Head Cheese (Boudin Noir)

NOTE: This is a cut scene from my upcoming book, but the ingredients and procedure stands, 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.

 

Silk Train

“Ladies and gentlemen, no need to be alarmed,” the conductor said as he opened the front connecting door. “We’re just going to move to the side for a few minutes as another train passes. It’ll only be a ten-minute delay.”

He walked the length of the coach car and out the back door, a rush of frigid air blowing into the rear of the coach car. Loud questions calmed to whispered murmurs as Nazaire and Raoul sat back down.

“Probably a silkie is all,” a grizzled old-timer said. He fidgeted in his seat while eyeballing the goings on outside.

Nazaire turned in his seat, and said, “Silkie?”

The old-timer turned to look at Nazaire.

“Silk train, out of Vancouver prob’ly. Push th’other trains off the main line on accounta the cargo they’s carry’ng,” he said.

“What kind of cargo?” Raoul asked as surrounding passengers leaned in close to overhear.

The old-timer whispered, “Not suppose’ta say. Railroad don’t like people findin’ out. Secret, you know.”

“What’s in the cargo cars?” Nazaire asked.

The old-timer let fly a wad of chaw, the snuff hitting the edge of the gray velveteen seat with a twang.

“Silk worms come into Vancouver Harbor di-rect from Hong Kong in Jay-pan to the rail yard. Them gets loaded onta special heated cars. Under guard. Orders are shoot to kill anyone who’s delay the packin’ and trainin’ out. Each train worth mabbe five, ten million dollars.”

“Sounds like a story,” a well dressed, young woman said from across the aisle.

“No, no story, lady. Them silkies run from Vancouver inta New York in ‘bout thirty hours. They’s goes non stop ‘cept for puttin’ on water an’ food with fresh crews, an’ wood o’ course, for the engine.”

“So the train don’t stop for all the stations?” Raoul asked.

“Right. It’s gonna stop mabbe three times before it gets ta New York. Mabbe change engine to a fresh one.”

“Where on the wrong train,” Raoul whispered to Nazaire.

“No, it don’t take no passengers, only the worms. Ain’t that a hellofa thing.”

“They shoot to kill, you say?” The young woman asked.

“Yessum, they’s do. You watch. Ev’ry time a silkie comes by a station, you’ll see two riflemen come outside, hang on the handrails of the Engineer’s Walk an’ two others standing on each side the caboose, leanin’ out far, watchin’ for trouble, damned ready to shoot anyone who slows down them trains. I reckon them worms must be real delicate, easy to die.” He looked from the young woman to Nazaire and Raoul, then back out his window.

“What do they do with the silk worms?” A young boy asked.

“Delicates, boy, fancy silks for women,” he said, “stupid boy.”

A Canadian Pacific Railway cargo train came upon the passenger train on the siding, its engine roaring louder that Jehovah. Each coach car swayed in the wake of the displaced air as the faster train whizzed by, like a herd of buffalo outracing an idle animal, the thrown air rattling against the window glass.

Photo Credit silk worms Pixabay CCO 1.0

Being a Vermonter

Moving from Quebec to Vermont in the 1920s gave rise to many challenges for Raoul Poulin and his family. New language, currency, units of measure, yards instead of meters – what a lot of changes.

It took courage and determination to leave all that you had known in your life, and thrust yourself into a different and uncertain environment.

Being a Beauceron

Many people have experienced floods, but living along the Chaudière River is a lifelong test of endurance and love for your land. The beautiful Beauce Valley still reflects rich fields of grain, extraordinary verdant vistas and a feeling of “being at home” in any of dozens of picturesque villages.

Nestled a bit lower than the surrounding region, the Beauce is known as “little Florida” as the harsh winter cold doesn’t quite hit the bottom of the valley. Cozy, eh?