Being a part of a generation who largely had traditions that go as far back as a Betty Crocker cookbook, how do we rebirth something that might be already lost? I gave it my best shot- by making the oldest living relative I had one of his favorite foods (kielbasa) and making changes every year until I came on a recipe he liked.
My grandfather comes the a kielbasa-loving community nestled in the Pocono Mountains in Eastern Pennsylvania. He would entice us as kids with stories about the autumn air smelling strongly of sausage from everyone’s backyard smokehouses and about his neighbors with long and fun Polish last names that always ended in -ski.
When I first started making sausage it seems appropriate to impress my grandfather with a batch of kielbasa for Christmas. I’ll always remember that dinner where excitedly I ask him what he thought of my sausage and he said- “Needs more garlic. And it’s a little dry.”
Fair enough, I thought, the challenge was now set though. I became determined to come up with a kielbasa he loved. And when that happened I’d hold on to that recipe and it would become our newest family heirloom.
The following year with much improved smoking technique I took my refined sausage to Christmas and it placed it on the table where it shared center stage with a lighter colored sausage bought at a small butchershop in his hometown. I watched him take a little bit of both sausages as he loaded up his plate, ate them both, and went for seconds with the other sausage. I asked him later what he thought of my kielbasa and he said nonchalantly, “Needs more garlic.”
My father tried to console me by saying, “Oh he’s getting old and is probably loosing his tastebuds.” But I wasn’t convinced. I believed that our Grandpa whose been eating kielbasa his whole life simply knows what’s good, even if he did lose his tastebuds.
It took two more years but finally the year came. I had over a thousand pounds of sausage-making under my belt and felt great about my smoking abilities and my seasoning ratios. Except, to be sure, despite the amount of garlic that’s been rising annually I went all in and doubled it. Dropping it on the table for Christmas dinner I watched him take a small piece and eat it up. Then he made a beeline for more. And that’s how I knew I’d done it.
Later that evening my brother, who tried to stick up for me and my sausage every year asked what Grandpa thought of the kielbasa. He looked up and softly said as he does, “Yeah. Good.”
The thing about tradition though is that I don’t believe it’s as stagnant as it sounds. Now with the heirloom recipe in place it was time to make it my own. I was already using a friend’s farmed pork and we eventually made sure to grow enough garlic to save as our sausage garlic. This is the first year however that we got marjoram established well enough at our farm to really make it the recipe our own. It’s a tiny step but that’s how these things go- just a little bit, a year at a time.
Not having to buy marjoram from a store has added a whole new dimension and feeling to the sausage. So excited about it I naturally went a little overboard. It’s possible someone might say this year at Christmas- “Good, but a little herby.”
But that’s okay. I did it on purpose.
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