The Offal Pit
I’ve got my son Joseph to thank for the offal pit. With a shovel, a wheelbarrow, and a few hours help from a mate, he dug, over several days, a 2 metre deep by 3 metre wide round pit behind our garage. A shady, cool site on a south-east facing slope that, even during the summer months, gets but a mere stroke of morning sun.
Hole dug, we had planned to work together on the construction of an underground root cellar to store and preserve our produce. But before we could make a start, he got a job with a Christchurch company as an electronics engineer. Degree completed a few months previous, he’d landed his first fulltime job.
Oh well. We’d managed okay without a purpose-built cool store for twenty years and, what’s more, no matter where my gaze rested at Little Owl Gully the urgency written all over various unfinished projects was anything but restful. I felt disappointment at having to abandon the prospect of the two of us working together but at least that would be one less major project to sap my time, energy and finances.
All thoughts about root cellars were told to bugger off, but nothing works quite so well as a life-and-death reality check when it comes to realigning your priorities. The jibes about digging a grave ended up being not far from the mark.
We still had a flock of sheep back then and soon after Joseph moved to Christchurch June and I decided, going into a summer drought, to reduce our flock by five. We took two carcasses to the butcher to be made into mincemeat and sausages and the other three I sectioned into chops, roasts and flaps.
Our small bathroom is in the middle of the house and with all the walls being internal ones it can be kept, with the door closed, at a reasonably cool temperature even on a hot summer’s day. I rigged up a 4″ x 2″ rail above the ancient claw-footed cast iron bath and hung all five carcasses from that for a couple of days before putting on my butcher’s hat. Going into the bathroom during that time felt like an installation or performance immersion experience of blood, meat and carcass art such as that created by Hermann Nitsch in his ‘Dark Mofu’ performance : Can blood, guts and gore in art be beautiful? Nitsch shows it can | The Guardian.
As the writer of the article observes:
The use of blood and entrails and an animal carcass as materials, and the fact that the performers are writhing around in it, perhaps offends a bourgeois liberal sensibility – but much of that, I believe, is due to our alienation from the reality of where our food comes from. We have built walls for ourselves between the act of consumption and the reality of the food we eat.
Offal pit: a euphemism for blood, guts and gore pit. I barrowed the blood, guts and gore from the five sheep to the pit, slithered it all in and buried it under a thick layer of the soil and clay that had been excavated from the pit. You could say it had then been christened with a vengeance as an offal pit.
It’s certainly been a godsend over the ensuing years. In the many years before I had an offal pit, I used to spend countless hours digging burial holes in the garden and elsewhere.
Moving the cattle into the Flats Paddock, as I did yesterday, always, without fail, triggers memories of a hole I dug years ago to bury the offal of a cattle beast. The one and only time I made the mistake of engaging the services of a mobile abbattoir operation that didn’t take the offal with them.
We were in the throes of yet another summer drought. Soil and subsoil excavated, I hit the bone-dry clay pan and the shovel handle began its bone jarring judders. Most of the clay had to be chiselled out with a crowbar one small chunk at a time.
To this day, there’s a dip in the ground over the burial site, which is close to where I walk when going in and out of the paddock. Particularly evident after rain, the water slow to drain through the hard clay pan. Full of water when I moved the cows in there yesterday – hard not to take notice.
The offal pit has filled up slowly but inexorably over the years, but at least it hasn’t been hastened by the considerable amount that’s left over after the slaughter of a cattle beast; I make sure that the mobile abattoir operators can take away the offal!
I’ll have to start thinking about digging a fresh pit. Wonder if Joseph is free anytime soon?