This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 8, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
Back in the old days in the small rural Texas town where I grew up, appropriately named “Dime Box,” you could buy “hot guts” and a slice of bread at one of the beer joints. You could also buy a couple slices of salami, bologna, or summer sausage at Millie’s Grocery Store and eat them on the spot with a handful of free crackers.
Most folks, like my parents and grandparents, butchered hogs in the wintertime and made several kinds of sausage to last the rest of the year.
Because of those experiences, it’s hard to imagine my life without sausage, as the experiences have had a lasting effect on me.
When I’m hungry, which one of those different kinds of sausage do I think of first, because that’s the one I like the best? The answer: summer sausage. It does seem odd, however, that my first choice is one of the sausages I don’t know how to make myself.
In googling “summer sausage,” I found that people who do make their own summer sausage have to really know what they are doing, as it requires fermentation with an F-LC culture to keep it safe from Listeria. Fermenting actually makes it taste better, as does smoking it for many hours and adding pink salt (which further prevents bacteria from growing). As a fairly safe meat, farmers could take summer sausage with them to the fields in the old days before refrigerators and abundant ice. I don’t ever remember having summer sausage for lunch in the cotton field, but I do remember eating cured and smoked ham that was pretty close to jerky.
My second most favorite sausage is “head sausage,” and I have helped to make that. Head sausage must not be confused with “head cheese” (which I do not know how to make). My family would first cook the meat for the sausage in a huge kettle, and then, after grinding and stuffing it in the large intestines and the stomach of the porcine, they would cook the encased sausage again in the kettle. I think you have to grow up eating head sausage or you will never like it. My children wouldn’t even go near it.
Growing up a country boy gives you a different perspective on what is good to eat and what is not. Growing up inland, and in the country, I had never seen anyone eat raw oysters until I was in college. To this day, I cannot imagine anything more disgusting than eating raw oysters, which my college friends (and my father-in-law) liked! I guess it’s only fair turn about for my friends to gag at my eating head sausage. However, my father-in-law would eat just about anything! Including 5-alarm Cajun gumbo!
Akin to some of the sausage we made and liked is chorizo, which can be made with either raw or cooked pork. When folks in Mexico season it with spices and chili peppers, and even jalapeno, it resembles what we called “hot guts.” I used to like chorizo and hot guts, but my stomach didn’t, so they’re not on my chosen sausage list. Also not on my chosen list is summer sausage made with huge amounts of black pepper. My favorite brand of summer sausage has no black pepper in it at all. If summer sausage were only available glutted with black pepper, I would either learn to make my own or suffer the consequences of the glutting!
Indeed, we all have our food preferences, often to a passionate degree, and I say, to each his own. But for me, it’s hard to imagine life without sausage.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, and a retired LCMS pastor, and the author of two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies.