Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Stuffing Sausage: Matanza Day 2

By the second day of the matanza, the crew is showing signs of wear. Children are over-excited and sleep deprived. We missed much of the festivities the night before when our own daughter melted down for lack of sleep. Fireworks were canceled because of high winds. Some of the crew are feeling the effects of too much merry making.

The good news: we are way ahead of schedule. Six pigs have all been killed and butchered. Most of the meat has been carved. What remains is to package and organize the finer cuts, and turn the rest into sausages.

In past years, this was no easy chore. The group was using the most rudimentary of equipment. All of the sausage meat, for instance, was ground in a small Cuisinart in the farmhouse kitchen. "We had to throw bags of ice on the Cuisinart to cool it down," said Christine Bergmark.

One of the matanza participants, Bob Feldhaus, has solved that problem. Feldhaus operates a pet store in nearby Leonardtown with friend Ronnie Frederick. Both are frequent visitors to the farm to help process venison. They are avid sausage makers. This year Feldhaus has purchased a commercial-grade meat grinder and a Cabela brand sausage extruder that holds several gallons of meat.

Most of the "volunteer" help has departed. Now it is down to the matanza shareholders: Brett and Chris, Bobby and Ronnie and Rusty and Karen, two former neighbors from a time when the farmer-wife team lived in Arlington. For some reason, the men gravitate toward the heavy equipment, while the women begin vacuum packing and sorting the meat. I have cleaned the bathtub in the walk-in refrigerator. Now the hams and bacon slabs are curing under layers of kosher salt. I join Bobby at the sausage making station.

There has been extensive chatter and deliberation over what kind of sausages to make and which recipes to use. One of the sources the group relies on is Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by a fellow named Rytek Kutas. Kutas, a man of simple tastes and straightforward opinions, advocates a husband and wife team for making "up to 100 pounds" of sausage a day. His recipes call for quantities no smaller than 25 pounds of meat.

This year the matanza group has decided on 7 different types of susage: Kielbasa, Italian, Sicilian, Hungarian, chorizo, breakfast patties and a "mystery" blend. Actually, two kinds of chorizo sausage emerged when one faction declared that the recipe did not have enough heat. The mix was split in half and some of Brett's incendiary homemade Tabasco sauce, along with red pepper flakes, were added to jack up the heat quotient.

To season the sausages, Bobby has brought bags of spices mail-ordered from Detroit: fennel, marjoram, paprika. After the meat has been pressed through the grinder, and after the seasonings are added, Rusty, a carpenter by trade, itches to apply his half-inch drill. The drill holds a three-foot-long mixing tool that makes child's play out of blending the meat and spices in a large plastic tub.

From there, the meat makes its way to Bobby's big Cabela extruder. Bobby's hands are practically numb from handling the cold meat. Wearing a pair of bright blue, neoprene gloves, I pitch in to keep the extruder loaded. Bobby slips a sausage casing onto the extruder. As he pulls down on the extruder's handle, the meat is forced into the casings forming one long, long sausage. I guide the finished sausage to prevent any tangles or pile-ups. As the hours pass, we cover several plastic-lined tabletops with the different varieties of sausages, about 300 pounds in all. They are laid out in long coils to dry. Later, we will twist the sausages into smaller links before cutting them into lots of five and vacuum packing them for distribution to the matanza members.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, chef Jeffrey Heineman is hunched over a small Cuisinart, making filling for his jumbo hot dogs. The meat for hot dogs must be finely ground and emulsified. Once in their casings, the dogs are then poached slowly in a water bath in the oven.

The work, the cold, the long cocktail hours--all are taking a toll. I yearn for a nap. It's just about this point that Brett taps me to join him in one of his two greenhouses to "pick bones." The bones from the butchering operation had been placed in a huge kettle and simmered the day before. Now we get to pull a couple of milk crates up to the kettle, sit in the warmth of the greenhouse and sort through the bones for bits of meat that can be used in sauces and possibly scrapple.

I am happy to pass an hour with Brett this way, sitting and picking. We talk about the business of farming. We gab about the huge rains that fell last June, about tomato blight, the fungus that killed my squashes, planting seeds early, and whether my collards will come back from last month's snow and ice storm.

For lunch, I return to the house and help my wife prepare a platter of fresh hot dogs wrapped in baguettes. Chef Heineman has not used any nitrates in the meat, so the dogs, pink at first, look more like weisswurst--a pale greyish tan--once they are cooked. But the flavor is still there. We savor them with mustard and chopped onion and a cup of beer from Brett's keg.

When it is finally time to go, Brett points to a large cardboard box containing our reward for helping: two large, bone-in loin roasts, a slab of ribs, two pint-sized bags of breakfast sausage and an assortment of sausage links. Not a bad haul. Thanks, Brett and Christine. We had a great time.


MA said...

Dear Ed and Family,

That is one hell of an article/blog post and I am so glad to be one of your readers. Amen, bro! Tell it like it is! People have no flippin idea how much work goes into the food on their table.

That sausage looks incredible. And you are all to be commended for such a great and humane job. I truly wish I could have been there.

Have you ever made a Southern Maryland Stuffed ham? I will make one at Easter and think of you. I have one that supposedly originated at the Sotterly Plantation down by Lexington Park.

Have a great week. Thanks so much for writing about the matanza.

Ed Bruske said...

Thanks, MA, for being a reader and for your generous response to these lengthy posts about the matanza. I have had absolutely no luck interesting our traditional local media in this story, which leads me to conclude that this aspect of our food chain--e.g. where our food actually comes from--holds very little fascination for food editors. I wonder if it is just the editors, or if they correctly read the mindset of the reading public as being completely ambivalent about where our food comes from.
If you read all three matanza chapters, then I commend you for there are a lot of words. But I thought it was important to document this and other kinds of food events that take place out of the spotlight but are so important to maintaining food traditions and the hands-on production of wholesome, local foods.
Regarding stuffed ham, I did have it one year many years ago but I did not make it. A relation purchased the ham. Will yours be a corned ham? Please let me know how this goes and what sources you use for making your ham.
Rock on!

Kevin said...

I agree with Ma, this was a great series -- reminded me of the FoxFire books.

I made Italian sausage yesterday afternoon. It's ok, but not great. I'm still wandering around in the dark on sausage spicing.

Ed Bruske said...

Thanks for tuning in, Kevin. That's great that you are making sausages. Do you have Bruce Aidell's sausage book? What are you using for a reference? The book I mentioned in the piece is considered the world authority on sausage making. It's about $50 used on Amazon. But there are others. I would be agressive with the spices. We always fried some up and tasted it before putting it in the casings. Let me know if you need any more guidance.

MA said...

Ed, me again. Mary Ann in Boise. I read every single word of the matanza articles. I also commend you for showing the guy with the rifle. This is not a pretty process but it is humane when handled as it was by your group.

Next time you are in Lexington Park, go by one of the smaller grocery stores. In the deli section they often have Stuffed Ham and Stuffed Ham Sandwiches. Give it a whirl.

Ed Bruske said...

Mary Ann, you certainly are a brave soul to wade through all those words. Other commentors have also referred to the stuffed ham issue, but so far I haven't had anyone chime in about corned ham or stuffed corned ham. And my recollection is the last time I had a Southern Maryland ham it was a corned ham. Anyone out there care to add to this discussion?

MA said...

Ed, it was a corned ham. Now, I think that refers to a method of salting and smoking it. I am going to have to go through my boxes of recipes to find my notes. Will take you step by step through the process when I get there.

Ed Bruske said...

I believe Maryland corned ham is done similarly to corned beef, meaning some time spent in an aromatic brine...