{Vieux rites français en terre créole : en Louisiane, c'est à Carnaval qu'on immole le cochon. Avec comme aux Antilles, andouille, lard et boudin en héritage.} {{J.S.S.}}

Far from the Carnival balls, parades and raucous crowds of New Orleans, Cajuns in St. Martinville held their last "bon temps" before Lent in a far different fashion: with a grand boucherie, or slaughtering of a pig.
Hundreds of people watched at least part of the ritual Saturday, though most have seen it before. The pig's skin was being shaved for cracklins, a Cajun snack, while the carcass was being prepared for transport to a butcher shop.

"The boucherie is so important to our culture," said Denise Leger, 34, a Cajun Catholic from New Iberia who helped her uncle butcher the pig. "A lot of people give up their favorite foods, like boudin, as a penance during Lent."

Every year, Catholic Cajuns in this community about 140 miles west of New Orleans hold "La Grande Boucherie des Cajuns" the weekend before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.

"This is a celebration that was started out of necessity," said Stephen Hardy, 38, who leads the group organizing the event. "Before refrigeration, they had to share the slaughter. One family could not consume a whole hog before it would go bad. They would have family and friends over to help, and everyone would leave with something."

Back then, he said, a family would either host or attend a boucherie about once a month. With meat readily available at any grocery store today, the boucherie is simply a celebration of an old tradition, bringing family and friends together once a year for one last hoorah before the Catholic season of fasting begins.

Unlike other Carnival celebrations, food is the focus in Cajun communities like St. Martinville. In Mamou, locals ride on horseback collecting ingredients for a community gumbo during the "Courir de Mardi Gras," or "Fat Tuesday Run."

"I don't think I'll be able to watch them kill the pig, but I sure like the food," Jody Gibbens, of Bandera, Texas, said Saturday as she sipped a beer and weighed her lunch options as a band played in the background.

Federal health code regulations prevent attendees from eating what is slaughtered during the celebration, Hardy said. So the butcher, after showing what is done traditionally, will take the carcass and byproducts to his shop to finish preparing the meat.

He'll have plenty of options: salt meat, patties and sandwiches, sausages such as andouille and boudin, rice and pork dressing stuffed in an edible casing, head cheese and cracklins, among them.

Nothing goes to waste, Hardy said. The skin of the hog is scraped and the fat layer next to it rendered into lard for cooking. The skin and attached fat are what's fried to make the crisp, tasty cracklins.

Twelve-year-old Sage DeLaunay's arms were dripping with fat after he beat out more than 20 kids to win a greased pig contest—and the lard-covered piglet he nabbed.

"This was my first time, and I'm so excited," he said. "I'm gonna raise it and kill it one day."

_ Source : The Denver Post
_ Associated Press Writer