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Head Cheese (Boudin Noir)

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NOTE: This is a cut scene from one of my stories, but the ingredients and procedure stand, solid and reliable.

Grandfather leads Claudia, his heaviest sow, by a rough rope to the back of his barn, coaxes her with bread soaked in maple syrup to an exact spot and then shoots her. He ties her feet and loops it to his workhouse, then they drag her to the tree where the two ropes tied to her back legs will suspend her in the killing tree. He throws the free ends of the ropes onto high branches where the split trunks separate, hoisting the sow off the ground. It’s a perfect abattoir and has served the Vachon family for decades.

He moves a galvanized tub under the pig’s head, slits her throat and gives the wooden paddle to his eight-year-old niece, Solange. The tub sits above a steel grate and with kindling, grandfather starts a steady fire. If he doesn’t hurry, the blood could thicken and solidify, maybe even freeze.

“Here, stir this slowly and do not stop. If you get tired, switch hands but do not stop,” he instructs little Solange. We’re having boudin noir for supper,” he says.

Grandfather inspects the tub and Solange’s efforts.

“Good, good job,” grandfather says.

Grandfather starts the fire in the old smoke house. Within an hour, the sow will be cut, skinned and pulled from the killing tree, ready for two days of smoking. At 71 years old, he still works as much as he can with both feet swollen double their size up to the mid-calf. He has suffered with these stump feet most of his life.

Grandmother, in her sixties, is still ramrod straight, true to her strong Abenaki roots. She walks to the killing tree with a fine sieve to catch the blood in mid-stream and break up lumps. From a free hand, she adds milk to the tub as Solange continues to stir.

“Cut me some fat,” she tells one of the farmhelp.

Once bled, the farmhelp carries the tub of blood onto the wood burning stove in the kitchen where grandmother adds salt, some pig fat chopped small, onion, black pepper, allspice and maple syrup.

Outside, grandfather has removed the grate, watered the fire and now can work on the sow. They must gut the intestines, pull the long tubes inside out, scrap the inner lining of tissue with caution and soak the cleaned intestines in clear water. He pulls the tubes back outside in and hurries to the kitchen where grandmother slowly stirs the thickening blood pudding.

On the large cast iron stove, grandmother stirs oatmeal with a bit of water until firm and adds this to the mixture. After twenty minutes, she pours the mixture into the cleaned intestine casings, ready to be tied. As each casing is filled, she rolls it in a circle and plunges the tied casings into a pan of simmering water and milk for fifteen minutes.