Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Critical Mom's Guide to the Sacred Animal

We are in the land of the pig, the great and powerful pig, whose juices infiltrate almost every food item . . . when I first moved to Germany more than fourteen years ago, a guidebook advised me that when it comes to the pig, Germans make use of "everything but the squeal."  Whenever we took the kids to the supermarket they were invariably handed a slice of a bologna-like substance called "Gelbwurst," for which, alas, they developed a taste.
Now that I am trying to go meatless, that is.  I've been buying soya sausages and soya burgers and lots of tofu; the thirteen year old assures me that these do not cut the mustard, or as he says: "I'm German.  I like MEAT!"  But I like stir-fried tofu delicately flavored with ginger, lots of garlic, sesame oil, and the fronds of some fern-like Chinese cabbage that I found at the Asian store.
When my brother in law had his fiftieth birthday party, he followed German custom and hired a hall complete with banquet.  And invited the whole village.  This is standard procedure, as is the alternate:  I phoned a friend whose sixtieth birthday it was, but it took quite a bit of sleuthing to reach her at all; various friends indicated that they weren't supposed to tell anyone where she was and they were informing me only because my birthday happens to fall on the same day.  So I reached her in the hotel in Switzerland, where she was hiding out.  "I hate birthdays," she confided, ashamed.  German custom dictates that one invite all one's friends to a big party.  Or all one's colleagues.  Or both.  There's no such thing as the birthday girl or the birthday boy being taken out to a restaurant by his or her friends.  He or she throws the big party, and the party, traditionally, boasts pig in every form that pig can be cooked, baked, boiled, fried and fricasseed.   When the Brazilian dancers zumba-zumbad in to my brother in law's birthday . . .  he was almost too filled with pork and too plastered to enjoy them:  I thought that was the high point, but oh noooo!  The great god pig had to be brought in, first even more of it on our plates and then in real life:  a squealing, thumping piglet.  The piglet's name, "Terminator," he earned by sturdily resisting being enclosed in a crate, in which he was carried, on a litter, by four strong guys in Bavarian Lederhosen.  He made his presence thoroughly known; he was even allowed out to skitter around the dining hall in a spirited, but futile attempt at escape.  As my daughter, entirely in tune with local custom, said, after patting him, "First he's sweet--and then he's meat!"  And she made up a German version of this, too:

Erst ist das Schweinchen süß,
 Dann isst man schon die Füß.

(First the piggy is sweet, and then you eat his feet).  And I do believe that she enjoyed eating the sausages made out of little Terminator as much as she enjoyed scratching his cute little ears.  Which were probably eaten by somebody, possibly even me, since on cold Winter nights I find sausage an appealing food.  But I just like it; I don't worship it.  Nothing gets my husband going like reminiscences of the delicious pig's feet he had in . . . various locations . . .  nothing makes him more indignant than a Northern German's incorrect answer to the question of how one cooks a Bavarian Weisswurst, a delicacy properly consumed around eleven in the morning, with beer:  my husband, standing on line at a grocery somewhere in Westphalia, heard the woman ahead of him, another Northern German, ask how one cooked this interesting Bavarian sausage, Weisswurst.  The clerk waved her arms around, saying, "Oh, you can fry it."  Which, incidentally, makes it explode, usually on the ceiling.  Weisswurst has to be placed in boiled water and left there for a certain precise time, which varies slightly according to whichever region of Bavaria you might be visiting. 
Mmmmmm, mmmm good.  First he's sweet . . .then he's meat!


  1. I'm going to have to give up bacon after this post.

  2. I only use it to flavor lentil soup, personally!