About this time of year, when late-summer heat turns my garden a dismal shade of blah, I develop an incurable condition called “fall fever.” It’s an affliction of the mind, and I have it bad.
August is grinding along like an old clunky furnace, but my thoughts have drifted elsewhere. I’m dreaming of the cool, crisp air that’s right around the corner. I’m dreaming of fall colors, spiced apple cider, crockpot suppers and pumpkins everywhere.
I haven’t swapped out my summer wardrobe for scarves and sweaters just yet, but I have started preparing my kitchen for fall cooking. We’ll soon be ditching our guacamole, grilled citrus chicken and watermelon salsa in favor of heartier fare, like root veggies, potatoes, pork chops and other stick-to-the-ribs stuff.
One of our favorite cool-weather staples is the almighty sausage. You really can’t beat it for flavor, variety and simplicity. On busy fall evenings, I’ll grab a few sausages out of the freezer, stir them up with some zucchini, mushrooms, onions, olive oil and herbs de provence, and voila! We have a delicious meal on the table in less than 20 minutes.
Sausage is sort of a perfect protein when made with care. But be on your guard: there are a lot of bad actors out there. Most of the mass-produced sausage you’ll find in the grocery store is loaded with corn syrup, MSG and crazy amounts of salt. In other words, not something you’d want to feed your family. But if you can find a good supplier, you can enjoy a wonderful variety of artisanal sausages that are packed with flavor and wholesome ingredients.
Earlier this month, my mom, sister and I took a sausage-making class at The Local Pig to learn just what goes into these tasty tubes of deliciousness. We came away with three important lessons:
Lesson 1: Sausage should be made from quality, freshly ground meat—typically pork. It shouldn’t be made from scraps that are barely fit for human consumption. Insist on quality ingredients in your sausage, and if you don’t know whether the ingredients are high-quality, don’t buy it.
Lesson 2: Sausage should be flavored with seasonings, not salt. Salt doesn’t actually add flavor. It enhances flavor. But if you add too much salt, you won’t taste anything else. Next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up a package of Johnsonville brats and look at the nutrition facts. You’ll likely see 600+mg of sodium per sausage. That’s insane. Put it back on the shelf, back away slowly and then run in the opposite direction.
Lesson 3: Sausage is easy to make. Really! We had about a dozen people in our class at The Local Pig, and in just over an hour, we made 4 varieties of sausages—enough for everyone to take home and enjoy. Now, you do need a sausage stuffer contraption, but there are LOTS of options available at all different price points, so don’t let that deter you.
Here’s a quick photo tour of our sausage-making class to give you an idea of the process:
First, we measured all our seasonings (while consuming Boulevard Pale Ale, of course). Our ingredients included fresh nutmeg, which has the most glorious fragrance. Nutmeg in a shaker is fine, but freshly ground is best.
Other ingredients in the brats we prepared included salt (not too much!), ginger powder, eggs, cream and Bully Porter beer. While we were whipping up the brats, our fellow classmates were preparing roasted garlic and rosemary sausage, fresh breakfast sausage and chorizo. Yummmmm...
Second, we mixed the ingredients into the freshly ground pork. A gentleman in our group offered up his large and nimble hands for mixing everything together. He worked the mixture like a loaf of bread—kneading, kneading, kneading until all was combined to perfection.
Third, we loaded the mixture into a sausage stuffing contraption and squeezed it into collagen casings. I really wish I had a picture of the actual machine, which was a hand-crank style and very simple. But alas, I have only the finished product of our work, which was a looooooooong tube of sausage that snaked all over the table. Beautiful stuff.
Finally, we twisted the sausage into links about 6-8" long. You just start at one end and start twisting, working in the opposite direction every other link so you don't undo your previous twist.
Once we had the links twisted, we cut them apart and stacked them up. That was it! Easy, easy, easy. And so very tasty.
My mom, sister and I are already planning a sausage-making fest this fall, and I can't wait. We'll be loading up our freezers with several varieties of sausages that our families can enjoy through winter and beyond.
If you'd like to try your hand at homemade sausage but need a little schooling, check out the sausage-making class at The Local Pig. They are fantastic people and teach you everything you need to know. Plus, they provide free beer and a delicious Rueben sandwich, so you really can't go wrong. :)