Tag Archives: teaching

Sausage Day (or, reasons to raise my own food, part one)


Last Sunday, I hosted a Sausage Making Workshop at my place.  I had about 35 pounds of scrap pork  meat and fat trimmings in the deep freeze from slaughter time in November.  And I also had some beautiful beef butt roast that I had traded for (locally and compassionately raised and slaughtered).  I needed a day at least, and some help, to turn all that into sausage.  And so many people had expressed interest when I mentioned this that I wound up teaching the process and getting my help all at the same time.

We had 8 people present for most of the day, and then 2 repeaters and 2 others came back the next day for a finish up session.  Together we produced kielbasa (beef, applewood smoked), poblano chile sausage (pork, fresh), hot Italian style sausage (pork, fresh) , Cajun Andouille (pork, smoked), and bratwurst (pork, fresh).  I still  have enough trimmed meat left over to make a batch of salami, which entails an entirely different process since it’s fermented and dried – it’s more akin to the Fiocco than the bratwurst. And during the final clean up I found a bowl with about 2 lbs of bratwurst filling ready to go….somehow it got stuck in the deep freeze during the day and we forgot about it!  So more brats are in my future too.

cleaning kielbasa cropThe kitchen was filled with friendship and laughter all day long.  Believe me, sausage making is rife with opportunities for off-color comments.  Pagans are very happy to laugh about sex and food and anything else, so this occasion was a natural.  With poses like this, how could anyone resist?

To add to the fun, a professional photographer was present to document the process.  Jim Blanchard of Jim’s Images offered to attend with his cameras and strobes and all that cool stuff. He has most often done nature and scenic photography, but also seems to have a talent for food photography (see his work at jimsimages.com and at http://ingoodtaste.ws/ ).  It was amazingly nonintrusive to have Jim working.  I had feared that in my small kitchen, crowded with people and work tables and supplies, that we might knock over his strobes or get grease on his camera, but no such mishaps occurred – he really is a pro (and a terribly nice guy).

Andouille ingredients

Andouille ingredients

This post is not really about sausage making, although I’m putting some of Jim’s photos in here just because they are so cool.  What I want to write about is why I do these things.

Sausage is slow food.  From the time I killed the pig until we ate the first sausages was two months to the day (and the Andouille are still not finished drying, nor are all the brats in casings). Now, I wasn’t working on it the whole time, of course. Putting the meat in the deep freeze for a few weeks guarantees that any trichinae will be killed, so it’s the conservative thing to do (although trichinosis is almost unheard of in the US anymore).  The prep for the workshop took about 10-15 hours over the week before we met. I had to inventory the meat available, and then choose recipes that could be done in one day (important to let the budding sausage makers taste the results!). Then, I inventoried the various supplies including spices and other add-ins . . . did the prep work, such as roasting and peeling the poblano peppers . . collected up the equipment and made sure it was in working order. . . typed up a handout with all the basic information so that my students would be empowered to make sausage when they left. . .  moved the meat in and out of various freezers in order to thaw it just enough . . . and so forth.  Most of this would need doing even if this was just a work day, not a teaching day.  Over the two days of sausage making, I was active for about 20 hours.  So I guess you could say this kind of cooking is work intensive.

But – and there are so many buts that make this kind of work addictive for me….

  • I continue to use every bit of my pig that I can.  Much of this meat and fat is not suitable for other uses, except maybe for stews.  Sausage making is a wonderful way to honor lovely gentle Hambone by making sure none of her body goes to waste.

fat hog

  • Slow food made with care and only with real ingredients is in demand. I can’t sell my meat because I refuse to have it killed in an FDA slaughterhouse or processed in a state approved butchering facility. Despite the alleged role of government oversight in ensuring hygiene and good treatment for the animals, I view the places with deep suspicion.  Too many episodes of food borne illness, and too many horror stories of how the poor animals are treated throughout their lives and especially at the time of their deaths, make me trust my farm and kitchen far more.  After all, the first lesson of the day was how to wash hands – and then I watched to make sure it was done.  I sanitized all the equipment.  I made sure the meat stayed ice-cold all day.

ground and ready to go

No one has ever gotten sick from eating my food.   So if I can’t sell it, what can I do?  I can teach about it, and I can charge or barter for the teaching and for a share of the day’s output.  I won’t get rich, but it helps, and I build community with these kinds of ties.

  • This kind of shared work builds community.

Some of the sausage students were old friends, some were folks I’ve met recently, and some I’d never met before.  Most of the students did not know each other well or at all. Slow food preparation includes a lot of time for talk among the cooks.  We had to cut the meat for grinding, which when you’re talking 35 lbs of meat, takes a while in itself.

another bowl of meatMost of the time, 4 or 5 people were working and the others were watching, talking, or going into the other end of the house to warm up (the kitchen was kept at 58 degrees for the day).

At the end of the day, we had a wonderful meal of bratwurst, red cabbage, sauerkraut, applesauce, potato salad, and sourdough bread (can you see my German ancestors lining up?).  By the time everyone headed home, connections had been made, friendships initiated, resources shared, support offered in a dozen different ways.

  • Showing people ways to create healthy, delicious food that does not put money in the pockets of  the concentration camp meat industry is one way I can offer the love of the goddess to all the creatures of the world.
  • Eating food created with love and laughter, that has grown on my land, that has been nurtured by my love and work, creates an energetic bond to my food and my home that sustains my body and feeds my soul. Every time I eat this wonderful food, I will think of the fun we had making it, I will think of my pig, I will be drawn into fantasies of next year’s gardens, and I will be grateful to the Earth my mother for her gracious bounty.
andouille ready for smoking

Andouille, ready for smoking

“All photos (c) Jim Blanchard jim@jimsimages.com used with permission.”


Expecting responsibility


Well, okay, so here is a post that directly talks about what it’s like to be a witch in a world of muggles.

One of the things about neopagan ethics is that through a variety of pathways it always comes back to one simple statement, which my revered teacher and friend Albert Webb used to state repeatedly:  “You’re responsible.”  For what, you might ask? Well, pretty much everything. Certainly, for all your choices, your decisions, your actions and inactions, for the predictable impact of all of these on other beings and on the Earth.  For finding out what the rules are, and (assuming you’ve chosen the situation) following them.

This proves to be one of the aspects of being a witch that makes it difficult to interact with our current society, which seems to bend over backwards to assure people that 1- they are not responsible when they fuck up; 2 – that everyone always gets “do-overs”; and 3 – that whining is an appropriate way to get do-overs.

I have worked very hard for a number of years on the spiritual discipline of developing clear boundaries.  Yes, that’s right, spiritual.  We witches have a precept called the Rede that is one of our major ethical principles.  (There are various versions out there, and some other time I’ll rant about the details of how they play out when they are considered from an ethical perspective.)  But one phrase that’s always there is “do no harm” or its semantic equivalent. Well, if you don’t even take the time to figure out who is responsible for which actions and their effects, it’s impossible to apply this principle.  So knowing what’s my problem and what’s not my problem winds up being a focus of a great deal of spiritual work for the true witches among us.

As a result, I get very irritated by people who seemingly have spent no time thinking about who is responsible for their lives, their actions, and (dare I even use the word) their consequences.

I’m grading undergraduate papers now.  This is an activity which gets most faculty in higher education very cranky because it raises all of our concerns about the dire fate of humanity when the illiterate generations take over the world.  I am feeling particularly cranky because I’ve had a number of students who earned otherwise mediocre to horrific grades, who then got dropped to a zero because part of their alleged work was plagiarized. (This, after a nauseating amount of information and support provided to get them to handle this issue correctly.)

Oddly, it’s the bad papers that are more likely to be plagiarized (you would think it would help, but it doesn’t).  If I think the student truly had no clue and they’ve been conscientious in every other way, they get one week to rewrite and resubmit (with a grade penalty). But if they “hid the evidence” or otherwise have been remiss, such as failing to fix the problems pointed out in previous feedback, they get a zero and I’m done.

So here’s where we get to the issues of responsibility: a significant proportion of these folks seem to believe that it’s my fault if they fail.  And that I’m somehow responsible for shielding them from the consequences of their choices.  And so here come the emails and phone calls (which usually come when I’m grading the next inadequate effort, and am not in the mood).

Here are a few goodies:

  • The student won’t get reimbursed for poor grades by an employer who is paying for their degree.  Right on! I think to myself, while telling the student that their employers’ policies are unrelated to my expectations for performance in the course.
  • The student wants to inform me (because of course I’m clueless) that she will fail the course if she gets a zero on this paper. Now, I wrote the syllabus, and the paper is worth 25% of the grade, and she’s not been a stellar performer all along, but….thanks for telling me that.  No, I won’t change the grade.
  • The student tells me that she was pretty sure there was a big problem with the paper, so she asked her teenage son (who is good with computers, and thus the oracle for her online courses apparently) – but he said it was okay, because the same paper had been plagiarized by a lot of other students.  I take a deep breath and say, “Maybe next time you are concerned you should ask the instructor, who is likely to be more familiar with the standards for the course than your son is.”

And on and on we go.  Somehow these folks managed to get through a whole semester in which this issue of using and crediting sources accurately was presented in many ways, over and over again.  And most of them got it, and did a good job. Some of the ones that didn’t get it, got in touch and got help and that was fine too.  And then there are the ones who are too clueless to notice how clueless they are, or who think that because I’m in a different state (of the Union, not of mind) they will get away with lying to me.

That’s the thing that I hate most. These people are liars. To me, to themselves, about the creative work produced by others, about their own role in choosing their outcomes.  And that’s one thing that is absolutely verboten to me, by my own understandings of what it takes to be an ethical witch.

Lying to anyone makes it impossible to honor the divine spirit within them.  I cannot view someone as a God or Goddess and then lie to them.  I cannot claim my divine nature by lying to myself or to others.  I cannot make the most of myself, foster my own growth, if I cannot be honest about my motivations.  I cannot learn if I do not grapple with the sometimes lamentable consequences of my choices.  Whining and expecting others to fix it is not courteous, it is not reasonable, but most of all it is against my religion.

Wouldn’t it be entertaining if I tried to shove my religion down the throat of the religious right?  If they were not allowed to lie because it’s against my religion, they wouldn’t be able to talk at all some days. But, I digress…..