Jane Grigson, Pig Tails, Henri Michaux And Debussy–All From a Far-Off Country.

Let’s read the opening sentences of Jane Grigson’s Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, an awe-inspiring journey through cooking and prose.

It could be said that European civilization –and Chinese civilization too–has been founded on the pig.  Easily domesticated, omnivorous household and village scavenger, clearer of scrub and undergrowth, devourer of forest acorns, yet content with a sty–and delightful when cooked or cured, from his snout to his tail.

Yes, let’s consider the pig’s tail.


Jane Grigson’s words are going to guide me through many a culinary treasures over the next few months, so you’ll develop a sense of her wonderful world of words and insides.   I’ve heard many chef and gourmand speak highly of the pig’s tail, so I thought I’d walk over to the local Kroger’s and purchase a bag.  The Kroger’s at 19th and Yale offers a range of body parts and offal, and up ahead on my calendar I’ll purchase tongue, tripe and trotters to work through more Grigson recipes.  But for now, let’s get a hold of the tail.  Grigson’s recipe calls for simmering in plenty of water, onion, cloves, carrots, leeks, peppercorn, and a bouquet garni.  My bouquet features cumin, oregano and sage from our garden.

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I think it’s the right moment for Claude Debussy’s Rêverie as we read a section from one of my favorite poems, “I Am Writing To You From a Far-Off Country” by Henri Michaux.  The pairings today definitely have a French nature to them.

Je vous écris du bout du monde.
Il faut que vous le sachiez.
Souvent les arbres tremblent.
On recueille les feuilles.
Elles ont un nombre fou de nervures.
Mais à quoi bon ?
Plus rien entre elles et l’arbre, et nous nous dispersons, gênées.

I am writing to you from the end of the world.  You must realize this.  The trees often tremble.  We collect the leaves.  They have a ridiculous number of veins. But what for?  There’s nothing between them and the tree any more, and we go off troubled.  (Translation by Richard Ellmann)


The pig tails float in the stock, an image from a far-off country.  Time to fire up the grill.


Excellent.  Coals turn white, we continue to listen to Debussy, my composer-of-choice for this far-off country.  A few more words from Ms. Grigson on pig tails.

If you live in a pig-producing county, like Wiltshire for instance, you often see a pile of pigs’ tails in the butcher’s window.  Like the other extremities, they are cheap and delicious.  In France, the charcutier uses them in his various brawns–I have rarely seen them offered for sale as a separate item.  But on French farms, when the pig is killed, its tail is well scalded and put into the brine for several days.


I’ve pulled the succulent curls of fat and meat out of the pot–the smell in the house can only be described as an ambrosia of veg and pig–and it’s off to the grill where I’m going to char my little friends with some brats.


As we fire up the world, let’s listen to Debussy’s orchestration of Erik Satie’s haunting Gymnopedie No. 3.

And a few more words from a far-off country.

Il y a constamment, lui dit-elle encore, des lions dans le village, qui se promènent sans gêne aucune.
Moyennant qu’on ne fera pas attention à eux, ils ne font pas attention à nous.

There are constantly, she told him further, lions in the village, who walk about without any hindrance tall.  On condition that we pay no attention to them, they pay no attention to us.  (Translation by Richard Ellmann)


Ah, the pig tails are ready.  See how easy it is?  About ten minutes on the grill, turning this way and that, and you end up with crackling and succulent, tender meat.


And now for the test?  Qu’est-ce que ma femme pense?


Très bien.  Et mon fils?


Excellent.  Time for a Nocturne and final words from Michaux.  Bon Appétit!

C’est le Temps, bien sûr. (Est-il pareil chez vous?) Il faudrait arriver plus tôt que lui; vous voyez ce que je veux dire, rien qu’un tout petit peu avant. Vous connaissez l’histoire de la puce dans le tiroir? Oui, bien sûr. Et comme c’est vrai, n’est-ce pas! Je ne sais plus que dire. Quand allons-nous nous voir enfin?

It is Time, of course.  (Is it the same with you?)  One must arrive a little sooner than it does; you see what I mean, only a tiny little bit ahead.  You know the story of the flea in the drawer?  Yes, of course.  And how true it is, don’t you think!  I don’t know what more to say.  When are we going to see each other at last?  (Translated by Richard Ellmann)




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