01 February 2011
In this part of central Basilicata the meats that rule the table are maiale (pork), agnello (lamb) and coniglio (rabbit). Many of the people in our village raise their own animals, and each time we have dined at a friend’s house we have sampled the meat from their campagna.
Not long after we had introduced local friends to an American Thanksgiving feast, we were introduced to the Lucanella version of “Thanksgiving”. This involves a pig that has been raised for many months specifically for this time of year when people do their annual slaughter.
We have a friend who is a vegetarian who frequently told us that if we weren’t willing to kill the animal then we shouldn’t eat meat. In suburban and urban America that opportunity does not present itself very often. However, here in the mountain communities of Lucania it is a regularly-occurring event during this time of year.
(If you are squeamish about animals being slaughtered for food…stop here)
Twice we were invited to join friends when they guided their prized pig to a shed specially prepared for the event. A fire was raging in one corner with boiling water for cleaning…and some heat. The pig is hoisted up by one leg and then one of the men, called il macellaio, who is skilled at making the process quick for the pig, performs the necessary cut. Soon a bucket is full of blood and the pig has succumbed.
The animal is then lowered onto a cart where the men begin the process of cleaning the hide. This involves boiling water and sharp knives. The hair is scraped off the entire body, including the feet and face. Later il macellaio will continue his work in butchering the body.
After the butchering, the men gather at the owner’s house for what friends started calling il Ringraziamento, the pig thanksgiving. Pasta and maiale are served along with plenty of local wine, while the merits of the pig are discussed and compared with previous years. Two special dishes for this occasion are le frittole, a savory fried dish of red peppers and meat from the neck of the pig, and maiale grigliata, grilled meat fresh from the butchering. As with a typical American Thanksgiving, everyone leaves the table more than comfortably full.
The actual meat preparation and sausage making is done the following day by the women of the family. A time for chiacchiari about family, friends and the new americani who now call Lucanella home.