In November and December on a cold winter morning you can be woken up by a terrible squeak. Then you know it’s Mantanza Time again! On the Spanish countryside still many families make their own winter stock of hams, sausages and blood pudding, although this ancient tradition is gradually fading. To prepare one or two pigs and conserve them in their own intestines, is hard work. You need to gather at least 6 or 7 women to work for 2 or 3 days. The men’s job is to kill the pig, clean it, hang it on the wall and open it. When they’ve done their job, the men disappear and you will only see them again around meal-times. In between they go hunting or discuss each others livestock.
The Matanza is a very important ritual on the Spanish countryside. It follows its own schedule, distribution of tasks and even its corresponding meals. First of all you should pick a weekend when you’re sure it’s cool enough to leave to pig carcass hanging out for a day or two. On the first day at the break of dawn the pig, that has been fed generously during the last few months, is taken out of its corral and led to a not too kind death by the men. The blood is collected to be used later that day for the blood pudding. The men wash the pig, burn the hair, scrape the skin and hang the animal on the wall inside a big barn or garage. In the meantime a big log fire has been lighted to heat water in huge black kettles (Have you ever wondered why Spanish garages have a fireplace –seems odd, doesn’t it?- well this is why.) By that time it is time for “breakfast”: the first bits of fresh meat are grilled on the open fire and washed away with a glass of Brandy or Anís.
The ladies start emptying the intestines and thoroughly scrub, clean and wash them with a mixture of sour oranges, pomegranate, salt and flour. They are rinsed numerous times in a nearby acequia or water canal. Not the most pleasant job- you’re getting cold and wet too if you’re unlucky!
First of all the dough for the blood pudding is prepared: every family has its own recipes, with lots of onions (that have been peeled and cooked the day before), rice, and a mixture of spices such as cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, salt and pepper etc. Sometime almonds are added. The intestines are stuffed with the dough and cooked for about 20 minutes. After that they are immediately edible, but will be hanged to dry on the attic of the cortijo.
Lunch time!! The first day migas are served. They’re prepared on the open fire in a huge pan and eaten out of the pan with a spoon. All eaters sit in circle round the pan that is put on the floor and spoon out the baked breadcrumbs. Migas are generally accompanied by fried peppers, tomatoes, a strange soup called “mojón”, oranges and grapes. And of course little bits of meat, usually the lungs, liver and bacon of the pig. A wine bottle goes round and everyone takes a splash of wine out of the “porrón”.
The afternoon is dedicated to cook the “scrap” parts of the pig: the head, bones, feet, tail etc. All this meat, once cooked, is minced and transformed into sausages called “Butifarra” and “Blanquillo”.
The day is closed with an evening meal that consists in chickpea stew with again lots of meat. People that still have enough energy spend the night playing cards and drinking wine.
The next day, early again, all the good meat of the pig will find its destination. The hams, and sometimes the front legs are cut off and preserved in salt for approx. 2 weeks, and after that will be hanged to dry for at least 1 year. The rest of the meat is minced to make “salchichón” sausage and “chorizo”. Each type of sausage is seasoned with its own mixture of spices and ground red peppers for the chorizo.
Salchichón and chorizo are simply hung to dry on the ceiling of the cortijos, without previous cooking. Chorizo can be used fresh, grilled or baked, or dry. Salchichón is edible after having dried for some 6 weeks. Drying ham and sausages requires dry, pure and fresh air. Therefore the best hams and preserved meat will be found in the mountain villages in Middle and South Spain.