, most of them settled in rural areas on land which was assigned to them. They tended to band together, so they could help one another. On one hand this was bad because when the young people came of age and wanted to marry, they did not have too wide a choice. But, on the other hand, the families standing together and helping each other was a good thing. If Mr. Broussard’s barn burned down, all the neighbors came over to give him a helping hand (“coup de main”) and while the men were building a new barn, the women were cooking a huge meal for everybody. (Maybe that is why, even today, we Cajuns can turn ANY event into a party.)
Each family raised cattle, pigs, sheep and various fowls for meat. They ate a lot of chickens, ducks, guinea hens and lambs (Save the tallow from that lamb, use it to make poultices.) that the women raised, and they formed little co-ops among themselves. In order to have a more regular supply of other fresh meat, they took turns donating an animal for slaughtering. Every couple of weeks, this event took place at the home of the man donating the animal. Everyone came over and helped with the slaughter, everyone worked, and the meat was shared by all of the families in the co-op.
The Cajuns found a use for almost every part of the animal when they slaughtered one. If a cow was slaughtered, the meat was divided between the families, and the host kept the hide to cure with salt or dry (nailed fur side down to the barn) to make into flooring covering or seats for homemade chairs (There are still some of those chairs around today. My daughter, Anna, has one from her mother-in-law.) If one of the women needed a boudinaire to stuff sausage or boudin, she could claim one of the cow’s horns, to take home and sand smooth. (I had a couple of these, myself.) The stomach of the animal was emptied, thoroughly washed turned inside out. My mother-in-law taught me how to sprinkle the surface with lime to loosen the coating on it, so that it could be scraped clean and white to make tripe. (Have you ever tasted “salad de ponce”?) The women usually cooked the debris (inside organs) into a huge stew (what we call a “cowboy stew” today) or a sauce piquante, but sometimes set the brain aside to be cleaned and cut into oyster-sized pieces, dredged in seasoned cornmeal and deep-fried. What a tasty treat! The fat from the cow was kept, and when enough was on hand, the housewife made a batch of soap. (I’ve done that myself, and my soap turned out almost white.)
Now, a pig boucherie was even better, because everything but the squeal was saved. The animal was usually slaughtered by a single, well-placed shot from a .22 rifle, and then it’s throat was cut to allow it to “bleed.” Some of this blood was saved to be used to make “red” boudin. If the pig was not too large, it was immersed in a pot of scalding water and then placed on a large table to be scraped. If they were dealing with a large animal, the men placed it on the table and scalded it with boiling water dipped from the pot.
The head, feet and ears were carefully cleaned and the head was cut into smaller pieces, to be boiled with the feet and ears, and maybe some pieces of shank, too, to make hogshead cheese and boudin. (Save a piece of liver to put in the boudin!) The skin, which had been scraped clean, was removed with the underlying fat and cut into fairly small pieces to put into a big cast iron pot. A very little bit of water was added, so the meat would not stick to the bottom of the pot, and this was cooked on a open fire in the yard, stirred with a wooden paddle, until the fat was rendered, and the cracklings (porkskins) were golden brown, tender but crunchy and ready to be removed from the pot. Sometimes, a bit of baking soda was thrown in at this point, to make the pork skin “bubbly”. They were spooned into large pans and sprinkled with salt. (Happy the kid that got to claim the pig’s tail!) The fat was allowed to cool and put into crock jars to be used for cooking.
The organ meats (debris) was usually cooked into a stew or sauce piquante to feed the crowd that day, and the head, feet and ears were cooked by the women in the house on a wood-burning stove, to make the head cheese and boudin. This meat was boiled until it fell off the bone and the stock was reserved. The meat was chopped by hand into very small pieces or was ground. Several chopped or ground onions and a bunch of celery, finely chopped, along with a bunch of fresh parsley and some onion tops from the bed by the back door, and salt, black pepper and red pepper were added to the meat with enough of the reserved stock to make a kind of soupy mix. This was cooked until the vegetables were done, and some of it was ladled into pans to cool and “set.” This was the head cheese.
Remember I said “Save some liver for the boudin?” This had been boiled, along with the meat. but was ground separately. Now was the time to add the boiled, ground liver to the mixture to make the boudin. (If you were making “red” boudin, too, you divided the mixture into two portions and added some of that reserved pig’s blood to one portion.) A big pot of rice had also been cooked and cooled, and this was slowly added to the meat mixture(s), to make a soft dressing-like mixture to be stuffed into casings, using boudinaires made from cow horns. (And, oh, I forgot to tell you - the pig also provided the casings for the sausage and boudin! The men emptied out the entrails, washed them thoroughly and cut them into 2-foot pieces, and the women turned them inside out and, using spoons, scraped them until only the thin outer skin was left. My mother-in-law taught me how to do that, even after casings were available commercially.) After the boudin was stuffed, it still had to be “cooked” (steamed) to tenderize the casing and to cook the blood. (Some people like it while it is still hot, but I like cold boudin - with hot homemade bread and cane syrup and cold buttermilk! Love that head cheese, too!)
Another thing Grandma Meaux showed me was how to clean the pig’s stomach. After it was washed and emptied it was turned inside out, washed it some more, and then you used a spoon or table knife to scrape it carefully until it is pinkish white. Then you had to turn it right side out again, and could stuff it (kind of like boudin). Some people just used boudin mixture; others preferred ground pork mixed with raisins or chopped apple and seasoning. I used to like to add chopped onions, celery and cubed turnips to the seasoned ground pork.) After it was stuffed and the openings were tied shut, this “choudin” could be pot roasted or baked in the oven.
Grandpa Meaux was a butcher, and while his three older sons were in the Navy, he opened his own meat market and with the help of his youngest son, Roy, built a small slaughterhouse. When my husband was discharged from the Navy, after WW2, he and his great uncle, Onedia Gisclar, helped to butcher the animals that Grandpa Meaux bought at auction, in this slaughterhouse. It is still standing, and Roy Meaux keeps it neat and attractive and uses it to display antique items he has collected over the years. He calls it his “museum.”
P.S. Some of you Spelling Bee Champions may have noticed a minor spelling error in this story that MizMo didn't catch and neither did I. Thanks to MizMo's grand-daughter, Kissi, the words 'scraping' and 'scraped' are now correctly spelled. MizMo's computer inserted one too many p's which the 'Editor-in-Chief' didn't even catch! Thanks Kissi, we would like to award you a huge gold star for your wonderful spelling skill. This star is very special because it was taken from the Acadian flag. Kissi's real name is Crystal Aline.
Copyright © 2001 Aline T. Meaux, Abbeville, LA
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