PIGS

A friend calls it “synchronicity” when several connected ideas, events, and encounters happen fortuitously within a reasonable time of each other.  My synchronicity this week is pigs.

Writing leads me into unforeseen territory.  I sometimes feel as if I’m following a path in a maze where each corner leads off in an unexpected direction.  (I don’t play computer games, except I played Pac Man a few times when it was new.  The weirdest thing happened.  After playing, I went to the grocery store and was stunned to find that I felt like a Pac Man, racing down aisles, turning at corners, chasing my kids with an open mouth.  I don’t know what those games do to other people’s minds, but my mind immediately knew I’d better stay away from them!)

Back to the synchronicity of pigs.  First, a friend of mine was raising pigs.  “Was” replaced “is” only this week because her sow killed the litter by rolling on them and other ghastly things (like eating, because pigs love meat).  Sorry.  It was also very cold, and the one surviving piglet died from the cold.

Second, in the book, two travelers meet up with an old friend who has become a pig farmer.  That meant I needed to learn about pig farming in ancient times.

Here are some daunting facts:

Piglets need temperatures around 90 degrees for the first two weeks.

Sows frequently roll over onto piglets.

Some sows don’t give much milk so the piglets die from malnourishment.

Piglets need a place separate from the sow to stay warm.  Sows are hot anyway, and certainly don’t like the 90 degrees the piglets need, but piglets still need to get to mom for milk.

Pigs are usually slaughtered in the fall as the weather turns colder because there isn’t so much food for them, and/or they will get too big if kept alive.  Producing boars and sows are kept, of course, sometimes for years, as long as they produce.

Pigs can eat almost anything and are good for keeping pastures clear of parasites and other range animals’ manure.  They also get rid of weeds, bushes, trees, whatever.

Pork needs to be aged at 40 degrees for a couple of weeks in order to be tender.

Where are you going to find a place in a Mediterranean country (i.e., Gaul) where the temperature is 40 degrees or a bit less (but not too much less because that prolongs the process), for weeks at a time?  And where do they store the pork after it’s aged?

I know that pigs can be raised in warm places, even the tropics.  Surely you’ve seen photos of a pig walking down a dirt street somewhere where the temperatures are hot?

I’m glad you wanted to know so much about pigs.  There’s still a lot more research to be done but Mozilla was dark yesterday so I had to go to Google Chrome which wasn’t nearly as smooth and didn’t let me cut and paste.  Maybe it does for you, but not for me.  (Please, no complicated directions on how to make GC behave.)

Back to synchronicity!  First was my decision to have the characters stop at a pig farm.  Second was my friends’ pigs dying.  Third was substituting in an English class yesterday and today where the chosen book to read aloud was A Day When No Pigs Died by Robert Peck.   Aha!  Three unexpected encounters with PIGS.

“It’s a sign!” – as several characters in “Sleepless in Seattle” would have exclaimed.  Sychronicity so far keeps me committed to pigs rather than easier animals like sheep or goats for this part of the story.  Besides, we’ve already had sheep and sheep cheese.  By sticking to pigs, we get to have superb savory sausages!

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Author: Victoria Paulsen

I'm writing the second of two YA novels about the Roman empire just before Septimius Severus became emperor, and just after. My background is in theater. At UCLA and Univ. of Colorado, I studied Greek and Roman drama as well as Latin. That was awhile ago. My new research is even more fascinating, thanks to the Internet. I want to share the fun stuff!

4 thoughts on “PIGS”

  1. I really enjoyed this information. We had pigs for awhile. An interesting experience. I was always a little, a lot afraid of them.

  2. The (art) historian says… also do some double-checking on the kinds of pig available in Gaul at the time. Different breeds, different requirements. (It also reminds me of a Midsomer Murders episode where the DI discovered a forged painting by researching pig breeds.) I love the pac-man analogy, though!

  3. Thanks for Mieke suggesting double-checking online, I found the most AMAZING book –The History of Food by M Toussaint-Samat (2009, John Wiley, 776 pp)!!! Google let me read about pigs in Gaul (with permission from Wiley).
    Romans loved sausages and ham from Gaul! Pigs shouldn’t roam around free because they will eat anything — garbage, slop pails, babies — so many towns and cities in medieval times banned the practice. Oak forests provided acorns for pigs and hiding places for peasants, resulting in tasty meat and a livelihood for those raising them.
    Just wanted to share while it was fresh in my excitement gene.

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