Zesty homemade sausage is a great complement to any meal.
PHOTO: JACQUELYN G. SMITH
There's nothing quite like the smell of homemade sausage sizzlin' on the stove to set your mouth to watering! And there's no reason why the spicy delicacy should be limited to the breakfast table, either! My family enjoys it at any meal now that we've discovered there's nothing really complicated about making "homegrown" sausage. Here's how we do it:
First, when we butcher a hog—an annual day-long event usually accomplished with the help of friends—we always set one large kettle aside for meat scraps. After the "big job" is finished, we grind the pot of leftovers using a heavy-duty cast-iron meat grinder with a medium disk, which can turn out more than 20 pounds in less than five minutes. (We've tried an electric grinder but, since there's less to go wrong with a manually operated one, we prefer to use the simpler tool.) Then we decide how many different kinds of sausage we want to make, and divide the meat up into the appropriate number of heaps.
Our sausage mixing is done in a metal washtub or canning kettle: One person sprinkles the spices onto the meat, while another tosses it about with his or her hands. Sample portions of each recipe are then fried for taste-testing (there's no lack of volunteers for this job!) and, once a batch is approved, it's ready to be stored.
I've tried canning sausage, but—though it tastes fine—the meat has a tendency to lose its texture as a result of the extra cooking that's required. We prefer to freeze our sausage in one-pound packages. (Don't worry about sausage going bad in the freezer. It never lasts that long! In fact, the savory meat disappears so fast that, this year, we raised a whole hog just to grind up for sausage!)
Some Family Favorites
To make "Plain Ol' Country Sausage" which is about the simplest recipe to mix up—just combine 10 pounds of ground pork, 1/2 ounce of ground sage (if you're using homegrown spices, take it easy at first. We once accidentally made some incredibly hot sausage as a result of using "storebought" quantities of our garden sage), and 3 tablespoons each of salt and black pepper. (This is a good "get your feet wet" recipe for pork-patty beginners!)
"Gourmet Country Sausage", on the other hand, is a little more complicated, but the flavor of this sophisticated treat is worth the extra mixing involved! Begin, again, with 10 pounds of ground pork, then add 4 tablespoons of brown sugar (or honey), 3 tablespoons of salt, 8 tablespoons of ground sage, 2 tablespoons of black pepper, 2 teaspoons each of paprika and nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon of garlic salt.
Our "Hot Italian Sausage" (which can be spiced up a little at a time, and taste-tested as you go, until the mix reaches your family's preferred level of "authority") also begins with 10 pounds of ground pork. To produce a mealtime treat that's guaranteed to liven up your menus, add 3 tablespoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of fennel seed, 1 tablespoon each of red pepper and black pepper, 1 teaspoon each of paprika and garlic salt, and 1/2 ounce of ground sage.
Finally, should one of your family members (or a generous neighbor) happen to be a successful deer hunter, you might want to try our "Venison Sausage." Mix 7 pounds of lean ground deer meat with 3 pounds of ground fatty pork and any of the seasoning combinations we've suggested in our other (pork-based) recipes.
There you have it. I've long been surprised at the number of sausage-loving folks who rave over my homemade patties but believe that making the spicy treat is somehow a complicated ritual beyond the average person's grasp. If you were once such an individual, be grateful that you no longer have to limit your sausage eating to the lackluster preparations most often found on the supermarket meat counters. Good mixing ... and good eating!