by David Cecelski
I’ve been working hard to finish my next book by New Years, so I haven’t visited my family’s farm in eastern North Carolina in weeks. Sitting here all blurry-eyed in the middle of piles of old historical documents, I try to remind myself that there’s a season for all things, as Ecclesiastes tells us, and that I will have other days to walk in those fields and woods that I love so much back home. In the meantime, I’ve been surrounding my writing desk with little things that will sustain my spirit until I’m at the farm again.
For me a lot of those little things, of course, are food. I have mullet roe drying in a sunny window next to my desk. I have jars of pickled green tomatoes on the windowsill, too. I made them last week with the last tomatoes on my vines. I have a bowl of speckled fall beans on the table here, next to my computer. And just around the corner, I have a round of country sausage drying on the porch.
The air-dried sausage is what’s on my mind today. I found this round of air-dried country link sausage at Mac’s General Merchandise on NC Hwy. 242, between Benson and Spivey’s Corner, on my last trip to the farm. Established in 1963, Mac’s attracts pilgrims from near and far. They’re in search of that old country store’s rendition of one of the state’s great regional delicacies.
Air-dried sausage is made like other country sausage, but it’s not smoked and doesn’t need to be kept refrigerated in the same way. Instead, you preserve the sausage either by adding salt, which removes moisture that bacteria are fond of, or more commonly, by adding nitrates, which prevent the worst kinds of bacteria from growing.
Commercial meat processors are obliged by law to keep air-dried sausage refrigerated during the beginning of its aging. I’ve noticed that a lot of backyard sausage makers don’t bother. Either way, after the sausage has dried for a time, they can safely continue the aging in the open air, as long as they hang the links in a cool, dry spot. Most connoisseurs believe that the sausage gets better with age, so the longer it air dries, the better.
I’ve just hung these air-dried links on my back porch. After a few weeks, they’ll begin to take on a different look. They’ll get hard, darker, and a little shriveled. They’ll also become very, very delicious. The butchers at Mac’s, where I got them, calls them “Old Folks” air-dried sausage, because mostly older customers come looking for them.
I look forward to sharing the air-dried sausage at one of our big family gatherings this winter. Maybe we’ll even eat it Christmas morning. But even just hanging there, the sausage is an inspiration for me. After all the years I’ve put into writing this book, I need a reminder, now and then, that many of the good things in life take time and that, in the end, they’re worth it.
Mac’s General Merchandise
4432 N Carolina 242
Dunn, NC 28334
* PLEASE CALL MAC’S DIRECTLY FOR AIR DRIED SAUSAGE ORDERS. NC Folklife does not carry the sausages. Thank you!