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Sausage making a longstanding tradition
By MARY KAY RAUMA
For The Beachcomber
The next two weeks are probably the most tradition-rich of the entire year. In our family, the e-mails usually start to fly about two weeks before Christmas.
“When and who would like to make Swedish Potato Sausage?” my dad asks.
The sausage-making crew has dwindled over the years, but, bless his heart, my dad is always willing to order the casing from the Scandinavian butcher along with ground beef, pork, potatoes and onions that make up the recipe that his family, the Olsons, have been making for generations.
I do need to pause and point out that we are in fact of Norwegian heritage, not Swedish. But I think the fact that we make Swedish sausage makes us all the more Norwegian, don’t ya know?
We usually like to invite some unsuspecting guests to join us for our holiday sausage-making. It’s always easy to reel in enthusiastic participants. After all, it sounds so romantic to make sausage from the old country.
Anyone who actually pauses to think about what makes sausage sausage should realize they are in for a very “earthy” experience. But somehow there is always that person who is horrified when the pig casing comes out.
Preparing the pig casing for sausage making was always my favorite job. My dad would set me up at the kitchen sink with the tapeworm-like pile of casing. I would proceed to pull one end of each intestine strand over the end of the faucet and turn on the water full bore.
It was great fun watching the wrinkled strand expand and writher to life. I think it was at about this stage in the sausage making process the year that my visiting Aunt Sue had to excuse herself to her bedroom.
I was 10 years old, and it was the first time I realized that our holiday tradition was sort of gross. After taking a moment to feel bad for playing a part in my aunt’s nausea, I returned to the task at hand with no less enthusiasm.
Before the age of the Cuisinart, we had to grind up pound after pound of potatoes and onions in my grandmother’s old hand-crank grinder as tears poured down our faces.
Now, this process takes a few flicks of a button. Next, my dad sets out two enormous wooden bowls and tosses in the potatoes, onions, ground pork and beef, salt and pepper. The only way to properly mix all of this is with 10 digits immersed in the cold mass for a good five minutes of squishing.
At about this stage, my dad offers up small glasses of Akvavit to our visitors (many of whom are panicking not so much about the gory process, but the fact that they may have to eat what they are making).
Akvavit is just the cure to their impending panic. Also known by Aquavit or Akevitt and is derived from the Latin aqua vitae, “the water of life.” It’s a Scandinavian spirit distilled from potato or grain and flavored with herbs like caraway, anise and fennel.
When you are at an “old word sausage-making party” Akvavit tastes particularly good and provides the perfect delusional glow required for the final stage of sausage making.
The sausage maker we use is an antique (patented July 6, 1858) that looks like a big steel boot with a tube sticking out the front toe.
One person holds up the steel arm attached to a round disk the shape of the “boot” interior. Another person stuffs the meat mixture down the boot. Yet another person sits at the “toe” and stuffs casing over the tube. This last person drives the momentum of the whole operation.
They make certain that air in the tube is released and the casing is tied-off before giving the green light to the team. “OK, go!” they shout (all right, not everyone shouts, just me; I can’t help myself).
The lever operator begins to slowly pull down and a disgusting squishing sound begins as meat pushes into the casing until the load of meat is exhausted and a foot-long strand of sausage is tied off.
It’s at this point that the Akvavit really pays off because most of our guests start to laugh uncontrollably (as opposed to running for the toilet).
I could stoop very low and share some analogies with you as to what the sausage looks like at this stage, but I’m too old for that now. (My mom and dad are good-humored enough to realize that this is part of the appeal of sausage making for the younger generation, and they get a kick out of the jokes and fun the kids have with the sausage maker in between takes).
We usually like to cook some sausage up right there on the spot. The giant earthworm links are boiled for about 20 minutes and browned under the broiler for eight minutes on each side.
And you know what? It is really good! Even our guests love it, despite having witnessed its creation. The kids like to roll it up in Lefsa with lingonberries like a Scandanavian burrito.
My dad likes to send our visitors off with a Ziploc bag of sausage for their freezer.
I always feel so proud of our sausage making survivors — watching them stumble off into the night, clutching their bag full of giant earthworms.
“Happy Holidays,” my dad shouts. “Next time, we’ll make Lutefisk!”
— Mary Kay Rauma is The Beachcomber’s advertising representative.