We Have Sausage
Written onDecember 01 , 2009
Late in life my father was able to get the spicy breakfast sausage he loved as a kid sent north to him from the general store in the small southern town where he grew up. It was better than caviar, he once noted. Packed in dry ice, it was shipped only in the winter, when the weather was safe for fresh meat to travel. And when my infrequent visits home coincided with those deliveries, he would call out in greeting the welcome words, “We have sausage!”
The passion I inherited from him is nicely served these days. In the summer I shop for sausage at the Bellows Falls Farmers’ Market. The choices are many, but I usually find myself coming home with andouille from Judy Sopenski’s Not Your Ordinary Farm in Guilford, and Italian sausage from Harlow’s in Westminster. Both are great on the grill, served with peppers and onions on a soft roll. The roll shouldn’t be too interesting, though: like a lobster roll, the main ingredient in a good sausage sandwich is the thing itself.
It’s often sausage that takes me across the Connecticut River from Vermont to Burdick’s, a restaurant and grocery in Walpole, New Hampshire. There’s a daily sausage special on the restaurant menu, and the meat counter at the grocery has a dizzying variety of sausage choices. John Maciejewski, the store manager, lists where the various meats are raised, all farms in the area. “I love having a hands-on butcher shop,” he says, “where you can come in and ask the butcher, ‘What should I do with it?’”
“Sausage making is a skill you can call your own,” says the butcher, Shawn McElmar. He and John and I are sitting in the restaurant. People around us are enjoying coffee and pastry, but at our table it’s all sausage talk. Shawn started out in a variety of jobs at Burdick’s—shipping, cleaning, dishwashing—and four years ago put himself forth as an apprentice sausage-maker. Now he’s the store’s self-identified wurst-macher—sausage maker—and butcher. Shawn likes to experiment with how meats are combined and what seasonings are used, all fresh herbs. I ask if he ever gets tired of sausage and he shakes his head, an emphatic no. Does he eat sausage at home? Yes, he says with a smile, and when he’s eating by himself, sometimes that’s all he’ll have. I understand, and sympathize. On my way home I stop at the butcher counter. Shawn hands me a package he’s put aside for me. It’s Loucanico Greek sausage, a pork and lamb sausage made with coriander and garlic. Amazing stuff. Since I’m not eating alone that night, I’ll have to make something to go along with it. Ravioli with cheese? Sounds good.
On a rainy Sunday in late October, the Lander family kitchen in East Hardwick is a busy scene. About a dozen sausage-making friends fill the room: it’s a show! Yesterday was the butchering of the pigs, and today sausage will be made. My own Lander favorite is the maple, but today’s variety will be something new. “I try different things and make it up every time,” says Justin Lander. “Yesterday we made the yirtrnicky, Czech sausage that uses the head, heart, liver, kidney, and lungs. You have to do that right away, as soon as the slaughtering’s done. Very thrifty.” Justin is the chief wurst-macher here, and he raised and slaughtered the pigs as well. He’ll have a full freezer at the end of today’s work. This is start-to-finish sausage making—holistic, you might say.
I talk to Shawna Lucey, who used to live at the Landers’ farm and is now back to help with the weekend’s activities. I ask her about Hardwick’s new visibility as a food center. “Long before things became trendy and commercialized, there was an authentic local food system here in Hardwick. People who raise their own food in this community work together, they support each other. Look around the room!”
Ezra Gorelick is the sorcerer’s apprentice, Justin’s neighbor and main helper. He has just turned 12, an ardent sausage-maker who has provided the day’s key piece of machinery: a sausage stuffer. It’s new, he tells me, a birthday present. “As soon as I opened it I put it on my bike and brought it right over to Justin and he showed me how to use it. I thought the casing went on the inside, but it doesn’t.” He gives me a brief demonstration. “I rendered some lard and I learned from Justin that wasn’t the way to do it. You use unrendered lard, pork lard.”
As sausage making in the Landers’ kitchen continues on through the afternoon, there are offers to help from fellow cooks and kitchen helpers, experienced sausage makers, and wurst-macher hopefuls. But Justin and his young helpers—Ezra, his sister Talia, and his best friend, Emmett—have the energy of the day. The four of them fly through the work together. Everyone else gathers for cider, conversation, and the promise of dinner to come. They will have sausage.