Slaughter (Zabíjačka)

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On of the annual (or semi-annual) traditions in Slovakia is something called zabíjačka or slaughter. It’s the closest thing we have to the American Thanksgiving. The difference is that instead of killing a turkey, we eat a pig.

The whole ritual starts in late March, when people living in a village buy a pig (prasa). The small 30lb piglet is then fattened all summer long, and finally slaughtered once it gets to a respectable 200lbs. Of course, nowadays many folks do not have the yard (nor the patience) to raise a pig. As such, it is quite common to purchase an already pre-fattened pig. And if the family is small, to purchase just a half or a quarter of the porker.

Cleaning the Pig

Unlike with the case of Thanksgiving, there is no set “slaughter” date. However, there are two main slaughter seasons: in November (about a month before Christmas) and then again before Easter. On the day of slaughter (or the delivery of the pig), the whole family, friends and neighbors get together. The dead pig is placed on a wooden board, and a heat lamp is used to burn off all the hair. Then hot water is poured all over the pig to wash it. Finally, the head is chopped off and the belly is cut open.

The internal organs are then removed, including the intestines (črevá). Typically one woman would wash the intestines while another went about preparing lunch. The intestines have to be washed thoroughly, since they are to be used later as casings for sausages and hurky. They are rinsed off some 20 times, and then left to soak in water containing dissolved lemon, chopped onions and black pepper. The internal organs are cooked up into a soup (polievka or vývar) that is served for lunch. Small kidney dumplings (pečeňové halušky, dumplings made out of kidney meat mixed with flour) are mixed into it. And for the main course, there is baked meat (pečené mäso).

Making Sausages

The real fun started after lunch: making of sausages. Men cut up the meat, grind it up, mix it with the various spices and filled the intestines. Meat from the lunch soup is used to make jaternica (rice sausage) and tlačenka (meaning “pressed meat” but known as head cheese). Other pig parts (including the feet and the tail) are turned into studenina and huspenina, dishes I have no desire to learn the recipe for. Finished sausages are left hanging from a stick overnight and then put in the smokehouse the following morning. Of course, all this involved plenty of drinking and merry good time. Dinner typically consisted of the sauerkraut soup (kapustnica) and more baked meat.

Smoking Meat

The smokehouse (udiareň) was a little wooden shed with a metal roof. It contained several horizontal sticks from which the meat could be hung. Several cinder blocks or bricks were placed on the bottom, and fire was started between them. A metal sheet with multiple holes punctured in it was placed over the bricks. The purpose of this sheet was to evenly distribute the smoke coming from the fire. Various types of wood were used, but my grandma used the plum (slivka) tree. The fire was kept low to produce a lot of smoke. The sausages were left in the udiareň for about 4 days.

While the sausages were smoking, the other meat was covered with salt and left to marinate in a wooden tub (korýtko). The juices that the meat let out were periodically poured again over the meat. Bacon (slanina) was treated the same way. It was also often seasoned with caraway. Meats were then smoked for some 5 or 6 days, until the bacon got yellow and the meat got golden. Smoked meat (údené mäso) was stored in a dark pantry (komora) where it would keep all winter long.