Oh Sausage League, how you endear yourself to all. It’s true. If you’re a meat-lover there’s very few who can refuse a well cured, prepared and plated sausage, the multitude of flavour, the smell, the spice! But how did this love affair come to be? It is after all various animal organs (traditionally pork or beef) stuffed into the intestinal skin of said animal but simultaneously so much more. Sausage is a practical dish that lends itself to a world of limitless culinary creativity.
The first recordings of this mixed meat date back to 500 BC from a Greek play called “The Oyra,” or “The Sausage.” It was also a fan-favourite of the Romans’, becoming so popular for festive occasions it was placed under the ban of the early Church. (Sinful Sausage? The infatuation is starting to make sense) But as popularity grew so did it’s diversity.
Sausage comes from the French word saussiche which comes from the Latin word salsus which ‘surprise, surprise’ means salted! Cured or salted meat was a way to overcome the inability to refrigerate meat for southern European countries. Then came the introduction of spices from the East, a way to enhance, flavour and preserve the meat. Eventually region specific dishes were born based on ingredients and of course climate conditions. Hence Bolagna from the town of Bolagna in Northern Italy or Lyons Sausage from Lyons, France and of course world famous German Sausages like the Berliner.
Now, here at Marben, we find ourselves hosting some of Toronto’s most creative culinary minds pushing new limits in sausage creation. Last week was Origin vs. The Drake Hotel, this week is Boehmer vs. The Sausage Brothers and each time a new step is taken. It’s a beautiful thing.
Sausage League continues every Wednesday at 5:30pm here at Marben Restaurant. It goes to the end of the summer but I think it’s safe to say even when the summer ends, the patio closes and the Sausage King is crowned, for us here at Marben and all those who experienced it, Sausage League will have a little part of our hearts forever.
As a city kid, I tend to think of spring in abstractions. The city workers are grooming the parks in time for summer. The open window on the streetcar is a welcome sign of life shedding its many forms of protection. I need to get my bike tuned up. Maybe I’ll find a patio and have that pint.
I spent the last day of April at Dingo Farms and May was on my mind. But at Dingo, there are different signs of spring than there are in the city. Piglets being born, new mothers learning to nurse, sucker fish running up from the Holland Marsh as the current quickens due to an increase in run off from melting snow. The back wood is full of fiddleheads and the pine forest is a carpet of wild leek.
At this time of year the farm is full of trepidation about the frailty of things: Will the clouds clear? Will the rest of the litter arrive? Will the ground firm up? But at the same time, it is full of hope: How much sun will we get? How many will be in the litter?
This farm is a community, complete with life’s spectrum of triumphs, anxieties and hard won victories. Just the night before, a young calf had a difficult entry into the world, a litter of baby rabbits were born, as was a single piglet. The barn was full of a simple emotion. Ben, Spencer and Uncle Buck prepared equipment to till the field as soon as the wet earth was firm enough to handle the weight of the tractor.
It’s funny too how in the city at this time of year I don’t mind waiting a little bit for the streetcar: it’s just so damn nice outside. There’s no ice to slip on, no slush to schlop in. Soon there will be ice cream and falling asleep under a tree. In the city, we have our version of spring but the simple emotion is the same: there is life after winter.
As the sun goes down air gets a cold that in Toronto would seem bitter but at the farm seems an embrace. Hugged into the house, we began to prepare meals: one for that night and a few for the next day, Emma’s First Communion. Relatives will arrive and they need to eat. Luckily there’s lots of food around.
So many modern foods are a result of the abundance of food that often happens in a farmhouse. Two dozen eggs everyday in a family of seven is still three eggs a day per person. That kind of consistency caused us to invent the omelet, meringue, soufflé and mayonnaise. “Mayonaisse,” asks Emma, “you make that with eggs?”
Farms are a place so ancient that we forget how much they’ve given us; but they are not without modernity. Tractors have GPS and iPod docks. And farm kitchens have food processors. “This isn’t exactly how my grandmother made it,” I confess to Emma, “but she would have done it this way if she could,” I promise.
We’ve cracked two eggs into the bowl of the food processor. We add two mustards: the one Emma likes and the one Spencer likes. A little lemon juice, and don’t tell me it’s not local because I was on a farm and they had some.
It takes a family to run a farm but more than a family to eat all that it produces and I think that works out quite well for you and me.
I’ve lived in the city my whole life and hunting for food has been as complicated as waiting in line: something hunter’s usually have to do long before they can even go hunting. Samesies for fishing. I have been so far removed from having to claim my food that if a chef went hunting my whole existence would be preparation.
I really want to tell you that whenever ramp season starts, I go out hunting for ramps. But I’ve already confessed that I don’t hunt. And really, with ramps it’s about gathering.
My wife Rachel is radiant like the sun and swinging like a pendulum, pregnant with our first child. Last week, we went to the woods outside my parents farm in Meaford. Each year I return to this large acreage and harvest ramps for my family and friends, but mostly for my restaurant. Helpers abound: my nephew Aidan comes along with us. My sister Kathy was there with her husband Kevin. My brother Dave was there as well. Six of us in total: two to pick ramps, a child and three babysitters.
Its this, the structure of our entourage, that betrays the difference between hunting and gathering. When you hunt, extra people are a liability: they create noise and confusion. You can’t hunt with children. You can’t hunt with family; at least, not all of them. But you can gather with family. You can gather with friends.
And really this is how it ought to be. The way I was taught, you shouldn’t pick more than ten percent of any patch of ramps that you find. The reason is simple: when you pick a ramp you take the whole plant. Garlic and onions are the same way. When you pick the whole plant, there is never a flower and therefore no pollen.
Scarcity is a virtue and a curse when you hunt. But when you gather, as you do with ramps, you are better having a good long walk with more people than can possibly pick because you shouldn’t pick most of what you see. If you’re just out for a walk, you’re unlikely to dangerously over forage. By leaving far more than you take and please, you have to leave far more than you take.
My wife has always been a beautiful woman, and pregnant, she carries with her a fulfillment that is so everlasting. It’s important to think of food and family in the same breath: celebrate them when they are around, but love that they will always be there for you. Food is for hunters: perpetuity is for the gatherer.