St. Mary’s Sausagefest

Out here in north Texas, when the Fall hits we get to take our choice of festivals every weekend.  From cooking competitions to fundraisers and heritage celebrations, we get a decent selection of weekend activities within  a quick drive for just about anyone in all of the north part of the state.  One of the best you can find is right in Young County held every second full weekend in November.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church started making homemade sausage in the 1970’s after one of their parishioners who had a German family recipe for sausage came up with the idea for a fundraiser.  Originally, they harvested the pork in the local fields as hog hunters would provide the meat.  As it grew, though, the church had to go to a more reliable source of pork.  Decades later, the annual fundraiser lives strong, and the entire church turns out to lend a hand to pull off the impressive event.  The church will feed 1,200-1,500 people hundreds of pounds of homemade sausage made over a weekend.  Named “Sausagefest” (funny name acknowledged), folks from all over flock to the church to eat lunch on Sunday and buy the uncooked sausage for their freezer so they can have it all year long (or at least until summer when they run out). Here’s a little tour behind the scenes.

The week before the festival, the pork roasts arrive in boxes.

The roasts are then taken out of the boxes and cut up into small chunks by volunteers.

The church has a large commercial kitchen in its annex where all the magic occurs.

The chunks of pork are loaded into large tubs, which are stored in a refrigerated storage container, retrofit with a large air conditioner.

The chunks are then fed thru a commercial grinder not once but twice.  The pork is dusted with the special secret seasonings that includes cayenne pepper and garlic before the first grind.  The smell is overpowering when you walk into the kitchen.

There’s a guard over the grinder to avoid injury.

The pork after the first grind:

And after the second grind:

And here’s the grind:

Then the casings have to be filled.  What are casings?  Well…if you don’t know, it’s probably best I don’t explain it.  Let’s just say that the sausage is all natural.  The casings are soaked in warm water:

Then loaded onto PVC pipes so they are easier to push onto the sausage filler…

And then the casings are filled.

The sausage filler is pretty ingenious.  You load the barrel with the the ground pork

Which is powered by a water hose attached to a water faucet outside.  It’s a pretty cool system…the pressure on the water builds up, you slowly release the water into the barrel and the sausage shoots out of the cap:

The casing is loaded on the spout and the pressure inflates the casings with delicious spiced pork.

Want to see it in action?  Check it:

The sausage is then moved to tubs…

…and then hung in the refrigerated storage container to cure for a couple days before it’s cooked.  The sausage is hung on 1″x1″ boards that run the width of the container.

Outside the kitchen is a commercial smoker with 12 rotating racks.  On Sunday morning, the sausage will go on and given the perfect combo of heat and Texas smoke from wood cut down and seasoned locally, usually a combo of oak and mesquite.

And lo, we have sausage.

It’s a delicious bite all the way thru with the perfect blend of spice and flavor.  The ladies in the church also make a special secret recipe of sweet mustard, as well as fresh cobblers for the crowd.

And there you have it…St. Mary’s Sausagefest. You don’t want to miss it.

Hometown Halloween

Halloween is one of those holidays that, as a kid, you look forward to all year long. I remember moving to a neighborhood after college and looking forward to greeting trick-or-treaters, only to find that there weren’t many kids around. And they didn’t go to a stranger’s house, even if it was next door.

Halloween moved into the category of a reason “to party” as an adult. Then I left the big city and traded my zero-lot line home for a traditional neighborhood in a small town. Now married with a kid, I live on a street where I know everyone’s name, and their dogs’ names too.

Halloween has once again become something magical and full of whimsy. All the things I remember as a child growing up in a small town. My son, John, was adamant about being Mario this year. (I’m glad we had Fox News on … that always indicates that my dad is at my house.)

Here in my little town they do it up right. There are car loads and trucks pulling trailers full of kids, decorations and an abundance of children weaving through streets and yards.

My son is trick-or-treating at the across-the-street neighbor’s house – he got homemade sugar cookies. That doesn’t happen in the city. People will think you are trying to poison their kids, even if they live across the street. These neighbors are also retired teachers that taught science and algebra to me.

And it’s on! We trick-or-treat on something I call the “miracle mile” also known as Rodgers Drive. We can walk up our alley, cut through a neighbor’s yard and walk a one-mile loop and get all the good loot.

It’s a gaggle of girls plotting their next Halloween maneuver.  How much you want to bet that this basic scene will occur many times in the years to come? I’m glad I have a boy.

There are multiple generations waiting on the door step to give out candy because there are so many kids …

Not the greatest photo, but you get the idea… there are quite literally thousands of kids that stream through this cool  neighborhood. (We actually don’t live in this neighborhood, but we’re in walking distance!)

The intersection at Randy and Rodgers Drive … I wasn’t kidding when I said cars, trucks and trailers full of kids.

After our loop we end up back at our house and answer our own front door for the second wave of kids. Halloween is something of a marvel in our town. It really is something that looks like it was staged for a movie. By the way, we live in a place where we leave our kids outside to play in the street, which seems crazy in any place other than Arcadia.