About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Bacchanalian Feast
In olden times in many parts of Europe, November was the time, at the end of the harvest, for certain important jobs to be done to ensure food for the winter months. Root vegetables and some fruits such as apples and pears would be stored in the cellar, cabbage would be sliced and salted for sauerkraut, confits prepared and knives would be sharpened in readiness for the pig slaughter, for it was the pig that sustained people through the cold, hard winters.

There are always various feasts at this time and the Swiss are no exceptions. With the pig slaughter getting into full swing, a glut of sausages are produced, fuelling festivals such as die Metzgete, la Saint martin, la grillade, la bacharia and la mazza. It was common for families to own a pig and friends and neighbours were invited to help with the butchery, as it is such a big job, and in return they would be treated to a feast. Also helping would be the Stormetzger, a sort of freelance butcher. This person not only butchered the pig, but came equipped with a store of spices such as pepper, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger in order to produce bratwurst and liverwurst sausages as well as black puddings.

These days hardly any families own a pig and the tradition of the feasts that derived from the pig slaughter are being kept alive by the innkeepers from the country villages. They have also taken over the production of sausages and it is easy to see if they are producing their own Hausmetzgete (home made sausage) for the ends of the sausage will be tied off with string not the metal clips that a butcher shop uses. The innkeeper would also provide all the accompaniments for the feast, which varied according to the region, but could include potatoes, sauerkraut, beans, lentils, chestnuts and polenta (remember, parts of Switzerland are Italian speaking).

Up in the Ajoie region of the Jura around Porrentruy, the Metzgete meal is called La Saint Martin and occurs between the dates of November 1 to 11, which coincides with All Saints day and Martinmas. A menu tout cochon, which could be said to mean pig out menu, starts off innocently with a clear broth which was used to cook a piece of fresh pork, then comes some head cheese (brawn), followed by the fresh poached pork with salads of radish and carrot. Then the eating gets serious. Next up comes black puddings made with cream, leeks and onions, seasoned with nutmeg and marjoram, served with beetroot salad and apple puree. A roast of pork with spatzli is next - keeping up? - a full choucroute with ham, bacon and smoked Ajoie sausages follows. But just in case you are not completely full, a rich yeast bread, heavy with cream known as a touetsche is served. All this is washed down with copious quantities of beer, wine and fruit spirits. Jacques Montandon notes in his book Le Jura a table, sobriety is not considered a virtue in Ajoie.

The people of the region must have been hard workers, or climbed the mountains all day to be able to eat like that. Indeed walking around Switzerland does give one an appetite. I visited the mainly French speaking part with my mate F, a native of the area. When we went to visit his friends they would all natter away in French, which I didn't speak a word of, but they would kindly make sure my wine glass was always full and there was always food on my plate. After a couple of these reunions, convinced I would be unable to fit back on the plane, I took to walking the countryside whilst F caught up. It was pretty easy to do as there aren't many roads and they all go to the next village. You get a real feel for a place when on foot, everything reveals itself slowly to you.

One enduring memory I have is of the fog that went for days and days. We were staying with F's family at Yverdon around Christmas and one day we drove up to St Croix just to see the sun. Another thing I remember is a little chocolate shop in the town where I had my first experience with champagne truffles, they were the most magical chocolate I had ever eaten. We also went to see some stones that had been erected by prehistoric men. There was an explanation that these stones had originally been by the shore of a lake that was now some kilometres away. Maybe climate change is a lot older than we think.
  posted at 7:54 am

At 3:37 pm, Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

Ages ago, I travelled around Europe for about three weeks, and my favorite place was Switzerland. Living where we do now, it's almost as nice: I open my eyes and see mountains out my window, and quite often there's fog lower in the river valley. Your travels sound much nicer though, because they were a lot more intimate.

At 9:08 pm, Blogger Gregory said...

I remember staying with F up in the Victorian mountains once, near a certain valley. You will remember N. I remember waking up with G, looking out the window to a fantastic looking scene of mountainside and fog. G's comment was 'wow, its just like Switzerland here, only its not'. Groan..... lol

At 3:36 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi Kitchen queen, you are so lucky to live near mountains, it sounds wonderful where you are. The fog in Switzerland was something else, it just went on and on and on, pervading the pores of your body. I remember at the time it was a little depressing for this Aussie boy, never seeing the sun, but now I remember the atmosphere of Switzerland better because of the fog. If that makes sense.

Hi Greg, they were good times for sure. Did you know that after Rex had his stroke, he retired up there?


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