This is the time of year when I get cravings for weird things. It might be because it’s Lent and I give up a lot of indulgent foods, or it might be because of the time of year it is. For example, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and that means Shamrock Shakes. Usually those coincided with Lent, so unless they were released before Lent started (like this year), we’d need to not have given up sweets for Lent or freeze them until after Easter. When I moved to Arkansas, I was horrified to learn that they had never heard of Shamrock Shakes. Last year, McDonald’s had a new release here… Shamrock Shakes! However, they were “test marketing” them in limited quantities, so they were virtually impossible to come by. Finally, this year, the stars aligned. McDonald’s released Shamrock Shakes in mass quantities before Lent in Arkansas. One craving averted.
There are some cravings, though, that I’ll never get to satisfy again. Right after Christmas when I was young, my whole family would gather in my grandparents’ basement to make sausage and sopresatta. It was hard work—it took the whole day—and took a lot of preparation before that, but boy was it worth it. (Squeamish readers may want to skip ahead.)
Sheep intestine had to be soaked in ice water and citrus for days to be cleaned and deodorized. Pork shoulder had to be ground, and we didn’t have a motorized crank; it was all done by hand. Pounds and pounds were fed through the feed tube, and once coarsely ground, became the basis for the sausage and sopresatta mixtures. Seasonings were stirred into the meat by hand, requiring the men to dig into big bowls up to their elbows. Peppers were added to the sopresatta mix. Finally the mixtures were pushed back into the extruder and into the intestine casing.
The sausage was hung in my grandparents’ fruit cellar—the coldest place in the house, or cooked right away for us to eat with homemade bread and, if we were lucky, a sip of wine. The sopresatta had to be pressed until it cured completely. It took six to eight weeks to dry out. This is the time of year we’d be eating the homemade salami, and at this time every year, I get a craving for it. The stuff you buy in the stores just isn’t the same, and frankly, living in Arkansas, any kind of Italian food is hard to come by, let alone the stuff prepared the way we’re used to.
The hardest part for me, though, is saying goodbye to the memories. I was too young to actually be a part of the sausage-making process, but I remember sitting on the stool in the basement, watching my grandparents, my parents, my aunt, uncle and cousins work. I remember playing with my young cousins while the adults toiled. My grandmother only had a two-bedroom home, so the house was tiny, and filling it with that many people trying to accomplish a difficult task with a bunch of kids underfoot should have brought conflict and strife, but it didn’t. There was laughter and love and fun. Sometimes there was music, but more often than not when the music ended, people were so busy goofing around that they forgot to turn it back on. At the end of the day, the sausage and sopresatta was made for the year, but the memories were made for a lifetime.
My grandfather is gone now. My parents and aunt and uncle no longer make the sausage—it’s too much work for them. My siblings and my cousins didn’t carry the tradition on. We’ve all drifted apart—me farthest of all, nearly one thousand miles—and simply didn’t manage to keep the tradition alive. Even if we managed to start it up again, it just wouldn’t be the same without my grandfather managing the process. My husband and I tried to make some sausage a few years ago, but it just wasn’t right. Times change and traditions fall by the wayside.
So this year, I finally got my Shamrock Shake, but I won’t be having any sopresatta. At least, not any of my grandfather’s homemade sopresatta. Some traditions just can’t be replicated. We should try to enjoy what time we have with our families while we have them. You never know when those times will be nothing but treasured memories.