“To Make Sausages,” from Court Cookery: Or, the Compleat English Cook
I like cooking, but I like having kitchen tools even more. I think. A couple of months ago I got into pasta making (not historical) and was determined to grind my own meats for sauces. So what was I to do except buy a meat grinder attachment for my KitchenAid mixer? So I did. It just so happened that the attachment kit came with tools to stuff sausages.
Right then and there I knew that I wanted to try making sausages from a historical cookbook.
I searched through my books and settled on a pretty simple recipe from 1725 titled Court Cookery: Or the Compleat English Cook, published in London.
The author of the book is one R. Smith, who claims to have been the cook for King William (presumably William of Orange, who ruled until 1702) as well as for various dukes, both English and French.
When I say this recipe was simple, what I meant is that it didn’t call for 20 pounds of meat, or something equally big for a small household and for a test run. It also had mostly exact amounts of spices, which many of the other recipes did not.
Here is the recipe as it appears in the book, though I have changed the long s for regular ones.
“To Make Sausages.
Take a pound of the Flesh of a Leg of Pork and shred it fine; then take a Pound of Hog’s Fat, and cut it small with a Knife; and to every Pound of Flesh and Fat, take half an Ounce of white Pepper, one large grated Nutmeg, a Pennyworth of beaten Cloves and Mace, a Spoonful of shred Sage, and two or three Tops of Rosemary cut very fine, and salt it to your Palate; than [sic] mix all these well together, with a little cold Water, and so fill your Guts prepar’d for the Purpose.” 1
So much to think about here!
I had never made sausages and I don’t even like sausages for the most part so I had to do quite a bit of research about the process. Granted, most of it was based on modern sausage-making, but that was OK.
The first thing I realized is that a 1:1 lean to fat ratio was very high. Today, sausages have a ratio more like 2:1 lean to fat. Even most of the historical recipes I consulted to get a feeling for sausages at the time were closer to 2:1 than to 1:1.
As far as the spices and seasoning, the only real uncertain amounts were the cloves and mace and the salt. How much was a pennyworth of mace or cloves? I have no idea. I did do a bit of research into it but could not find anything.
In the end I decided to use 1 teaspoon of each based on the amounts for other spices. For the salt, I went with the modern recommendation of 1.5% of the total weight of meat and fat.
Actually, the amount for spices in general was a bit confusing. Not in absolute amounts but rather in relation to the amount of meat and fat. When the recipe says “to every pound of flesh and fat…” does it mean for every pound set? Meaning every time you have a pound of each. For every pound combined?
I did the calculations for the amount of spices needed in each case and the amount of spices needed for every pound of fat and meat combined was staggering. Unpleasantly so.
I made the decision to count the amount of spices based on the pound set. So although I ended up with 2 pounds of sausage mixture, I added the amount spices directed in the recipe rather than double it. Make sense? Confusing, I know, but trust me, it was the right decision.
So, armed with the recipe, meat, fat, spices, literal guts, and a very modern kitchen tool, I got to making sausages for the first time in my life.
Here is the sausage meat recipe as I made it:
- Meat grinder
- Sausage stuffer
- 1 lb raw pork fat
- 1 lb lean pork meat from the leg
- 4 1/2 tsp ground white pepper this is the equivalent of 1/2 ounce
- 1 whole nutmeg, grated
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh sage
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground mace
- 6.9 grams kosher salt I give measurement in grams because different types of salt have different volume measurements. I used Diamond Crystal Kosher salt.
- 1 tbsp cold water
- animal or synthetic sausage casing I used pork casing
- Start by chilling your meat grinder in the freezer for about an hour. This will ensure that your meat and fat remain cold.
- Chop the meat and the fat into roughly 1" squares. Place them on a baking tray and chill them in the freezer for about 20 minutes before grinding.
- Grind the meat and fat together. Sprinkle the spices and salt on the meat and work with your hands until everything comes together and the spices are distributed evenly
- Add the cold water to the mixture and continue mixing with your hands. The goal is to emulsify the mixture so that it is not lumpy inside the casing.
- Proceed to stuff the casings as directed on the casing package. If using animal casing, please note it is usually packed in salt and must be soaked and rinsed prior to stuffing.
Unsurprisingly, this will make just over 2 pounds of sausage. I twisted them into links starting by twisting the long coil first in half, then again in half until I had 8 links altogether.
This was, I have to say, an interesting process. I used a KitchenAid, as mentioned, but there was still a lot of elbow grease needed to get the ground meat paste down the hopper tube and into the casings. I can’t imagine using this contraption for 20 pounds of sausage.
As for the spices, trust me when I tell you that doubling the amount based on 2 pound of mixture would have been a mistake. As it was, it was very, very peppery. Just on the edge of being inedible. The other spices were not as noticeable.
I have thought quite a bit about why so much spice for such a small amount of meat, even when compared to contemporary recipes. The only explanation I can think of is that it was a show of wealth. Spices were still expensive and kings and dukes might have liked to show off that they could afford them. Most of the other sausage recipes I read were in books that were not reflecting court foodways. Rather, they were more for and about the every day person.
Although the recipe does not go as far as telling you how to cook it, I did cook it. How else would I have known what it tasted like? And, in full disclose, every link burst in the frying pan. This, of course, is probably user error and the pan was probably too hot for the sausages to be put into. I don’t exactly have a great track record with things that need to be stuffed!
And yes, they were very fatty.
This was an experiment, for sure, and I learned a new skill. Cooking historical food and historical recipes is not always a big success. But it does invariably teach me something not just about cooking but also about the past. And that is really what it’s all about.
1. R. Smith, Court Cookery: Or, The Compleat English Cook, (London: T. Wotton, 1725), 92.