Every year, for about a week just before Christmas, I would wake up to the sound of pigs squealing every morning in Romania. You see, all the neighbors were butchering their pigs. It is the normal thing to do in Romania. Everyone raises a pig whether they live in town or in the country. The people in town had a place to keep their pigs in their back yards. The money was scarce, but it was cheap to feed a pig, and then when they cut they had meat to last for a year, pork chops, pork roast, bacon, sausage, etc. They also made lard for cooking and soap. When there is nothing in the store like there was under Communism, cutting a pig seems a very good thing to do. My husband grew up on a farm, and he liked the idea of raising a pig and cutting it too, so we also had a pig to raise.
However, for me, I just wasn’t ready to be killing any animal. He wanted to butcher our pig, but I stayed in the house when he did. I couldn’t take it. He found a neighbor to help him. The man brought a gun and shot the pig in the head. After that, they covered the pig with straw and lit the straw. It burned all the hair off the pig and disinfected the pig. Next, they grabbed an ear and cut it off and began eating. My husband ate the pig’s ear with them, but when they offered to me, I declined. Yes, I have eaten raw eggs, raw hamburger, and raw fish, but I drew the line at raw pork. I just couldn’t begin to think that raw pork could not be more dangerous than all those other things.
They set about cutting the pig up. They brought me all the fat parts, and I used them to make lard. There was no cooking oil in the stores then, and lard came in very handy. I used a big pot on the stove and cut the pieces of pig fat up into smaller pieces. I cooked the smaller pieces rendering all the fat. It was almost like frying bacon, but a large amount, and only fat. When all the pieces were done. I let the oil cool and ladled the solid pieces out of the fat. Everyone like snacking on those pieces that I ladled out.
The neighbor lady was there to help us. She set tables up outside. They brought large pieces of pork to her, and she was using our meat grinder grinding some of the meat to make sausage. After the meat was ground, I had some flavor pouches I had bought from a butcher in America full of spices that are good for sausage, and we mixed the spices into the ground pork. After that, we used the pig’s intestines and stuffed the sausages into the intestines. When we were done, there was a smoker in the attic of our house connected to a terracotta chimney that was in our living room. We used the terracotta chimney like a fire place. We hung the sausage, the bacon, and other pieces of pork in the smoker in the attic, and then we lit a fire in the terracotta chimney and smoked our meat. We had a freezer. We didn’t smoke it all. We cut some into pork chops, roasts. and stew meat, and we put them in the freezer.
I didn’t know how to make the homemade soap, but the neighbor lady did. She was gathering fat and bones. She said she was going to take them home and make soap. The Romanians were making homemade soap and using it for their hands, their bodies, their hair, their dishes, and their clothes. They had money, but it had been sorely devalued because Communism had destroyed their country, and there was nothing in the stores, but it didn’t stop them. from figuring out how to get what they needed. I was trying to open a can once and having a hard time, and a Romanian said to me, “Give it to me! They haven’t made a can yet that a Romanian can’t open! Regardless of what happens, Romanians will eat!”
That statement was so true! They not only raised pigs in their back yards, but they raised gardens and went to the mountains picking whatever they could find like wild mushrooms and berries. We were often invited on an outings to the mountains to pick wild mushrooms or berries. We were served drinks made with white flowers from the garden called soc or pine needles. I learned the Romanian word for rose hip, macheshe, before I learned the English word because rose hip berries grew at the edge of my garden, and they taught me to make tea with them. Rose hip makes delicious tea! The smoked bacon, smoked sausage, pork roasts, etc. we made when we cut our pig were also delicious, and I learned that lard makes better pies than shortening they sell in the stores in America.