Making Homade Sausage

     My cousin called today to ask if I wanted to make any sausage this year. Last year was my first time to try this. It was great. My cousin was a meat cutter and has all the tools and the space at his place, plus he has a smoke house. I'd like to share this with you, for those who have never had this experience.
     First the meat is needed. My cousins hunt, so much of the sausage they make contains deer meat. I used beef and pork. My sausage is approximately 2/3 beef and 1/3 pork (50 # and 30# roughly) to which was added approximately 10 # fat. My meat was purchased from a local meat market, but family friends butcher their own beef and pork. I have never been present for butchering, not even when my Grandpa did, so I can't say much about that. I think they shot the animals, hung the animal from a stout branch and slit the throat to drain the blood. Blood was captured to make blood sausage, which I always refused to try as a kid. The animal was skinned and cut up. I remember my mom and aunts talking about having tongue, sweetbreads, brain, liver and head cheese. I don't remember these on my Grandmothers' table. and I would not have eaten them if they were. It used to be that the intestine was cleaned and sausage was stuffed in it. Now a natural casing is used and is edible.
    My cousin has a shed equipped with a cutting table, knives, water and stove, so that is where the action takes place. Meat is cut in to fairly small chunks with knives that are frequently sharpened. They cut through that meat so easily. My cousin checked for dullness, maybe 4 times before I finished cutting my meat - I now understand the term razor sharp and how chefs cut tomatoes so easily!
     Once meat is cut it's time to grind it into a fine hamburger-like consistency. The beef is ground separately, then ground a second time alternating beef, pork and fat. Then comes the seasoning and mixing. The spice mixture is a secret, even my cousin does not know it. His wifes' father "invented" the recipe and only he knew it until he passed the recipe on to one of his sons. It is now known to 2 people, one in my generation and one in the next. Only once have I tasted a summer sausage similar in taste, and curiously, it was from a butcher shop just 10 miles from my town!   So, spice mixture is sprinkled onto meat and mixed in really well. Ir is then checked for moisture. I was surprised how wet the meat is before stuffing. My cousin added probable 10 cups water to the meat mixture before he decided it was just right. It does work the arm muscles mixing that amount of meat. And I did it myself!
     The stuffing machine he uses is an antique! There are newer models available, but prefers the old one best.It was a 5 person job to stuff sausage. (There were 6 of us working that day, making sausage for 6 families. I had the least amount of meat by far! That's a lot of meat and work.)  One person loaded stuffer with meat mixture, one threaded casings on to nozzle through which meat exited, one wound stuffed sausage into a rope-like arrangement, one cut sausage into correct lengths, one hung sausage until my cousin took it to smokehouse.
     Meat was hung in smokehouse and smoked with hickory wood for 4 days. It was then hung in a cool shed, away from sun and animals for 3 weeks before I could bring it home. At my house, it was hung a further 2 weeks before it was dry enough to put in freezer. This is a cured sausage and the smoking further cures it, but we have always stored it in freezer.
     I have been calling this sausage, but mine was more like hot sticks. The sausage uses a different size casing that is much larger than the one I used. What I have is more the size of the round jerky sticks you see in stores.
     Needless to say, all of this is done in late fall so that the temperature is, hopefully, in the 40's. This weekend is one weekend of deer season, and probably in early December the next batch of sausage will be made.
     It used to be that several farm families from my mom' old stomping grounds used to get together for sausage making (and making hay and any other farm activity where many hands made light work). Now these families have "separated" and each is making sausage at their respective places. The last year it was a community affair, something like 2000# sausage was made in several different flavors, and several cows and hogs were butchered into steaks, etc.
     Still, at my cousins, we had 4 generations present. My mom and aunt, myself and my cousins, My cousins kids and grandkids. It was great seeing everyone working together and helping where and when needed. The 2 smallest ones present were just month old and slept through most of the "goings on". The next 2 had their own issues that day, as one cousin tried to shut the other in the smokehouse. Their grandpa had to keep a close eye on them! Good thing there was no wood smoking in there at the time.  And when we had the first batch of sausage done, we had lunch before starting the second batch. We worked until late afternoon. And, of course, then things had to be cleaned. But it's all part of it.
     I certainly do not know the nuances of sausage making. But I will try this again. Between myself and my cousins, we have quite a few recipes for different sausages. I think we will try several small batched of various recipes this year.
     One of the young women I work with and her family butcher their own meat. If you have never had farm raised beef or pork, I really recommend it. There is just something about knowing the farmer and how the animal was raised. And you know the meat is fresh-----as long as you trust the meat processor to return to you the same meat you brought in. Very important to get your own meat back - I know from experience that it does not always happen. But that's infrequent.
     Let me know your experiences with butchering or making your own sausage. I will post some recipes in a later post.