Boucherie Meaning Explored by Historians

Meet Stephen “Steve” Estopinal and James “Jim” Hunter, the Boucherie history enthusiasts who will be at the Fête des Bouchers fall harvest celebration at the Culinary Vegetable Institute on Saturday, October 12, 2019.

At this event, legendary chef John Folse—culinary ambassador of Louisiana and chef at White Oaks Plantation in Baton Rouge—will collaborate with the CVI to recreate this Southern social tradition that translates into the “party of butchers.” The Fêtes des Bouchers came into being as an opportunity for communities to gather together to butcher and prepare hogs to provide food for the upcoming winter.

Chef Folse has focused on reviving this practice to honor its heritage, including at the Culinary Vegetable Institute where attendees can discover the many ways that a single animal can be prepared. At his events in Louisiana, he has had Steve Estopinal and Jim Hunter provide historical context, just as we will on October 12.

Here’s a video starring Chef John Folse and Farmer Lee Jones that shares just some of what you can expect at this Boucherie festival.

Historic Insights

“At these events,” Steve says, “I share how the pig could actually be credited with saving Western civilization. Is that a bit of a stretch? Maybe. But it’s interesting to explore. Jim, meanwhile, focuses on relevant local history—in this case, Ohio history. For example, Jim has been researching Cincinnati, which was once called Porkopolis.” (More about Porkopolis history later in this post!)

When immigrants, largely Europeans, first settled wilderness areas in the United States, one of the first things they established, Steve explains, was their pig population. “That’s because a pig is prolific, producing meat quickly, and they’re easy to raise in part because they’ll eat anything. So, for new settlements, pigs are typically the meat staple. They’re like a meat factory. Later on, settlers can establish cattle, like cows for milk, and raise horses for work—but first they bring in pigs because they can feed a family over the winter and help to establish the settlement.”

“I imagine,” Jim adds, “that when people were first settling Ohio, they were happy to know that there would be a pig or two waiting there for them where they would establish their farms.” Because pigs are so prolific, having 16 to 18 pigs in a litter with a female sow having three litters a year, having a couple of pigs gave the new settlers a sense of security.

Besides the fact that pork can be very economical, pigs also eat snakes, which helps to keep that population down. That was important, the men shared, to help keep the settlement safe. Here’s another benefit. As the Irish, the German and the English came to the United States, they were already familiar with the pig, and how it was a good source of food for communities.

“Plus,” Jim says, “there are so many different spices that you can add to pork. You can take the exact same piece of pig meat and, depending upon what spices you added and how you cooked it, you could make ten different varieties, each of which tasted different.”

As just one example, German immigrants would make breakfast sausage out of a pig, ideal for a substantial breakfast for a farmer. Poorer Germans would add wheat to these sausages to make the food go further. In Louisiana, people used rice instead of wheat, and that’s the basis of boudin. Although the specifics would differ, based upon the culture of the immigrant and the available ingredients, most of them relied heavily upon and appreciated the pig.

Porkopolis History

“First,” Jim says, “it’s important to look where many Ohioans came from. For that, we can think about a meeting that took place in 1786 at the Bunch-of-Grapes tavern in Boston, Massachusetts. A minister was at that meeting [Manasseh Cutler], along with General Rufus Putnam and others.”

From that meeting, Revolutionary War veterans who had not been given what they’d been promised in return for their military service were able to obtain land in southern Ohio in the Cincinnati area. Many of them rounded up their family members and headed off into what was then the wilderness.

They needed to take good hunters with them to obtain deer meat, wild turkey and pheasant—and they also cultivated the domestic pig. The Cincinnati area became especially well-known for its pig production—thus the nickname of Porkopolis—and they established some of the larger slaughterhouses.

People couldn’t refrigerate their meat like we do today, so they salted or smoked it and then warehoused the pork products. Because Cincinnati is along the Ohio River, they could then transport it to other places. In fact, Steve calls the Ohio River/Mississippi River the freeway of the 19th century, especially before the railroads provided cross-country transportation.

Some of Cincinnati’s pork was shipped to New Orleans and, from there, Steve said he wouldn’t be surprised if some of it also made its way to South America. At one point, Jim shares, the waters of New Orleans saw a thousand steamboats in just one day’s time. Superhighway.

Boucherie Festival at the CVI

At the October 12th event, Steve plans to show up in his “1812 garb.” He will be an unnamed Louisiana militiaman—“Feel free to pick a name,” Steve says—dressed in a way that people who policed communities in the early 19th century might have dressed.

“In the colonies,” Jim said, “men over the age of 14, or at least by age 18, participated in the militia. They’d help to protect a colony against Native Americans and, in the case of Cincinnati, from people who stayed near the river and caused problems for the other citizens. It was a very important job, fighting back against banditry.”

Typically, Steve and Jim have presentations that they give at a Boucherie festival, and they also answer questions.

Presenters on October 12 will include:

Events at the Boucherie festival at the CVI are scheduled as follows:

  • 8 am: Doors Open
    • Guests will have the opportunity to visit butchers at their stations to observe and engage in conversation as they prepare fresh and cured sausages, head cheese, cracklins, porchetta, ponce, stews, and other traditional Cajun recipes provided by Chef Folse
  • 8 am – 1 pm: Demonstrations
    • Simultaneous to the preparations taking place throughout the morning, we will host presentations and demonstrations, with guest speakers addressing historical, cultural and practical information.
  • 1 pm – 3 pm: Spoils of the Day Lunch
    • Guests are invited to enjoy the “Spoils of the Boucherie & Charcuterie” lunch prepared from the morning’s production and a bounty of The Chef’s Garden fall harvest vegetables.
  • 3 pm – 5 pm: Fall Harvest Celebration
    • Stay and enjoy a bonfire, wagon ride, and entertainment.
  • 5 pm: Event Concludes

Ticket Options

 To attend all day, from 8 am to 5 pm, including lunch, the price is $155 per person, with hospitality included; no gratuities accepted:

 

This price includes tax, with payment processed before the Boucherie festival. Non-alcoholic beverages, along with beer and wine, are available and priced accordingly. Please call 419.499.7500, extension 402 for group discount rates for groups of ten people or more.