mercredi 30 janvier 2008

Pic Girantes

After drinking a bit too much wine last night and waking late to a misty morning, I nearly didn't go walking today. Eventually I dragged myself out but didn't start walking until 11.15. The mist cleared, the sun shone and Girantes is only a short climb. Despite having to break in my new boots and stopping for lunch on the summit, I was up and back in under 3 hours. There's not a lot of snow about at the moment, though a little more is due tomorrow. From the summit I watched a sea of cloud rolling in from the west and this afternoon the temperature has dropped.

The view to the west from the summit

lundi 28 janvier 2008

Back home

Back from a brief visit to the UK. The weather here is very spring like - warm and sunny, which makes me doubly glad to be home. Shortened the stock on my shotgun (after trying Tracey's shortened baretta and liking it), washed and hung the bacon which is now ready for eating, lit a bonfire which has been drying for at least a year and visited the neighbours. Some snow is forecast for Thursday and at the weekend I will be skiing - so perhaps a short walk in the mountains tomorrow? Now the pigs are gone I'm free to go away whenever I like.

lundi 21 janvier 2008

Home slaughter

Slide show of the slaughter process (no photo's of shooting or sticking the pig but some fairly gruesome pictures of evisceration - not for the squeamish).


Lots of sausage making today - about 3 dozen 'regular' sausages (three different mixes of my own design) and three types of saucisson sec (below) a couseran, a foie and a chorizo. These will hang for about 3 months drying, before they're ready to slice.

Also made 2 litres of pate and salted the belly for streaky bacon.

dimanche 20 janvier 2008

Two ronnies go to piggy heaven

Corbett was dispatched this afternoon. Things went smoother and quicker this time and we were all done inside three hours. The crane I used for lifting the barn beams came back into action and with the better weather (dry) we were able to do the whole thing outside. Also there were five of us (John and Sandrine came to help). Hannah, Saskia and Natasha came to watch the final skinning and evisceration. I thought they'd go pale and run a mile, but in fact they were all interested (although they all swear they won't eat the meat). As we disembowled the carcass I gave them an anatomy lesson (piece by piece removing the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, stomach and intestines, bladder). Photos tomorrow!

After much earned beer and food, Emily and Justin left to go on their skiing holiday, John and Sandrine went home to prepare for butchering tomorrow and after some clearing up, I set to work on making Boudin (black pudding). A long job (I've just finished and its 2.30am). I have 6 black puddings (another 3 burst during cooking) and two 1 litre black pudding loafs (for slicing and frying). Mostly gifts for neighbours.

Tomorrow the bacon, final joints from the loins and saucisson sec.

vendredi 18 janvier 2008


All day long butchering and all the meat is now in the fridge or freezer so I can relax a little though tomorrow we kill the other pig - then hopefully some cooking and eating!

Pig slaughter

Yesterday was slaughter day and what a day! In the morning M. Durand came over with a rifle to lend me to stun/kill the pig. In fact he had a choice of 2. A .22 rimfire rifle which I thought would do the job (most books recommend this) and also a 7mm with a magnum cartridge which would probably take its head off! I chose the .22

Then the rest of the morning was spent preparing. Ropes and pulleys, knives, bone saw, gas burner and bottle, hose pipe, meat hooks, plastic boxes, etc had be transported to the barn and set up.

Emily and Justin arrived at 1.30 and after carrying an old steel bath to the barn, filling it with hot water, setting the huge gas burner going beneath it and covering it with a lid, we had a quick lunch. The water has to be heated to 63 degrees to loosen the hairs on the pig and this needs to be done as soon as the pig is bled, we had to wait for the bath water to reach temperature. This took ages - until about 3.00pm. At this point it started to rain.

Next I had to kill one of the pigs - Barker the bigger of the two was easiest to separate and a small pile of food soon had him occupied. I shot him through the head and it was a instant, silent death - followed by the usual 'death throws'. (These are quite disturbing in animal of this size and seem to go on forever - but Emily said she was amazed how quick it was over compared to their previuos home kills). Quickly we had to transfer the pig to an inclined ladder lent against a wall with its head down, so I could stick it and collect the blood for black pudding. From being a moderate sized pig running around, now it was dead it seemed to suddenly grow to some vast hippopotamus. It was enormous and unbelievably heavy (in fact over 120kgs). We gaffer taped each pair of legs together at the trotters, so we could get a lifting pole between them, and some how managed to drag him onto the ladder. I stuck him. The blood ran for about 10 minutes and Emily collected it in a basin, all the while stirring and lifting out the strings. The testicles where also quickly removed to minimise any boar taint.

Next came the task of getting the hair off. To do this we had to lift him into the bath. After managing to winch his rear half off the floor, this suddenly seemed an impossibility (due to the pigs weight, size and sheer immovability). For a while we tried the method of basting him with the hot water poured from a jug and scraping - this might work for a relatively hairless pig but for a gascogne (which is more hairy than a gorilla) it was hopeless. Nothing for it, we had to get him in the bath. Some how we managed - the pig completely filled the bath and more. After about 4 mins the hair was coming off so we hauled him out the bath and began furiously scraping. Everything comes off (hair, mud and the outer layer of pigmented skin) and the pig is left pink(ish).

At this stage I suddenly became overcome by the enormity of the task. The pig is enormous, the scraping is filthy work and dreadfully slow, time stands still and it seems like you will never finish. The pig had to go back in the bath again, before we could get him 85% dehaired. The rain was absolutely torrential outside the barn ( I think the heaviest rain we've had here). The floor of the barn started to flood, outside was a quagmire. We'd been going three hours. It was getting dark, so I rigged up some lights with a chain of extension leads from the house. ( I had visions of the final scenes of Apocolypse Now). The hair on his front legs was stuck firm and there were still some difficult to get to parts to get the hair off. We decided that we should eviscerate (gut) him now and saw him in half, so he was more manageable to finish these areas and redip his front legs in the scalding water.

Off came his head and tail. Then after carefully gutting him, I sawed him into two, whilst Justin pulled the two halves apart. The evisceration would have been easier if we could have hung him upside down, but even without his head, he now stretched from floor to ceiling - so there wasn't enough room for the pulleys. Another hour of scraping, dipping, shaving and general clearing up of each of the two halves and we call it a night - it's past 7.30. Corbett will have to wait for another day. ( I give him a extra large feed and he doesn't seem to stressed, though I'm sure he'll pine for his lost companion).

We are exhausted, covered in mud, blood, hair, guts, etc, soaked from our brief journeys into the monsoon outside and starving. We retreat to the house, wash up and eat. Justin and Emily depart to feed their animals and I start the big clear up.

By 9.30 things are looking better, so I get to work on the offals - heart, lights, pancreas, liver and kidneys are removed, washed and put in the fridge. Then I have to separate the intestines, squeeze out all the contents, wash them thoroughly (running the tap through them), before turning them inside out and repeating the process, then putting them into brine to soak (these will be my sausage skins).

It's 12.30am and definitely time for bed. Tomorrow, I need to dispose of the organs I'm not using (stomach, spleen, bladder, etc) before dealing with the head and starting the butchering of the carcass.

mercredi 16 janvier 2008

Weather all change

This morning dawned clear and fine then at about 11.45 a storm blew in, in usual dramatic fashion: a wall of cloud with its base at about 1000m (enough to cut off most of the view) approached from the west at great speed (perhaps 50-60 mph) slowly cutting off the view from right to left and in the space of about 2 minutes visibilty was a few hundred metres and the air was full of hail driven by a strong gale. It's rained, sleeted and hailed all afternoon - most of which I spent at Justin and Emily's helping them out with some architectural and construction problems (in return for help with the pig slaughtering which will probably take place tomorrow).

lundi 14 janvier 2008


Spent the day making and installing oak bars and a chicken wire screen to the barn window to keep out cats, dogs, foxes, badgers, martins, weasels, etc., when the pig carcases are hanging in the barn. Tomorrow I'll probably make the door. I also installed a water butt to collect the rain water from the bathroom roof.
Sunny and warm in the morning and then clouds rolled in at about 1500m and it's been raining/snowing over the mountains all afternoon (probably the former). There's a strange feeling of expectancy at the moment...waiting to kill the pigs, waiting for snow, waiting for cold weather.
The burn on the roof of my mouth is just about healed, my cold is drying up nicely, but I hit my index finger with the hammer whilst fixing the chicken wire with some tiny staples, it's still throbbing and the nail is a nice blue colour. Why bother making staples the width of a finger? To hold them in place to be able to knock them in with the hammer, means you'll have to hit your thumb and finger as well as the staple. But then perhaps the fault lies with the idiot who buys them!

dimanche 13 janvier 2008

Mostly Weather

By Saturday morning there was a few centimeters of snow here, but it was wet and despite snow showers throughout the morning, by afternoon it was all melted. The mountains have a fresh covering of about 6" (15cm) of snow but its been warm today and I don't know how long it'll last. Decided not to rush out on my skis today (fresh snow + warm weather = avalanche risk level 3) plus I have a mild cold. Justin and Emily did venture out but had a poor time of it.
Spent the day in the sun moving logs from various piles in the fields/woods to the wood shed - slow laborious work as I had to carry it all in my arms. In the afternoon some R & R watching the mountains through binoculars. Weather is looking warm for the next few days, which is frustrating as I need a couple of days of cold weather to kill and butcher the pigs.

jeudi 10 janvier 2008


Today has been beautiful and with bright hot sunshine, tomorrow there'll be gales and then snow! Here's the new(ish) moon rising over Mont Valier.

lundi 7 janvier 2008

Log splitting

Before the drizzle began in the mid-afternoon I had time to wander down to Philippe and Sophie's ruin, axe in hand (or rather maul) and split most of the beech logs. I'm sure I've talked about this before, but splitting big logs in the chill of a winter's morning is one of my favourite activities here. It might not be as 'fun' as skiing or climbing, but it's very satisfying just the same.

Also pruned the old apple trees which were more mistletoe than anything else - a few bits remain as I can't reach them.

dimanche 6 janvier 2008


On New Years Eve at Justin and Emily's, I managed to badly burn the inside of my mouth on a hot potato (I was too polite/stupid to spit it out). A white, well cooked piece of the roof of my mouth about the size of a 10 pence piece rolled up and fell off after about a minute. The pain wasn't too bad for the first couple of days, but then started to increase and for the last couple of days I've been dosed up on paracetemol and sipping luke warm soup through a straw (OK the last bits an exaggeration). At last, today the pain is subsiding and the burn visibly healing. It certainly isn't polite to eat with your mouth open - but I reckon spitting out a mouthful of food from time to time (however tasty it is) is OK.

samedi 5 janvier 2008

Busy, busy.

A warm day today so I spent it outside. As the pigs will be slaughtered in the next few weeks I've put them to work digging the last bit of next years vegetable patch (which meant moving some fence). I cleared some of the smaller trees crowding around my second ancient apple tree (in field No.2) which only seems to fruit every other year. Hopefully a bit more space and light will help it. Both the old apple trees need some hard pruning this winter.

Then over to Philippe and Sophie's ruin where I felled 2 large beech trees a few days ago. I de-limbed them and cut them to short lengths ready for splitting.

Finally, I did some clearing below the wood shed. It's an area I keep having a go at but like most of the land here its full of junk just under the surface - chainlink, chicken wire, general rubbish and the inevitable bits of old renault 4. Managed to clear it but only after putting a spade through a buried car windscreen (which shattered) and cutting some of the chainlink with wire cutters which I was unable to dig out .

jeudi 3 janvier 2008

A slip with the scissors

After sporting a 'mad professor' hair style for the past few months I decided it was time to give myself a haircut. All went well until I accidentally put a No. 2 guide on the clippers instead of a No. 5 when cutting the hair on the top of my head. Now I have an extremely short haircut - more 'mental assylum' than 'mad professor'!

mardi 1 janvier 2008

Last few days

Picked up Sophie from the station on the 27th and spent the next couple of days at Guzet teaching her the basics of skiing. She picked it up pretty quickly and was soon pootling up and down the blue slopes. Yesterday we headed to Ax les Thermes for some skiing at a bigger resort with Justin and Emily - never skied there before and was pleasantly surprised (some fresh snow the night before helped) but by early afternoon it was absolutely heaving (ski hell). The piste started to break up exposing nasty rocks which left my skis in need of some serious attention.

An evening meal with Justin, Emily, Pat and Kev before heading for Massat for New Years Eve at the opening of a new bar (not really my thing). Got at home at 2.00am then up early again for a hastily planned snowshoing trip with Sandrine, Philippe and Sophie. We headed up towards Pic Cour Vic (where I ski-toured a few weeks ago) but actually went right at the col on to Pic de la Banque (2105m). Amazing views of Mont Valier from the top. Not really enough snow to ski up there anymore but there's more snow on its way. Click here to see more photos.

Couloir Faustins - the next challenge for the winter