I can’t be the only person whose mom wouldn’t let her buy the box set of Alvin Schwartz’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” from the Scholastic Book Fair. I know I’m also not the only person who sat on the floor in a dark corner of the school library and devoured them during recess when mom was nowhere in sight. Now tell me, did any of you, after tossing and turning for weeks, regret not heeding your mother’s advice as much as I did? These books are truly, gut-twistingly terrifying—even as an adult they send chills down my spine. I was in agony after I read them as a kid, too afraid to sleep, but even more afraid to go into my mom’s room and tell her why I was so scared. Stephen Gammell’s illustrations are nightmarish—scratchy black and white renderings of screaming mouths and gaping eye-sockets—it’s no wonder the Scary Stories series has made it onto the banned and challenged book lists year after year. To celebrate the books’ 30th anniversary, Scholastic -re-released the books in 2011 with new illustrations by Brett Helquist and fans of the series put up a huge fuss, saying that the illustrations were nearly more important than the stories themselves.
While it’s certainly true that Gammell’s illustrations were a vital part of scaring me to my core, Schwartz’s stories were definitely no walk-in-the-park. The stories are short and to the point—the point being scaring the bajeezus out of you—and have the feeling of a folk-story, or a story told by a cruel grandmother before bedtime. They leave you unsure of whether you want to hear more or wish you had never heard any at all. To me, the scariest story, the one I read over and over again, was “Wonderful Sausage,” from More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. In the story, a “fat jolly butcher” named Samuel Blunt has an argument with his wife over money. Rather than talk about it like adults, Blunt decides to grind her up and stuff her into a sausage–totally logical. “Blunt mixed his new sausage meat with pork, then seasoned it with salt and pepper, added some sage and thyme and a bit of garlic. To give it a special flavor, he smoked it in his smokehouse for a while. He called it ‘Blunt’s Special Sausage.’” The grossest part about this story, is that people go crazy for the sausage, they can’t get enough of it! Blunt’s special sausage is in such high demand, that he has to start raising his own hogs and killing local children just to keep up. Blunt is eventually found out when one of his victims escapes, and the townspeople descend upon him, but that was of no comfort to me.
After reading this story (and reading it, and re-reading it again), I refused to eat the sausage we got from my grandfather’s shop for months because I was so afraid of what was in them. Rumors about the nasty bits that go into sausages and hot dogs have circulated forever, and while I’m sure that some of them are unfortunately true, the sausages I make at work on a daily basis are made only of good meat, garlic and spices. Every time I teach a sausage-making class I realize that this fear is still very much alive in people. There is always at least one student who asks if ground pork is really all we put in our sausage, or if behind closed doors, we’re throwing in guts and eyeballs and hooves.
If you follow my Instagram feed you already know that I’ve got a pretty serious thing going on with sausage (photo-evidence below). I spend a good portion of my work-week mixing and stuffing and linking and trying to come up with new recipes. What I find so great about this story is that Blunt’s sausage-spicing is really lovely and classic—you know, if you can overlook the whole human-meat part. Garlic, sage, thyme, salt and pepper go beautifully together, so I barely had to do any work besides figuring out what ratios I wanted to use and whether or not I wanted to smoke it. I decided to keep it unsmoked, to make it easier for all of you at home. I added some crushed red pepper flakes for color and kick, and some white wine for acid. The resulting sausage was absolutely delicious. It makes a great savory breakfast sausage and is also great crumbled into pasta with artichokes and lots of good parmesan, or cooked alongside leafy greens like kale and spinach. The flavor is really versatile, so have fun with it. I know that a lot of you don’t have a sausage-stuffer, but that’s okay! These sausages can be pattied and pan fried, or crumbled up and cooked. If you want to try stuffing, though, I made a video for you to help you with the stuffing process and described each step below.
Blunt’s Special Sausage
Makes 12-14 ¼-pound sausage links or patties
1 hog casing, flushed (ask your butcher for size 29/32 mm)
5 pounds ground pork shoulder, chilled (or any ground pork with a 70% lean to 30% fat ratio–shoulder is always the best)
11 grams garlic, ground to a paste in a mortar and pestle
35 grams salt
15 grams freshly-ground black pepper
2 grams rubbed sage
5 grams fresh thyme leaves, chopped
4 grams red pepper flakes
¼ cup dry white wine, chilled
¼ cup ice water
If you have a sausage stuffer and you are going to link your sausage, rise out your casing by attaching one of the openings to the nozzle of your sink, filling it up (like a water balloon!), and flushing the water out. Set the casing aside in a bowl of warm water to soak while you make your sausage.
Next, add pork to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer running on speed one, add garlic and mix until incorporated throughout the meat. Add salt, pepper, sage, thyme, and red pepper flakes and mix for one minute (set a timer!). Add white wine and mix for another solid minute. Add ice water and mix for one more minute. At this point, if you don’t have a stuffer, you can make your sausages into patties and fry them up in a pan over low heat with a little bit of olive oil (about four minutes each side). If you do have a stuffer, set it up according to the model’s instructions and stuff the meat inside. Thread the hog casing onto the nozzle of the stuffer, and slowly stuff until the casing is firm to the touch, but meat still has some wiggle-room to move around (you should be able to pinch it and see the meat moving around without the casing bursting).
Now, for the linking part, I made a video! It’s not the best quality, but we’re all friends here. I’ll explain step-by-step what I’m doing in the video, just to make sure you’re totally clear.
1.Tie one end of your sausage into a regular, tight knot. Push meat towards knot, making a space in the meat with your fingers.
2. Pinch again about five-inches down, using the first sausage to measure the second sausage, and making the second sausage just a tiny fraction bigger, since it will shrink up when you twist it.
3. Pinching hard on either end of the second sausage, flip the sausage over itself away from you until both the first and second sausages feel like they will almost burst.
4. Repeat this process, measuring each sausage against the one before it and flipping the second one over itself away from you until the entire strand is linked.
5. Tie off the end of the strand and prick each sausage gently two to three times with a toothpick or clean safety pin.
6. Lay sausage links on a tray and refrigerate overnight (this helps the sausage casing dry out, which creates a kind of knot in between each link. It also helps to prevent the sausage from bursting.
7. After letting them sit overnight, cook them over low heat for about 8 minutes each side. Sausages will keep one week.