“The little pieces of meat, lean and fat, that had been cut off the large pieces, Ma chopped and chopped until it was all chopped fine. She seasoned it with salt and pepper and with dried sage leaves from the garden. Then with her hands she tossed and turned it until it was well mixed, and she molded it into balls. She put the balls in a pan out in the shed, where they would freeze and be good to eat all winter. That was the sausage.”
—Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House In The Big Woods
After our first two courses of graham bread with homemade butter and lettuce leaves with vinegar and sugar, we were served fried parsnips with homemade sausage. I am a fan of both parsnips and homemade sausage so I was looking forward to this dish, and Chef Clara did not disappoint.
The parsnips were pan-fried, had a light, nutty flavor, and went very well with the sausage. The sausage … well, in two words, oh my!
First, Chef Moore stayed true to the Little House recipe and chopped the pork by hand as the pioneers would have. That in and of itself is an impressive feat. Chuck and I grind a lot of our own meat for burgers or sausage using the grinder attachment for our KitchenAid Professional stand mixer (a kitchen tool I cannot live without), which makes light work of grinding meat. Grinding it by hand? I don’t think so!
The sausage itself was amazing … fresh and oh so “pork-y” … I could have easily eaten more. But, alas, we had more courses to go, and I’ll share the recipes for those in the upcoming days. Until then, I leave you with the recipes for fried parsnips with homemade sausage:
Large parsnips, 3 pounds, without tops
Flour, 1/2 cup
Salt and pepper, a pinch each
Butter, 4 to 6 tablespoons
1. Wash parsnips and trim off tails. Simmer in the kettle in water to cover for about 15 minutes, until a fork will just penetrate. Drain, scrape off skins with a table knife, and chill parsnips.
2. Slice the cool parsnips lengthwise in strips 1/8 inch thick. Season flour with salt and pepper, and dredge each strip in it. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in skillet until foamy, then add as many slices as will cover the pan bottom. Brown lightly for a few minutes; turn and cook through, about 10 minutes in all. Remove to warm platter. Repeat until all slices are cooked, adding butter to the skillet as needed.
3. At table these are best eaten with a sprinking of vinegar.
Makes 6 servings.
Pork, 2 pounds lean and 1 pound fat
Salt, 1 tablespoon
Pepper, 1 teaspoon
Dried sage, 1 tablespoon crumbled
1. Separate the lean and fat pork, using boning knife; cut both into 1-inch cubes. (Use bones for soup stock.) Keeping in mind the old slogan “blade sharp; meat cool,” sharpen your chopper and start to mince the cubes a few at a time. Put chopped fat in smaller bowl and chopped lean in larger one. Keep the bowl you’re not working on and unchopped cubes covered in refridgerator.
2. In the large bowl combine choppings, adding one part fat for every two parts of lean. Add seasoning. With hands that have been washed with unscented soap, blend the sausage and shape it in individual patties to freeze or to fry immediately.
3. To serve for breakfast, thaw frozen sausage in refridgerator overnight. Do not attempt to thaw or to cook by parboiling or you will have hard, flavorless cakes.
4. Brown sausage cakes in skillet for 4 to 6 minutes over medium-high heat. Turn and brown the other side. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and cook the cakes through for 15 to 20 minutes more. Pork should always be well cooked. Remove cakes to a warm platter.
5. For gravy, beat 2 tablespoons flour into 1 cup milk. Pour into the skillet over low heat and stir until it is thick and bubbly and the pan is scraped clean. Taste and correct seasoning.
Makes six servings.
The author of The Little House Cookbook notes that, “Almazo’s [Laura’s husband] mother would have poured the gravy right over the sausage cakes on the big blue platter, but we advise you to serve the grave separately. Although this lean sausage is well suited to modern tastes, the fat gravy may not be.”
Fat gravy? Yes, please.