As South Louisiana has become more urban and suburban, boucheries have gone the way of phone booths, full-service gas stations and black-and-white television. After all, food comes from the supermarket, right?
The Normand and Gremillion families, however, remember the tradition. And earlier this month, they tutored a younger generation in the old ways to keep the boucherie (butchery) tradition alive.
With a pig, purchased at a store, roasting over an open fire and Cajun music blasting from a CD player, about three dozen family members and friends from Brusly, Plaucheville and Lebeau gathered in Blake Saucier's backyard outside Port Allen to kill and butcher two other pigs and begin the old-school tasks of turning just about every part of them into food. It was — depending on the individual — a blast from the past or an eye-opening experience.
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Count Mark Gremillion, of Plaucheville, in the former category. For the 60-year-old nurse anesthetist, boucheries were a normal part of life as a boy in Avoyelles Parish.
“We grew up on a farm, raised our own pork, own beef, own chickens,” he said. “There were five boys in our family, and it was a matter of eating. We didn’t boucherie for fun. We butchered to eat.
“These days we do it to keep the tradition alive and have fun and be with family.”
In the mid-1980s, Joey Normand, who also grew up in Avoyelles Parish, started having boucheries at his home in Brusly for the same purpose — to show how things used to be done. It was an annual event for about 15 years before it faded away.
Though gone, it was not forgotten, at least not by Mark Gremillion’s niece, Lindsey Gremillion, and Joey Normand’s stepson, Saucier.
“We were having a couple of beers on the back porch one day, and he said, ‘Lindsey, I think we should do a boucherie again,’” Lindsey Gremillion recalled. “I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ So, we started turning the wheels, and Uncle Joey’s retired now. He contacted my Uncle Mark, who is the brawn to all this, and said, ‘Hey, let’s do this.’ And here we are.”
The two older generations did the heavy lifting, shooting the pigs, then bleeding and cutting them into parts for processing. Another team took over the job of cleaning out the small intestines so they could be used for boudin casing.
Nelson Stein and Gerald Mabile set about making cracklins, where the skin of the pig is fried crisp. Mark Gremillion; his brother, David; and cousin, Barry, trimmed the larger sections that would be sent to a butcher to be cut into ribs, chops and roasts.
“We told the kids earlier that the only thing not processed is the squealer,” said Tres Allain, 41, who was a neighbor to the Gremillions and Normands growing up. “You can’t process that.
“Today, it’s more of an event for us to pass on, for the kids to know everything doesn’t come from Walmart. We take pride, I guess you’d say, in showing our kids how things are done, where they come from.”
It definitely was an education, as it has always been.
“Growing up, that was our first anatomy lesson,” said Lindsey Gremillion, 37, who tended the roasting cochon. “The anatomy of a pig and the anatomy of a human are very similar. This morning, everybody gathered round. ‘Now, here we go: Here is the heart. Here are the lungs. Here is the liver. Here is the spleen.’”
“When Mark told them this is very similar to a human when you open up a human, I told the kids, ‘Don’t ask how he knows that,’” Allain cracked.
The youngsters weren't the only ones getting that lesson for the first time. Allain’s friend, Michelle Fasching, 42, came from Beaverton, Oregon, to witness her first boucherie.
“It’s amazing because it’s a community or family that’s come together,” she said. “A lot of work. I think it’s great. It’s the old teaching the new. There’s three generations, and I think it’s cool.”
Although more modern equipment like a power saw was used, Andrea Normand showed the hollow bull’s horn her mother once used to funnel boudin into the casings.
A few feet away from where the boudin was being made, Joey and Andrea Normand’s daughter, Amanda Maciasz, and Allain flipped through the pages of a large photo album with pictures of many of the day’s participants at bygone boucheries.
“They’ll probably be doing the same thing, I guess, in 30 years,” Maciasz said.