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Polish Family Traditions - Making Kielbasa
When my husband and I married (almost 31 years ago), I had no idea of the many family traditions I was marrying into. Our first Christmas together was spent rather skillfully divided between our two families. I very much fell in love with his family traditions and I was determined to take up the baton and begin to make many of those traditions mine too. We were also hoping that we would be able to pass this knowledge on to children of our own thus perpetuating some old crafts and customs. As my husband was in the U.S. Army, we were stationed far from home and had to rely mainly on letters and occasional phone calls to receive instructions and recipes. Much of our time was spent in what was then West Germany, and being 30 or more years ago, mail was slow and phone calls expensive. There was no internet for instant answers on how to do things. This was the world in which I bravely tried to conquer making kielbasa. It was our first Easter together and kielbasa was on the menu for the traditional Easter morning breakfast. After we made it clear we wanted to try the kielbasa and even bought a small charcoal smoker and an Oster heavy duty food grinder and sausage stuffer, family members put their heads together and sent us a paper recipe for ten pounds of kielbasa. Up to that point, nothing had ever been written down. I felt like I had a great treasure in my hands! The only other hurdle to climb was to locate a source of fresh hog casing. Today, this would be easy, all that is needed is a good search on the internet and wow - there it is practically in your mail box!
Well, there I was with my recipe in hand and all the ingredients and tools in the kitchen. Making kielbasa is a 3 day process. On the first day grind the meat, season it and refrigerate it overnight. The second day stuff the meat into the casing and again refrigerate overnight. The third day is the best as the meat is smoked over charcoal and hickory. I was really looking forward to standing outside in the cool air and smelling the luscious aroma of hickory.
I was still a new bride, not yet married even a year and the kitchen was a bit of a challenge for me. The recipe seemed simple enough:
Mix all together, cover and refrigerate overnight
- 8 lbs pork
- 2 lbs beef
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed
- 5 tsp coarse grind black pepper
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 3 TBS salt
- 1 TBS whole mustard seed
I assembled my grinder and trimmed up the pork shoulder into small pieces and fed it into the hopper on the grinder. The beef was already ground, but I fed it into the grinder as well. We still do this just to be sure it will mix in well. I mixed the meats together in a big bowl and set it aside to make up the seasoning. Into a smaller bowl went the water, vinegar, salt, pepper, and mustard seed. Now came for me a big problem. What was a clove of garlic? My family had NEVER used fresh garlic. To me, garlic came in a salt shaker type container. I knew what fresh garlic was and had bought four of the bulb like things at the commissary the day before. My only cookbook really didn't address the question, so I took a stab at it and peeled and crushed every part of those 4 bulb things. What a project! I am not sure if my tears were from the garlic or my feelings of complete inadequacy. At this point I was not to be stopped and I mixed my seasoning into the meat until it was all coated well, covered the bowl and placed in the fridge.
When my husband came home from work, he was a bit taken by the garlic aroma. After a call to his parents we were set straight that a clove of garlic is just one little piece of the bulb like thing. This is a favorite story every time we gather to eat our home made kielbasa!
Although I primarily use the Oster, I have also used the KitchenAid attachment, and it is now easier to find than the Oster.
We decided to continue with what we had already done as there would not have been enough time to start over and have it ready for Easter breakfast. The next evening we worked together and assembled the sausage stuffer. We rinsed a piece of hog casing very well with clear water inside and out. Use a funnel inserted in one end of the casing and work water through it well. Hog casing is packed in salt, so it must be rinsed very well. Rinse only one piece at a time. Have the stuffer attachment coated in a little vegetable oil so the casing will slip easily over and use a small piece of cotton twine to tie the end off. Stuffing sausage is a two person job. One person pushes the seasoned meat into the hopper and the other person supports the casing as the meat pushes into it. There is a lot of air that can get trapped in the casing, most of the time it causes no problem but sometimes it will cause the casing to split. If it splits and the sausage is long enough, tie it off with cotton twine and you have a link of sausage. In no time at all we found we could make a six foot or even longer link! We usually keep going with long, long links and then tie them off later into more appropriate sizes. The size of the smoker racks can be a good guide to the length of the links. Any unused casing can be place in a plastic container, covered with salt sealed up and stored in the fridge for a very long time. One shank of hog casing will make LOTS of sausage.
The next day will be for smoking, so place hickory wood chunks in a bucket of water overnight. This way they will be good and wet and will not burn but smolder and send up plenty of the delicious aroma into your kielbasa. In the morning we start some charcoal just as if we were going to grill. In the same pan we add some of the wet hickory to the hot charcoal. Our smoker is a water smoker so a pan of water is placed over the coals and hickory chunks. Then comes the grate on which we place the meat, and then a domed shaped lid. In no time smoke will come pouring through the vents and that wonderful aroma fills the air. A close watch must be kept on the smoker, for if smoke vanishes from sight you may need to add more of the wet hickory chunks. If there is trouble with flames in the charcoal/hickory, just keep a spray bottle of water handy to put out the flames. We have found that the kielbasa should be turned to the other side after about two hours of smoke and then is done after about another two hours.
Bring the kielbasa inside and allow it to cool. I usually divide it up into 4 or 5 packages for the freezer. To get it ready to serve, just defrost what you want, place it in the crock pot on low for about 6 hours. It will smell heavenly as it cooks. Store in the fridge in a casserole dish and heat in the microwave for a delicious meal.
Surprisingly my excessively garlic kielbasa didn't come out too bad. We were quite proud of our efforts and that first batch helped us to learn the skills we still use in making kielbasa. It also gave us a great family story that still amuses us after 30 years!