On many occasions, my sausage has saved me from certain death. I was often unemployed during my Victorian residency. I didn’t really understand why until I read John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces earlier this year. The book was given to me by a good friend who said that as he read it, he felt that he was reading my biography. I soon discovered that the comparison was more insult than compliment; I am not a Boethian, I am not obese, and I… don’t live with my mother. But much like Ignatius Reilly, “employers sense in me a denial of their values… they fear me. I suspect they can see that I am forced to function in a century which I loathe.” And much like Ignatius Reilly, I have been forced to hawk sausages to earn my due.
When I packed my bags for Europe a month ago, many thought that I was insane to include a trusted meat grinder among my scant possessions. The grinder weighs about 10 pounds, and takes up a significant portion of my pack. Many articles of clothing have already been ripped upon the screw clamp that affixes the stainless steel beast to any table I deem sanitary and fit for sausage production. I estimate that I have lugged the thing around for over one thousand miles, and I don’t regret it an ounce.
My knack for knackwurst is preternatural. I have recently been rewriting and editing my first novel, and I came upon this passage, which does an adequate job of describing how fundamental sausage is to my being:
I remember my grandparents’ townhouse; the memories set there are among my most valuable intangible possessions. Full of colour, sound, flavour and texture, these memories have kept me company ever since my grandmother moved out in the winter of 1984 after my grandfather suddenly died. Their humble abode peered down at a small tributary of the Bow River on Calgary’s Northeast side; I make a pilgrimage to the spot every time I go back home.
In the basement of the townhouse was a pool table, so that’s where the men and the children spent most of our time. My grandfather had taken up the game in his retirement. He preferred eight ball to snooker; he was impossible to beat at both. But my uncle was stubborn and he called out, “let’s play again, dad!” every ten minutes or so when they were down there. The phrase became an unofficial mantra of the house.
I was too small to play. The cues were off limits to me and the other kids, so I resigned myself to playing with cubes of chalk instead; my fingertips were blue within minutes of descending those stairs.
I spent most of my time underneath the pool table. I watched the legs of my father, grandfather, and various uncles frantically circle ’round, only stopping momentarily to line up a shot. I tried to guess, based on the position of any given pair of legs, which of the pockets would quiver under the weight and velocity of polished ivory. In time, my predictions became pretty accurate.
Games of pool were often cut short by the aroma of sausage and fried potatoes which wafted down the wooden stairs— my grandmother’s unspoken call to dinner. Ours is a family which loves to eat. We were organic way before it became trendy to be organic; the men of the family were comprised of avid hunters, fisherman and farmers.
In the summer, our menu consisted mostly of jack-fish and rice. My grandfather left me an inheritance of rusty lures, betraying his longstanding love for his solitary sport. Grandpa loved to fish. The bow of his tin boat bounced upon the waves of nearly every lake in Albert. He ran his small outboard into the water.
Most of my grandfather’s lures were built with pike in mind, he called the fish “little sharks”. Grandpa Schnell’s legacy, a legacy of five-o-diamonds, jigs and plugs, along with several Bibles, was given to me, the youngest of his massive brood of grandchildren at the time of his death; I look at those lures, and bibles often.
When Winter came, it promised the smell of a different, less noxious form of flesh. From late October to Christmas day, a large sheet of plywood sat atop my grandfather’s pool table. The plywood, in turn, was covered with brown, waxed butcher paper, and served as a makeshift butcher’s block for the men.
That table bore the tremendous weight of Winter’s spoils: it miraculously transformed a multitude of deer, elk, moose and sometimes bear into roasts, steaks and sausage as the men loudly celebrated by singing hymns in both German and English.
I remained underneath that table. I collected the rare scraps of flesh that fell to the floor, and I rolled them between my thumb and index finger, breathing deeply the heady, wild fragrance. I remember marveling at how the grinders, bolted to the edge of that table, processed all that meat: spices were added and, combined with pork and fat, eaten raw to test the mix. I was not allowed to partake of this feast, for fear of sickness. My stomach wasn’t strong enough yet. But now, it is.
Today, I shall make about 30 pounds of sausage. The owners of the Air B and B in which I am staying have offered to evacuate the house for the afternoon, so I can have the run of their spacious kitchen. They have also offered to me the use of their smokehouse. My plan is to make as much chorizo as the town of Lyon can handle, and use the profits to fund my next adventure. Fingers crossed, and far from the yawning mouth of my ol’ trusty grinder!
Photo by the lovely and talented Skei Elliott-Morris