Apologies to the Salad Gods

Some weeks ago I made a comment on how salad season is coming to an end … it was prompted by the sudden disappearance of peppers and tomatoes.

Well since then I’ve been eating amazing fall salads. Spinach, salad leaves (when I can get them), chopped cabbage (red and white), grated carrots, radishes (when I can get them), onions make a splendid salad. Actually a salad I prefer over the summer salads – during summer I prefer to eat vegetables fresh cut into bit sized chunks … not salads. I’ve been eating lots of it … like an unplanned and oh so welcome wave of vital nourishment before the real cold winter sets in.


To further anchor the experience of abundance I find that no matter how hard I try I can never make a salad small enough for one person. So I usually end up with a “day salad” … that is a salad that I revisit twice or three times a day.

So, my apologies to the salad gods for an early dismissal and my thanks for these amazing fall salads.

Farmstead Meatsmith

I don’t eat meat. But, to my surprise, I am learning to slaughter (so far chickens and Muscovites) while Andreea does butchering. Andreea eats some meat (not much) and we prefer to eat home-grown foods, including meat (I do enjoy eggs, and I do eat a morsel of meat from every animal that I slaughter, out of respect for the animal … and Muscovite meat is the best I’ve tasted in my entire life … I used to eat meat). The truth is that even if you keep chickens just for eggs, you will end up, eventually, with chickens that need to be slaughtered (old hens, too many roosters …).

My first visit to Romania took place during the holiday season, the time of year where many (if not most) villagers butcher a pig. Everywhere we visited people tried to impress me with their meats (a symbol of wealth) when all I really wanted was their potatoes ( a symbol of poverty) and other root vegetables. Andreea was constantly on the lookout to make sure that they didn’t fin a way to inject me with meat (like cooking Mamaliga in pork-fat, or mixing in a chopped pork for good measure). At the time, when this piece of meat was placed before me I couldn’t handle it and asked politely that it be moved away:

Fast forward two years and I found myself living in a Romanian village and documenting up close the slaughter of not one but three pigs. I got to witness how different people approach butchery in different ways and it was easy to spot the one doing the best job … even there quality was evident.

Slaughter and butchery is still common knowledge in Romania. Even many current city-dwellers have village-life in their pasts and they can take apart a large pig very efficiently. However there isn’t much quality and there isn’t much appreciation. It is another typical opportunistic action, something that’s done to provide food for the cold winter. Andreea has tasted quite a bit and she wasn’t very impressed by the cooking either.

Then, a couple of weeks ago I find Andreea drooling in front of her computer. She was watching the beautiful people at Farmstead Meatsmith. They are reviving meat harvesting in the USA. They do it with exceptional quality and care … from butchery through to cooking. Andreea was very hungry when we stopped watching.

I joined  her as we watched their introduction video (used to raise money on Kickstarter for more video productions):

<br/>And then this video, the first produced after their successful Kickstarter campaign:

<br/>Beautifully produced videos, by and of beautiful people doing beautiful work.


Three Pigs

PLEASE NOTE: This post contains VERY graphic images of three pigs being slaughtered. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there to take the images nor that I would be able to. In the end I wanted to be there, I was there and I was able to take these images. If you feel you may be disturbed by them now is a good time to stop scrolling this page. You are invited to skip to the end where I have noted some thoughts and reflections on this event.

From the end of November through to Christmas in many village homes in Romania  pigs are slaughtered. Pigs are a very popular source of meat here in Romania. It is a somewhat celebratory event as it provides an abundance of meat as the holidays approach and the winter sets in. I don’t eat meat (and I’ve put that to the test here in Romania) but Andreea does crave it occasionally. She prefers red-meat but that’s harder to find and more expensive then the abundantly available pig meat in Romania.

When our neighbor told Andreea that they would be slaughtering their large female pig, Andreea asked if she could purchase 10kg of meat but she was gently refused – there simply wasn’t enough meat. The purchase, feeding, slaughter and butchering of a pig is usually a family effort – so when the meat becomes available it is divided between the people involved in this process. So, though a large pig was butchered (about 160kg) there simply would not have been enough meat. However she did invite Andreea to purchase one of the smaller pigs promising they would also butcher it for her. Andreea took up the offer and we joined in for a day of pig slaughtering. I was invited and welcomed to come with a camera.

We woke up to another beautiful & picturesque frozen morning (I was actually praying that the sun would not come out so I would not lose a woodworking day).

And a short walk down to our neighbors brought us into a warm room where everyone was ready to get to work. On the table you can see two dishes filled with a Romanian pastry called Placinta – large dough dumplings (in this case fried) some filled with cheese and others with a cooked cabbage filling. They were prepared the evening before (we know because we were there to eat them warm as they came out of the frying pa) in a large quantity to feed the group of people who worked throughout the day.

I think they were waiting for us to get to work … knives in hand 🙂

So we headed out back to the get the first pig – the large mother.

You can already tell from the conditions in which the pigs are kept that they don’t get much opportunity to be pigs nor are they familiar with human contact (beyond basic feeding).

The pig didn’t want to come out and was lured to the door with a cob of corn – there they tied a rope around it’s foot.

Still they couldn’t pull her out.

So one of them went in and got her by the tail … and so they managed to get her out.

In case you are wondering, as I was, why the leg, here’s the answer … by pulling the leg out from under her they got her lying on her side.

Which exposes her neck for the slaughter. She struggled and yelled fiercely to no avail.

It took a few gurgling minutes for her to die and was then pulled to the work space for butchering.

And it was then time for one of her siblings (the first of two) to go.

And one was picked out and quickly slaughtered.

… and pulled out to the field

that was starting to get busy.

I took a small pause to again appreciate how beautiful a place we live in.

… and then it was time to torch the pigs … this is both to burn off the hairs and a first act of cleaning/disinfection. Traditionally this was done by placing the pig in a pile of hay and lighting it. Apparently that was a slow process and today everyone is rushing and there is no space for tradition so blow torches connected to home cooking gas cannisters are used. The problems is that the gas is effected by the freezing cold so the canisters need to be heated. At first they torched the canisters themselves (safety is not a big thing here) and later placed them in hot water.

And so begins a very tedious and time consuming process of burning and peeling/scratching:

Pieces of wood are used to support the legs … you gotta get it all … and the fingernails are burned and then pulled off … which is when bone is first exposed.

A victim

and a crime scene

Meanwhile the smaller pig was coming along much faster … it was already flipped over and they started rubbing salt into its skin and cleaning it with warm water.

And then it was time to bring in (or take out?) the 3rd pig … this one was selected by Andreea and will henceforth be referred to as “our pig” or “our dead pig” or “our pig meat”.

And the place started looking very busy … though a quiet and pleasant pace of work was maintained.

Meanwhile the 1st small pig was getting its last scraping and washing

… and then more salt rubbed into it (pity it wasn’t alive to enjoy this)

… and finally propped up between two pieces of fire wood … ready for butchering

… and quickly cut open (it was relatively easy because it was still small and not very fatty … see larger pig ahead).

The procedure starts with emptying the chest cavity … so you reach in, tear through lots of ligaments

and there is the heart and lungs still hooked up

Then the bowels are taken out into a large dish

And the unwanted gallbladder is cut away from the much wanted liver

Which left an empty shell of a pig

Which was then cleaved into two halves

Which were carried inside

This is one example where two halves don’t make a whole

And the butchering continues

Once the large pieces are cut away a blanket of fatty tissue and skin is left … this guy did a very nice and elegant butchering job

Here you can see half the pig piled up neatly in the rear and the second half still whole

The other small pig (our pig) was taking a different route (different butcher and a more improvised work space). The head was cut off first and the rest was … well laid back 🙂

And again in a meticulous and what looked to me a professional chunks of meat and organs were efficiently organized

And … here is Andreea salting a fresh sliver of pig skin

… and reliving a childhood memory she’s shared with me numerous times – relishing its fresh taste

On to the main show … the large pig.

… again some final scraping and washing

… propping up

… and cutting open

… a very large liver and gallbladder

… and a huge bowl emptying

… and a kidney cut up. The kidney is used to determine the “market weight” of the pig. The kidney is weighed and its weight is multiplied by 1000 … so a 50gram kidney (like our little pig had) indicates a 50kg pig.

And again, an empty, though very large, shell of meat remained.

It was cracked in half

And again one half at a time carried to a work table

Where the butchering continued

… and fat was peeled

and loads of meat were carried into the house.

including heavy blankets of skin and fat

which were meticulously carved and cleaned

and set aside for processing and preservation.

Most of the meat will end up smoked. Before it is smoked it is salted (which apparently dries it). A large plastic container was filled with layers of meat and salt. The bottom layers were the neatly arranged blankets of skin and fat – this will be left in salt for two months and then smoked – a recipe for Slanina – smoked fat – considered a specialty dish.

On top of that the rest of the meat is piled – including this heavy slab of meat – a complete leg and thigh … deep cuts were filled with salt and it was added to the container

… no meat gets left behind 🙂

This meat will sit for 2 weeks and then be smoked.

And other parts of the meat are processed into various sausages. One kind of sausage is made of the fattier tissues and another is made of the internal organs together with cooked onions and rice. The meat is ground and packed into the intestines. For this the intestines need to be untangled … a meditative task where the tender ligaments keeping it all together are cut away until the intestines can be pulled apart. A gruesome task (if you ask me) and smelly one especially since the intestines are packed with … shit at different levels of digestion.

Then the intestines are filled with water.

… and their contents rinsed out

and … well piled on the ground

… until they are collected and washed and taken back inside.

The internal organs were washed and set aside earlier.

At this point (around 15:00) I left and went back home. The room was getting to be to intense for me … the smell of meat was overwhelming, some was already cooking (chunks of meat frying in melted fat) for a meal. Smoking had accumulated, I was hungry … and I had enough. So no images of the sausages.

Thoughts & Reflections

One Room: It’s easy to miss, especially for people of a western mindset – that everything indoors in these images happened in one room. The house has two rooms but only one is heated so in winter this room is everything – a bedroom, living room, kitchen … everything. One wood-stove is used for both heating and cooking. It houses two women (Maria and her mother) and occasionally on weekends Maria’s two children. At one point this small room (approximately 4 by 4 meters) sheltered 9 people. One of the sofas/beds was covered with plastic sheets on which the meat was piled. The small table (pictured at the top of this post) has seen the meat from many pigs over its life. Under the table, between the two beds, there is now a large plastic container containing a pile of meat that will be enjoyed over almost a year.

Respect: I have greatest respect for Romanian villagers, they are survivors. They are relatively poor and yet they manage to create an abundant (at least food-wise) life.

Hardship: Romanian villagers are set in their ways – and their ways make for a life of hardship. Pigs are typically grown in a confined and inevitable dirty space (permaculture wisdom is that pigs, if given an option, will keep their shelter clean). They are not given space to roam and range, they are not put to work, they do not live long. They are grown over a better part of a year for meat and meat alone. They have to be fed (expensive and tedious). Pigs here have a poor life and a poor death.

Respect: There seems to be very little respect in life or death towards animals – pigs included. There has to be a better and more respectful way to slaughter animals. There also seems to be missing a respect toward the abundance of food that comes from the taking of an animal’s life.

Appreciation: The lack of respect towards the animals also reflects inwards. Romanians do not seem to be able to recognize and appreciate the abundance of food from such an event. They seem to have lost touch with a capacity to enjoy the gifts bestowed on them by nature.

Biology: It was amazing to see the internals of a living being. I had theoretical biological knowledge – but it went to a different level when I saw the diaphragm that separates the chest and abdominal cavities and the internal organs all in their places.

Strength: I didn’t think I could handle being so close to slaughtering and butchering. Two years ago when I visited Romania I could not sit for long at a table that had just a slab of freshly butchered meat. I don’t know what changed … but except for a first few seconds when blood gushed out of the large pig … I was fine.

Life: I noted that biologically, the pig and I have quite a lot in common. Yes, pigs have a very small brain … but most of the biological workings we share (breathing, digestion, elimination, etc.) are autonomous anyway. Mind aside, What is the magical force behind this? What was it that drained from the pigs eyes as blood was draining from its throat. What was it struggling uselessly to hold on to?

Farm Animals: If When we get around to expanding our livestock (currently poultry only) – slaughtering is going to be a challenge. It is an inevitability – it is impossible to sustain animals on a farm without there being some slaughtering. We will need to figure this out.

Our Pig: Andreea now has 20+ kg of meat – most of it frozen in small one-serving bags she can defrost whenever she feels like having some meat. Some of it will be smoked together with Maria’s batch of meat. Our dogs will also enjoy some of the meat.

Holiday: This event took place on December 1st – a National Romanian Holiday.

Preparing Fresh Milk

Israel (where, until recently, I spent most of my adult life) has a reputation for “optimizing cows” – blend of methods and technologies that cause cows to produce industrial (economically effective) amounts of milk – way more then they would naturally. Much of this is supposedly (I haven’t corroborated this) achieved through hormones and I am guessing some genetic engineering. I didn’t (and still don’t) want those intentions and chemicals coursing through me so I mostly stayed away from milk products and consumed soy-milk instead (even when my Yoga teacher suggested I add more milk to my diet).

Here in Romania the milk is so much better – even the industrialized milk tastes and feels better. But there is nothing like milk from the market – it is fresh, rich, tasty and alive. It does however require a bit more attention and preparation. So here’s what I’ve been able to gather so far.


It is sold in everyday plastic bottles and the first thing you need to do filter and boil it.

We filtered the milk the first couple of times we bought it and found that it was very clean – so now we skip that part and skip directly to the boiling. We spread some butter on the bottom of pot to prevent the milk from sticking and burning (though we are still playing around with this – Andreea has a hunch that the butter may be causing the milk to spoil sooner).

We pour in all the milk and leave it on a medium sized flame.

When it boils a fatty layer forms on top (this is the fat that is used to make butter and what you see are just the leftovers since most of the fat has already been removed to make cream and butter).

Soon after it will begin to rise and that’s when you need to turn off the flame and let it cool.

After it cools you can easily scoop out a substantial top layer of fat (which is really just a residue of what was originally there).

After it has cooled we filter (there’s still some fat floating around in it) it into glass bottles. We’ve been told that all milk products are better kept in glass containers instead of plastic ones. It keeps in the fridge for 5 or 6 days at best!

And even after all the removal, scopping and filtering of fat – there is still enough there to form a natural cork in the neck of the bottle.


We also make Yogurt from the fresh milk. There are two ways to do this:

  1. Mix an equal quantity of unboiled milk with boiled milk. The unboiled mix carries in it the bacteria which transforms the milk in Yogurt.
  2. Add a spoon of cream (though yogurt will probably work too) to the boiled milk and in this way introduce the bacteria which transforms the milk.

We’ve tried both. The 1st option resulted in a Yogurt that was slightly more sour and less to my liking. So we placed a spoon of cream in a 1 liter jar and mixed it together with fresh boiled milk. The jar needs to be left open and covered with a cloth.

… and after 24 hours you get Yogurt. It’s that simple (with real milk)!