Jodie Correia, like many residents of Portuguese descent in Manteca and surrounding areas, can’t remember a time when their families did not take part in a popular annual tradition that originated in the old country.
This is not the Holy Ghost festa, the religious celebration that is kicked off by the feast of Pentecost. This annual February event is a gastronomical feast called matanca, or pork dinner, with this particular meat being featured as the main ingredient in the various native dishes served that day.
It’s a celebration steeped in Portuguese history, both in the old country and here in the United States, especially in farming communities.
“In the old days, people used to go from dairy to dairy,” where friends and families cooked a variety of dishes prepared from the pig that was butchered for the communal feast, explained Correia a member of the committee that is in charge of this year’s matanca taking place on Saturday, Feb. 6, at the FESM Hall, 230 North Main Street.
“It’s a Portuguese tradition (that) came down from our ancestors, from our grandmas and grandpas,” Correia said, adding, this was one way “farmers helped each other.”
Depending on the size of the crowd, more than one pig may be brought in for butchering, which is the case in the event being held this weekend. Whichever is the case, the work involved in the elaborate cooking preparation remains the same.
Every dish is “prepared from scratch,” said Correia who belongs to the two Portuguese organizations in Manteca, and whose husband, John, is the MRPS vice president. She is the secretary of MRPS (Manteca-Ripon Pentecost Society), and is vice president of FESM (Festa do Espiritu Manteca).
And because all of the food is prepared “home-made style,” a lot of helping hands is required. No problem. There is a large crew of volunteers that is embracing all that labor in the FESM Hall’s spacious and modern kitchen.
“Everybody helps,” said Correia who, along with other volunteers, will be busy for days chopping onions for the morcella.
“Everyone donates their time,” chimed in Natalie Andre who is also a member of the matanca committee.
All food ingredients, including the pigs that are butchered, are likewise donated for this dinner-dance which is also a fund-raiser for the organization.
“We try to work it that way,” Correia said about obtaining donated animals butchered for that day so as to maximize their proceeds.
Remaining true to the matanca tradition, every part of the pig is incorporated into all the dishes that are cooked.
“Nothing is wasted,” she pointed out.
That includes the animal’s blood which is the main ingredient in the Portuguese delicacy called morcela, or blood sausage. It’s a cooking specialty that is efficiently and expertly handled by Natalie Xavier and her own crew of volunteers that includes her family.
Other parts of the pig that is not suitable for grilling or roasting are used to make chourico, a spicy sausage that is the Portuguese version of chorizo, and linguica.
The meal served on Saturday at FESM will include marinated pork, linguica, morcela, plus “all the trimmings.” All that for a donation of $25 each for adults, and $10 for children 6 to 12 years of age.
Tickets will be available at the door. Dinner will be served starting at 6 p.m. Dancing to the music of Gilberto Amaral will be from 8 p.m. until midnight. Those who wish to obtain tickets in advance can call Andrew Mello at 209.380.0693.
Doors will open at 5 p.m. Take-out orders will also be available from 4 to 5 p.m.