Rillons, Rillettes.

Since this delightful Richard Wilbur poem focuses on fine lexical distinctions, I figure it’s LH material; it’s from his 1966 collection The Mind-Reader (I reproduce the text in my Collected Poems 1943-2004):

Rillons, Rillettes

RILLETTES: Hors d’oeuvre made up of a mash of pigmeat, usually highly seasoned. Also used for making sandwiches. The Rillettes enjoying the greatest popularity are the Rillettes and Rillons de Tours, but there are Rillettes made in many other parts of France.

RILLONS: Another name for the Rillettes, a pigmeat hors d’oeuvre. The most popular Rillons are those of Blois.

      — A Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy, edited by Andre L. Simon

Rillons, Rillettes, they taste the same,
And would by any other name,
And are, if I may risk a joke,
Alike as two pigs in a poke.

The dishes are the same, and yet
While Tours provides the best Rillettes,
The best Rillons are made in Blois.
There must be some solution.

Does Blois provide, do you suppose,
The best Rillettes de Tours, while those
Now offered by the chefs of Tours
Are, by their ancient standards, poor?

Clever, but there remains a doubt.
It is a thing to brood about,
Like non-non-A, infinity,
Or the doctrine of the Trinity.

Me, I am very fond of rillettes; I have no opinion on rillons.


  1. I should mention that this poem was a minor plot point in Robert Stone’s novel Damascus Gate.

  2. How does “pigmeat” differ from pork?

  3. Well, the pigmeat enjoying the greatest popularity is from Tours, whereas… Er, I mean, I don’t think it does.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    There is presumably some reason why the comedian formally named Dewey Markham (1904-81) became famous as Pigmeat Markham rather than Pork Markham?

  5. Keith Ivey: “pork” is the meat from the muscles of a pig. “Pigmeat” includes, um, other bits of the pig.

  6. I guess Simon didn’t want his language to be too frenchified when writing about rillons de Tours.

  7. Lars (the original one) says

    The rillettes I’ve met have mostly been of the duck persuasion. Which is probably anathema in Tours and Blois.

    In other news, Danish svinekød is being rebranded as grisekød as we speak.

  8. I have only ever heard the word pigmeat in the mouths of dutchophones, who were quite content to be corrected to pork (it’s not like they couldn’t speak French as well as English). Which makes me think of the joke that in Flanders the word for ‘culture’ is spelled kultuur so as not to be too French, whereas in the Netherlands it is spelled cultuur so as not to be too German. I am also reminded of a comparison between the Dutch language and Luxembourgish francs: they exist(ed), but nobody outside the immediate area cares.

  9. Could be, Stephen, but I’ve heard of pork sausage, not pigmeat sausage.

  10. From French Wikipedia, rillette traditions in Sarthe: Le Mans, Connerré. (It’s a pity Wilbur is no longer around to make something of that material.)

    Nées au XVe siècle en Touraine, dans l’actuel département d’Indre-et-Loire (l’origine étymologique du terme, rille, est tourangelle, en outre Rabelais parle de la « brune confiture de cochon », et Balzac exaltera encore les rillettes de Tours dans Le Lys dans la vallée, en 1836, Proust fait également référence à la réputation des rillettes de Tours dans la Recherche du temps perdu), c’est au Mans, dans la Sarthe, que les rillettes ont pris un essor en y étant produites industriellement à partir de la fin du XIXe siècle, par emprunt et adaptation de la recette originale tourangelle.
    La distinction entre rillettes de Tours et rillettes du Mans tient dans la préparation : au Mans, elles sont généralement plus grasses qu’à Tours, où la viande est moins hachée. C’est au début du XXe siècle qu’Albert Lhuissier achète un petit commerce qu’il transforme en charcuterie, à Connerré. Il va très vite, par son sens des affaires, faire de la commune la capitale des rillettes sarthoises. Les rillettes du Mans ont fait l’objet d’une demande d’IGP; le dossier avance difficilement.

  11. marie-lucie says

    I know les rillettes very well, having grown up not too far from Le Mans where some very good recipes originate from. You can get them in cans but some charcutiers are known for their skill at preparing them themselves. I don’t think they would be very popular in North America, since they are VERY fat (LH is obviously an exception, following Balzac and Proust!). Basically they consist in little bits of “pork meat” slowly cooked in a mass of pork fat. Les rillons are almost the same, perhaps with bigger bits of actual meat. Such recipes were a way of using up little bits left over from preparing other dishes, as well as extra pig fat. These preparations are never served as a main dish. In my family, once in a while we might have no more than a quarter of a cup as a hors-d’oeuvre (appetizer). I don’t remember us using them for sandwiches, but of course it is a possibility.

    JC: I have only ever heard the word pigmeat in the mouths of dutchophones

    At one time I was a fan of Janwillem van de Wetering, a Dutch writer of a series of detective novels in English. The main characters were regularly found eating oxmeat sandwiches for lunch.

  12. I don’t think they would be very popular in North America

    I learned about them in New York City, which is only geographically a part of North America. Specifically, I first tasted them at the late lamented Florent, a restaurant so well remembered it has its own Wikipedia article.

  13. I think in the US “pigmeat” is primarily used by African-Americans. It has a slang meaning (or did at one time) of being very fine or sexually desirable. So Pigmeat Markham is along the same lines as Jelly Roll Morton. Similarly Louis Armstrong’s “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” would mean out walking with a pretty lady.

    You can find lots of similar examples in blues songs from the 1920s and 1930s. (But not “I Heard the Voice of a Pork Chop”, which is literally about pork chops.) Some further discussion here.

  14. Is pigmeat like sheepmeat, jargon from Brussels?

  15. This post reminds me that there’s an exceptionally interesting and funny obituary in today’s New York Times that mentions Calvin Trillin, the great American pork connoisseur.*

  16. * Trillin at Murray’s cheese shop on Bleecker Street: “I used to go to a meat shop around here where the guy would spook customers by popping pieces of raw pork into his mouth.”

    Only one (pork) link per comment.

  17. I don’t eat pork. Always found the taste repulsive no matter how it was prepared.

    It’s kind of difficult to explain to others though and therefore I usually opt for religious explanation.

    Islam is not the most popular religion for many folks at this moment, so I decline offers of pork saying that I only eat food prepared in accordance with Jewish religious traditions…

    Now, I don’t eat fish too, but can’t find a suitable religion to explain my reluctance to eat scaly things.

    If anyone knows, please help.

  18. “Pigmeat” includes, um, other bits of the pig.

    Maybe? But, as mentioned, people seem to talk about “pork sausages”. Pork liver. Pork tripe.
    “Sheepmeat” is presumably a useful term because it covers mutton as well as lamb.

    Does anyone talk about “cowmeat” to cover beef and veal?

  19. Desperate Dan of the Dandy (a character created in 1937) eats massive Cow Pies. But judging from the imagery I think the actual whole cow is in there rather than it being a blanket term for different meat cuts based on age.

  20. Pig’s feet is an item you’d find on a menu. Pig’s or pork trotters are not, I think.

  21. And “cow pies” are a joke because it’s a slang term for cow faeces.

  22. SFReader: you know there is Wikipedia, right? Basically you have to pretend to be African pastoralist or Native American (or maybe you are, I don’t know. More power to you then).

    Just to get the joke off my chest: best potaytoes are grown in Iowa, but the best potahtoes are from Washington.

  23. I’ll just have to pretend to be Jewish Orthodox African pastoralist then…

    Now, my son has more difficult dietary prohibitions – based not on content, but on consistence of the food.

    Simply put, he refuses to eat any food which he classifies as “squishy”.

    It took several years to figure out everything that he won’t eat (which unfortunately includes most foods kids are supposed to eat at his age).

    In a way, our household was forced to invent our own dietary tradition which is about as complex, difficult and byzantine as kosher or halal traditions.

    I am half tempted to start a new religion.

    I’d hate to have all this knowledge go waste…

  24. marie-lucie says

    SFR: our own dietary tradition which is about as complex, difficult and byzantine as kosher or halal traditions

    Here is your word: Byzantine. There are quite a number of minor religious traditions in the Middle East (within the major ones), some of them with only a few followers, so you could fit your family “tradition” in there quite nicely to throw most of the curious off your trail.

  25. Since it hasn’t been mentioned, I’ll vote for les rillettes d’oie, popular dans le Sudouest.

  26. For me pork is fresh pigmeat as opposed to cured smoked or salted.

  27. Pig’s feet is an item you’d find on a menu. Pig’s or pork trotters are not, I think.
    Isn’t it the other way round?

    I also wonder how come nobody has invoked the Ivanhoe quote yet (or is it too obvious to mention?):
    “Nay, I can tell you more,” said Wamba in the same tone: “there is old Alderman Ox continues to hold his Saxon epithet while he is under the charge of serfs and bondsmen such as thou, but becomes Beef, a fiery French gallant, when he arrives before the worshipful jaws that are destined to consume him. Mynherr Calf, too, becomes Monsieur de Veau in the like manner: he is Saxon when he requires tendance, and takes a Norman name when he becomes matter of enjoyment.”

  28. David Marjanović says

    I had no idea such distinctions existed…

  29. Salted pig meat is salt pork though. It shows up in all sorts of old recipes. It is usually made from the fattiest cuts of pork belly or fatback, cured with a lot more salt (obviously) than is used in bacon (the bacon usually having smoke flavor as well as salt curing). You can’t really eat it straight; it has to be cut up and boiled (to remove some of the salt) or rendered to flavor something else.

  30. There are plenty of religions that are vegetarian, which would certainly justify not eating fish. But if you are eating beef or lamb at the same time, you’re out of luck.

  31. I know Aunt Pettitoes from Pigling Bland. I’ve never come across it elsewhere. We use ‘trotters’ with our goats, now deceased, and dogs even though it’s wrong and I’ve never heard either word used in the context of food. In Chicago, pork capital of the known world, it’s ‘feet’.

  32. But if you are eating beef or lamb at the same time, you’re out of luck.

    Yep, beef, lamb, chicken. Maybe seafood.

    But no pork or fish.

    Probably this religion needs to declare pigs holy and fish unclean.

    {thinking} what can be pigs used for if there is no porkmeat allowed? Holy cows in India give milk at least, but what would holy pigs provide?

  33. Nothing. Milking pigs is not practical: (a) too many teats, too close to the ground; (b) sows have not been bred to accept such close contacts; (c) pigs don’t stay in milk very long after you take away their piglets. That’s why Jesus felt free to drive the demons into the pig herd (he was on Greek territory at the time, of course; no Jew or Samaritan would keep pigs).

  34. AJP: our goats, now deceased

    Is this really true?

  35. Yes, m-l. Holly and Misty died in Feb. 2017 and Vesla, who was a year older, a winter earlier. They were all 13 years old. The vets could never tell us the lifespan of mohair goats so now we know. We miss them but the clematis, roses and hazel are thriving in their absence.

  36. I am sorry to hear that. Animals grow up faster than us but don’t live as long.

  37. Yes, I was sorry to learn of it too. I always enjoyed seeing the photos of those goats, and hearing about their adventures.

  38. David Marjanović says

    what would holy pigs provide?

    They might find truffles…

  39. marie-lucie says

    DM, Pigs don’t have to be holy to find truffles – if they are in a place where truffles grow. Or would they perform miracles and find truffles where truffles do not grow?

  40. Stu Clayton says

    Maybe “blessed” (gebenedeit) would be more convincing. “Blessed are those who rootle near trees, for they shall find truffles”. Of course you must like truffles to hold this view.

  41. David Marjanović says


    That word is a dis legomenon. It occurs twice in the whole language, both times in the Hail Mary, and no related forms exist. Everywhere else, “blessed” is gesegnet, from the productive verb segnen.

    The Beatitudes, however, use selig “blissful”, interestingly without a copula: Selig die…, denn sie werden…. It’s the cognate of silly.

  42. That word is a dis legomenon. It occurs twice in the whole language, both times in the Hail Mary, and no related forms exist.

    Good heavens! That’s one of the strangest linguistic facts I’ve come across. I guess kids just learned it as a meaningless magic word?

  43. Gebenedeit: Well, the Hail Mary is the text where people nowadays are most likely to to encounter it. It used to be more frequent and was used by writers like Klopstock and Goethe (see DWB ). But I agree that for contemporary speakers of German it’s one of those strange religious words, the meaning of which they at most can guess from context, comparable maybe to “hallowed” in the Lord’s prayer in English.

  44. David Marjanović says

    It was immediately explained to me lo these 30 years ago. I suppose it’s always been that way – and that at the age when kids used to learn it, they had already learned that it was pointless to ask why biblical and ritual language contained oddities.

    I suppose that this prayer was translated long before almost anything else… wondering why gesegnet wasn’t used, I just looked up segnen on Wiktionary. It’s not explained there directly, but there’s a link to Grimm’s dictionary, which says that, although segnen does go back to OHG (as segVnôn, where V is variably a, e, i, o), it’s from Latin, too – signare, “to make the sign of the cross”! So maybe whoever translated the Hail Mary knew where segnen came from and thought it was therefore inappropriate. Weirder things have happened in Christian translation.

  45. So maybe whoever translated the Hail Mary knew where segnen came from and thought it was therefore inappropriate. Weirder things have happened in Christian translation

    Well, it’s anachronistic! The angel wouldn’t have been telling the newly-pregnant Mary “gesegnet” art thou, because “making the sign of the cross over someone” wouldn’t have had any significance for at least another 33 years.
    It’s like translating 1 Corinthians xv:51 as “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a second, in the blink of an eye” because St. Paul wouldn’t have had the concept of “second” as a measure of time.

  46. Yiddish has ‘bentshen’ for ‘bless’, one of the few Romance words – possibly because early speakers also knew where ‘segnen’ came from and naturally objected to it?

  47. Thanks, m-l and Language. The only way to have animals outlive you is to keep elephants or tortoises and neither is practical here. And I’m sure elephants & tortoises are no keener on having their loved ones die than we are. Planting trees is a better bet.

  48. What about parrots, AJP?

  49. Parrots are very… demanding. And intrusive.

  50. David Marjanović says

    Good point about Yiddish.

    Well, it’s anachronistic!

    But it’s right there in Genesis 1:22 in the 1912 edition of Luther’s translation (where God blesses the fish and the birds before creating the land animals); the editorial work seems to have been entirely limited to orthography, because some ten archaisms that were definitely not current in 1912 jump off the page in preceding verses.

  51. marie-lucie says

    David M: about “biblical” vocabulary: at the age when kids used to learn it, they had already learned that it was pointless to ask why biblical and ritual language contained oddities.

    – Of course, because God cannot be expected to demean himself by speaking like mere humans!

    I heard the following anecdote reported by John Hewson, the linguist brother of a woman who had been a schoolteacher in Newfoundland some decades earlier. At that time, public schools were run by Christian religious orders, and in the first grade the children were learning the Lord’s Prayer orally. One little girl asked the teacher: “Miss Hewson, what is a snot, and why do we have to lead it into temptation?”

    (For those unfamiliar with this all-important prayer in its English version, the sentence as written is “And lead us not into temptation”).

  52. David Marjanović says

    That also happens for wider definitions of “religion”. Reportedly, “and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible” in the Pledge of Allegiance was once interpreted as “and to the Republican, Richard Sands, one vegetable”…

  53. I find it hard to believe that any kind would seriously (out of actual ignorance) ask “what is a snot,” but maybe kids in Newfoundland were unlike English-speaking kids everywhere else.

  54. Keith Ivey, We had a delightful parrot, called Kiri, but an owl swooped down and grabbed her from the branch of an apple tree (next to a pear tree) on Boxing Day evening. Kiri used to peck holes in the car-seat headrests (si monumentum requiris, circumspice).

  55. marie-lucie says

    I find it hard to believe that any kind would seriously (out of actual ignorance) ask “what is a snot,” but maybe kids in Newfoundland were unlike English-speaking kids everywhere else.

    She might have thought that it was a homonym as the concrete meaning would not make sense in the context of “leading into temptation”.

  56. Stu Clayton says

    When holy pigs were brought up, I immediately thought of the culinary mantra: “Hail Porky, full of grease, best art thou baked under Beifuß”. Knowing that gebenedeit was peculiar, I threw it in just to see what would happen. The results were informative. Of course, being robustly hagioplastic ©, the word will litter the wordscape for a long time.

    Beifuß is mugwort, “eaten with fatty meats such as goose, duck, pork, mutton, eel etc”. Artemisia vulgaris might sound more palatable to the English speaker.

  57. Stu Clayton says

    # From Japanese 艾 (mogusa, “mugwort”). The u is not strongly pronounced in Japanese, leading to its disappearance and the devoicing of the plosive. First used by Hermann Buschoff, a Dutch minister in Batavia, who wrote the first book about this remedy in 1674. #

  58. Stu Clayton says

    Sorry, forgot to add that that is the definition of “moxa” in Wiktionary,. It is the stem of “moxibustion”, the burning of mugwort close to the fifth toes of both feet to help reverse a breech position.

  59. Lars (the original one) says

    I used to be wildly allergic to mugworth pollen (which is nigh inescapable in a Danish summer), even though I didn’t know its English name then. But I outgrew my pollen allergies when I was forty or so.

  60. Stu Clayton says

    Forty years of Modus pollens ! I knew only of the benefits.

  61. Lars Mathiesen says

    Which I didn’t know of, on the other hand.

  62. Snot the Wise:

    Before it was modified by Norman influence the name [Nottingham] had several forms, e.g. Snothryngham, Snottingaham, Snottingham—but Snotengaham was the earliest. This ending “ham” is akin to the word home, and is of Anglo-Saxon origin…It is not at all unlikely that Snottingham was the home of an Anglian family—Snot (the wise) by name. Thus with the possessive “ing” the whole word means “The home of Snot.”

    Nottinghamshire (Cambridge County Geographies) 1911, Swinnerton.

    Actually if you think of a snot as a name for a supercilious or snobby child in the class, then ‘Lead our snot into temptation’ makes total sense as an exhortation to God.

  63. Trond Engen says

    Stu: From Japanese 艾 (mogusa, “mugwort”)

    A very simple spelling for a very specific term. How do the Japanese keep track of these kun readings?

    Chinese for ‘mugwort’ is 北艾 běi ài, says Wikipedia. “Northern mugwort”, no doubt. Coming to think of it, 艾 is a very simple spelling for a very specific term in Chinese as well. Was it a basic remedy in tradtional medicine or something?

    As usual for plant names, Germanic is a mess: German Beifuß and Dutch bijvoet, English mugwort, Danish gråbynke, Norwegian burot, Swedish gråbo. Also as usual, each Scandinavian canonic name is or would fit well within dialectal variation in the two other languages.

  64. Stu Clayton says

    Trond: I assume you’re not asking *me* about “kun readings”. What dat ? I did wonder that such a simple-looking sign (?) could mean something so specific.

    Yes, it appears to have been a big thing in Chinese and European traditional medicine. The German WiPe on Beifuß has much more about that than the English WiPe on “mugwort”.

    # „Beyfůssz: oder Buck. … Die magi graben diße wurtzel vff S. Johanns abent / so die sonn vndergadt / so finden sye darbey schwartze köenlin an der wurtzelen hangen. Vnnd das dem also / hab ich selb gesehen / ist ein sonderlich geheymnussz was damit gehandlet würt. …“

    – Otto Brunfels: Kräuterbuch. Straßburg 1532, S. 237.[37] #

    The transcription has erred with “köenlin”, it should be “körnlin” (Körnlein = grains, nubbles)

  65. David Marjanović says

    “The magi dig up this root on St. John’s Eve, when the sun sets; [in doing] so they find black nubbles hanging from the root. And that then*, thus – I’ve seen it myself – [it?] is a peculiar secret what is traded [or just done, more like in English? Or treated, as in behandelt?] with that.”

    * Assuming dem is mistranscribed from denn, which makes a bit more sense but still not really enough.

  66. Stu Clayton says

    In my mind I tried out “und das dem also” = “und das dem so [ist]”, but I don’t know if the “da dem so ist” locution existed in those times.

  67. Trond Engen says

    Stu: I assume you’re not asking *me* about “kun readings”.

    No, just general wondering.

    What dat ?

    A ‘kun’ reading is when a kanji (a logograph borrowed from Chinese) represents a native Japanese word with the same lexical meaning as the word it represents in Chinese. Or at least pretty close in meaning at the time of borrowing, I suppose. The other main way of reading a kanji is the ‘on’ reading. This is a Chinese borrowing, i.e. the Chinese word represented by the graph borrowed into Japanese. No doubt there are both different schools of pronunciation, like with Latinate words in English, and different ages and sources of the borrowings, like with Latin, Old French, Norman French and the occasional Spanish and Italian into English.

    A simple illustration from English is the logograph &. The ‘kun’ reading is and, and the ‘on’ reading is et.

    (There are some other ways of reading kanji too, but I’ve never got my head around those. It’s no help that I don’t speak Japanese.)

    I did wonder that such a simple-looking sign (?) could mean something so specific.

    Yes, it’s as if mugwort is just generic “herb” in Chinese.

  68. marie-lucie says

    “moxibustion”, the burning of mugwort close to the fifth toes of both feet to help reverse a breech position.

    This is very specific! But not the only use of moxibustion.

    I learned about this practice some years ago when living in an indigenous community in British Columbia and later encountered the word and its Japanese origin. But the practice did not involve mugwort, instead what was burned was little balls of spruce resin (mixed with some plant matter) placed on the skin. The treatment was done in cases of damage to bony areas. Two persons who had this done years before described it to me: one had had a knee problem, the other one had fallen into the frozen river and hit his chest against the edge of the ice, which seriously hurt him even as it kept him from going under. Both conditions were healed after the treatment. I heard these testimonies around 40 years ago, when only a few very elderly ladies were skilled in the practice.

  69. David Marjanović says

    There are some other ways of reading kanji too

    Lots of characters have two on readings, a go-on one based on southern Early Middle Chinese and a kan-on one based on northern Late Middle Chinese. And that’s still not the whole story by far.

  70. rillons and rillettes are completely different dishes, I think Richard Wilbur is just trying to be confusing simply for a prank

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