Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
Meantime…in the kitchen…pork casings are washed and separated and put into individual cups filled with water. The cups are a Society trick to keep the casings ready to go!!! Did I say it looked fairly disgusting? Not to mind. One gets de-sensitized relatively quickly. It’s like untangling tangled spaghetti!!!
Back in the garage…the meat has been ground and separated. Now it is time to divide up these pans of pure pork ecstasy. Judge Mary determined that it would be easier to divide the pork into equal parts prior to stuffing the casings so those who have contributed to the cause…in this case about $20.00 each…will be sure to get their money’s worth.
To accomplish this task…I kid you not…they bring out the electronic bathroom scale. After eyeballing the division, the individual ground pork subdivisions are weighed. It seemed to be working out just fine until someone mentioned they forgot to weigh the pan and somehow that would throw off the calculations. Then the scale stopped working because the weight of the pork and the pan was insufficient to make the electronic register…well…register. Not to worry. The solution is simple. One of the members would stand on the scale without a pan of ground pork, then with pan of ground pork, and that would get the ultimate measurement. Works for me!!
Of course pre-divided batches of ground pork mean they would have to divide the spices down to match the size of each of the batches. That was a group project with each of the members huddled around the measuring bowl subdividing a cup of salt into smaller cups of salt???? What is a third divided by a half divided by a quarter? But it all worked out. Muzzy wasn’t there to complain about the garlic.
It's mix-it-up time!!!! In goes the meat. In go the spices. Mix it around the hopper for a while…maybe grab another piece of breakfast pizza. And you have the makings of the best sausage in the Valley. Well…not just yet. A sample of each batch had to be fried up…then tasted…then toasted with some homemade red wine. Salute.
I will skip the part about the loading of the casings onto the sausage extruder. After all, this is a bunch of guys. I learned that if you push the sausage squisher down too far, too fast, with insufficient sausage being squished…the casings fill with air. Not a good thing. I also learned you can blow a casing and the sausage comes squishing out. Also not a good thing. It also explains a few other things…like little cousin Vito. Like I said…this is a bunch of guys.
Several hours and breakfast pizzas later…the intrepid band of sausage makers complete their assigned tasks. Another annual sausage event conquered. The best sausage in the Valley is now wrapped and ready to be bought home like hunters bringing home the kill of the day. A proud moment to be shared by all.
If sausage was the goal, this was a success. But as in all things in life, while it is great to reach the destination…it is the journey that is the fun. Such is the case with the Mahoning Valley Exalted Order of Highly Ethnic Saturday Morning Sausage Makers. At the end of the day, even if it had turned out badly like Muzzy’s super garlicky concoction of yesteryear, it wouldn’t matter. It’s the experience in my friend Steve’s garage, with family and friends and breakfast pizza and stories and wine and Mary’s folder, that is important.
Life is good.
Mark G. Mangie
One of the great things about living in the Mahoning Valley is how we celebrate food. This is serious business. Folks take pride in their abilities to make the food they enjoyed as children. It is more than “recipes”. We’re not talking baking a cake or frying up a pork chop. This is hardcore…the nitty gritty of maintaining culinary traditions. These are local foodies raised to the level of competition. Who makes the best homemade wine? Who makes the best pepperoni? Who makes the best sausage?
Last Christmas I visited my friend Steve DeGenaro to find out how he celebrates Christmas. Steve is a gourmand in every sense of the word. During our visit Steve enumerated a list of his food making abilities and traditions. I asked that when the next “event” occurred if he would call me so I could watch. I got the call last week!!!!
Steve makes sausage...lots and lots of sausage. For those of us who grew up in the Valley, that is not unusual. My grandmother and grandfather made sausage. They got a little bit of meat and some spices and casings…and they were off to the races. But for Steve…he MAKES SAUSAGE!!! It’s a major production done once each year in the winter…in his garage…to help keep the meat cold.
And he doesn’t do it alone. He has a posse…a hardy bunch of brave souls who show up annually to carry on the tradition. From Italians to Croations to Slovaks this is a true Youngstown mix of ethnicity, talent, and lots and lots of conversation. Everybody in Youngstown loves conversation. Overseeing it all is Steve’s wife Mary who happens to also be a judge on our local Circuit Court of Appeals. She has a folder which holds all the secrets of this Mahoning Valley “society.” Everything from how much meat to use to the type and amount of seasoning…not that there is any agreement on any of it from those so blessed to participate.
The morning starts with coffee and breakfast pizza. Mom and Dad DeGenaro make pizza at St. Anthony’s in Brier Hill every Friday. This year’s festivities started with an egg pizza topped with sausage…and lots of conversation about past sausage making experiences. Yes…there was time Muzzy got mad because they didn’t use enough garlic so he added his own to the mix. When does it cease being sausage and morph into Kielbasa? Now the Society knows!!! Muzzy doesn’t add garlic anymore. They don’t have to worry about it this year anyway. Muzzy is missing in action.
After breakfast each of the members are assigned various tasks. Judge Mary, folder in hand, makes the determination. Who is de-boning the meat? Who is separating the casings? Who is weighing the meat? It is all very scientific.
Sitting out in the garage is a monster machine that seems to take it both ends…wait a minute…that didn’t come out right. Long tables are stretched out with the machine positioned just right. Make sure the legs are level or you’ll strip the gears. This end needs to be higher. No, it needs to be lower. Unscrew the leg. Screw it back up. Make this table higher than the next table so the meat goes down. No, put it back the way it was. I ate another slice of breakfast pizza and poured myself a cup of coffee.
Behind the machine are pans of beautiful pork butt and shoulder waiting to be deboned. Seventy-seven pounds of pork as the carver begins to slice the meat off the bone rendering about sixty-six pounds of boneless pork. All agreed that the Society butcher did an outstanding job of slicing and dicing. He should be given an award.
Next comes the grinding. The chunked pork is processed through the machine and separated out into pans. It is massaged and patted down. It’s a beautiful thing.
(Pictured above L-R: Bob Gabrick, Steve DeGenaro, Josh Prest, Stephen Michael DeGenaro, Timothy Komara, Gerry Ricciutti, Stefano DeGenaro)
The Mahoning Valley Exalted Order of
Highly Ethnic Saturday Morning Sausage Makers