Sausages and Laws*

This was gong to be a straightforward post about my first attempt at making sausage, but I realized that I was engaging in Urban Homesteadingâ„¢, a term that is the center of a ridiculous trademark infringement claim by the Devraes family of Pasadena, California. They have been sending DCMA takedown notices to online groups using what they claim is their trademarked term, even though there are many instances of prior use. Who knew that all of my canning and curing, – even my home cooking and baking –  were criminal acts? I was Urban Honesteadingâ„¢ before they were, so I magnanimously offer up my prior claim to the world at large. You’re welcome.

When I first moved to my neighborhood, I spent a lot of time walking around and checking out all of the local stores. I discovered Capone Foods right away, but noticed that there was no sausage available. Al, the owner, explained “You can get sausage down the street. We have an agreement: I won’t sell sausage, and they won’t sell cheese.”

“Down the street” turned out to be Candelino’s Market, a run-down Italian grocery that had seen better days. They did make their own sausage, prepared by signore Candelino himself. His grandson eventually took over, using the family sausage recipe, but he couldn’t keep the store from failing. After a respectful mourning period, Capone’s began selling excellent sausage, preventing me from having to settle for the junk sold in supermarkets.

My first attempt at curing required the purchase of sodium nitrate, which I obtained from The Sausage Maker. That put me on their mailing list, which in turn resulted in the quarterly arrival of a catalog full of materials that could be used for producing meat in tube form. The power of suggestion finally got to me, so, armed with my trusty copy of Charcuterie, I set about to violate the terms of the Capone-Candelino treaty.

I had all the ingredients in the Belm Utility Research Kitchen and the Deep Storage Facility: four pounds of pork butt (cut into one-inch dice), a pound of pork back fat (cut into one-inch dice), forty grams of kosher salt, thirty two grams of sugar, twelve grams of minced garlic, sixteen grams of toasted fennel seeds, six grams of ground black pepper, sixteen grams of sweet paprika, 185 milliliters of ice water, and sixty milliliters of chilled red wine vinegar.

I tossed tossed the meat and fat together with all of the dry ingredients and put them in the fridge. It’s vital that everything is as cold as possible; it prevents the fat from smearing into the meat.

Sausage is stuffed into hog casings, which are packed in salt for long-term storage.

I has to measure out about ten feet of casing and soak it overnight in cold water to remove the excess salt and make it pliable. That required my teasing out a single strand from this mess, a process not unlike unraveling yarn:

After an overnight soak, the casing was ready.

I set up my grinding station, which consisted of my KitchenAid stand mixer with a pre-chilled grinder attachment, a metal mixing bowl set in a bowl of ice, and the “pusher,” which would be used to push the meat into the grinder.

I started grinding and pushing, and, sure enough, cold ground pork came out the other end. (It worked much better with raw meat than it did with cooked pumpkin.) I had to stop once to clear some sinew out of the grinder disc, but after that the grinding went smoothly.

I removed the grinder, attached the mixing paddle, and mixed the ground pork, water, and vinegar together until the mixture was sticky.

I made a small patty of the mix, sautéed it, and tested it to check the seasoning. It didn’t need adjusting, in fact, I had all I could do to keep from turning the whole bowl into sausage patties.

I chilled the mix, cleaned out and reattached the grinder – which would now be used as a stuffer, and turned my attention back to the hog casing, which I had to thread onto the stuffing tube. You would think that an adult male would have some experience with this process, but no amount of prior prowess prepares you for threading twelve feet of tubing onto five inches of shaft. She Who Must Be Obeyed suggested keeping the tube submerged and full of water, this had the effect of inflating the casing, which was soon bunched onto the tube. (How did she know to do that? I won’t ask.)

The tube was attached to the end of the grinder  (minus the cutting die – the internal screw would push the filing into the casing), the casing was tied off at the free end, and we began stuffing. She Who struggled mightily to force the ground pork into the grinder, but was soon thwarted by a poor design choice: the “pusher” didn’t fit the feed tube tightly enough, resulting in meat overflowing out and up the tube. Since I was taller and would have more leverage, we switched positions: I fed the meat into the stuffer, and She Who handled the sausage. We got He Who Will Not Be Ignored to take this photo:

Once we figured out the timing, the rest of the stuffing didn’t take very long. In about half an hour we had a tray full of sausage and an entire day’s worth of sexual innuendo.

I measured out and twisted the sausage into six-inch links:

I separated the sausage into six-link bundles, froze two of them, and put the other two in the fridge. One batch became that evening’s dinner, the next batch was cooked with red wine and porcini mushrooms and served with polenta cakes.

It took about four hours from start to finish, but a lot of that time was fiddling with the stuffer. When – not if – I do this again, She Who has already approved the purchase of a professional stuffer, which will speed up the process.

When I told my mom that I had made sausage at home, she told me that her mother (one of a generation of Urban Hometeadersâ„¢) made sausage two or three times a month. I may not ever make that much, but I have many possibilities to consider. The next time I’ll try something smoked, which will make my Polish/Austrian better half happy.

* “Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” Commonly misattributed to Otto von Bismarck, but first stated in print by John Godfrey Saxe in The Daily Cleveland Herald (29 March 1869).

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