Slovak Kielbass: A tradition continued in 1989
As Anna Baker and Michael Cervenak work to press the ground pork from the sausage press into the casing, Anna Cervenak and her mother display some of the finished products. 1989 Courier-Post photo by Susan York.
By SUSAN YORK
Reprinted from the Wednesday, March 1, 1989 edition of the Hannibal Courier-Post
It’s quite an undertaking, but the taste of homemade sausage, or Slovak Kielbasa, is worth the work to get it.
Michael and Anna Cervenak, Anna’s mother, Anna Sajban, and her aunt, Anna Baker, like the taste of homemade and natural foods, so it is not unusual that about twice a year they come together to prepare the sausage.
“It’s a real family project, and as Anna Cervenak said, “It’s a togetherness not even families have here today. Kids don’t even eat together with their parents today.”
It is natural for the family to work together. After Anna Cervenak’s parents came to the United States from Czechoslovakia, they continued to do so as they had done in their home country, including getting together to make sausage from scratch. And that meant butchering the hog for the meat and casings.
Today, the Cervenaks buy the meat and the casings, but they make the sausage in the old way, using Michael’s father’s recipe that was brought from Yugoslavia in 1921. The recipe was originally Michael’s grandfather’s. The sausage press they use is about 100 years old.
The process to prepare the sausage in the casings takes about three hours, then it takes another six to eight hours to smoke the sausage over freshly cut hickory wood. But the work is natural to the Cervenaks, who also garden, can their own fresh foods, make their own tea and bake homemade bread.
The Cervenaks are retired, but they keep busy. “A lot of old people don’t know what to do with themselves. We saw our own wood for the furnace. If I was working, I wouldn’t have the time. But we just try to get back to the basics,” Anna Cervenak said.
To make the sausage, they first purchase the meat, about 55 pounds of pork shoulders (or pork butts.) They then cut the meat away from the bone and cut the fat from the meat. The bones are sometimes used later to make sauerkraut soup.
They also purchase the casings, which are made from hog intestines. They are available at many food stores. They are frozen in salt, so a few days before they make the sausage, they defrost them in the refrigerator. They then soak them for a few hours in water before they are needed. Whatever is not used may be refrozen.
They then grind the meat and season it the way Michael’s father’s recipe directs.
The meat is then put into the sausage press, or stuffer. A casing is attached to a funnel on the base of the press and by turning a handle, the meat is pressed down neatly into the casing. The length of the sausage will depend on the length of the casing.
After all the meat is in the casings, it is put into the refrigerator if there is not enough time to smoke it that day. Then, the next day, the sausage is smoked over freshly cut hickory wood for about six to eight hours. It is then frozen for use year round.
The family is pleased their sausage has no preservatives in it. It is preserved by freezing or by drying, Baker said, “We know what’s in it. It’s unadulterated.” Anna Cervenak said, “It’s pure pork and seasonings.”
They make the sausage about two times a year, usually around Easter and Christmas.
The sausage is for the family. Anna Cervenak said if they were to sell the sausage, they would need to count into the cost, the cost of their labor, and then the sausage might come to about $7.95 a pound. It wouldn’t be worth it for them to sell their sausage, but is worth it to them to make it the old way because they know what’s in it, Michael said.
40 pounds pork *
20 tablespoons salt
9 teaspoons hot pepper (cayenne)
20 teaspoons paprika
7 teaspoons black pepper
8 tablespoons caraway seed
10 to 12 cloves garlic.
To get 40 pounds of pork, you need about 55 pounds of pork butts.
Mix the seasonings with the ground meat.
To cook the sausage, put a little bit of water in the pan, then start browning the meat when the water boils off. Pour off some of the grease after it’s cooked.
Cook on high, then turn down. Pork will stick, so watch it. Boil for about 20 minutes, then brown for about 20-25 minutes cooking time.
For a milder recipe, you may substitute:
4 teaspoons hot pepper
12 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons black pepper
5 tablespoons caraway seed.
But the Cervenaks have discovered that that is too little seasoning for their tastes, and they believe the original recipe gives the best flavor. Occasionally, the Cervenaks have made the less spicy sausage, but mainly when their three sons were small and didn’t like spicy food so much.
Of his father’s recipe, Michael said, “It’s a precious thing we’re giving away.”
Anna Cervenak used to nurse at Levering Hospital in Hannibal. Her father moved to the Hannibal area to work at the cement plant. She moved to Michigan for a nursing job, and met Michael. They moved to Hannibal in 1985 and are retired.
The Cervenaks garden, can fruits, vegetables, soup mixes and chili sauce, are active in the Lutheran Church, and Michael is the president of the National association of Retired Federal Employees. Two of their sons live in Michigan, one in Arizona, and they have grandchildren.
As Anna Baker and Michael Cervenak work to press the ground pork from the sausage press into the casing, Anna Cervenak and her mother display some of the finished products. Courier-Post photo by Susan York.
Sausages of various lengths are refrigerated until the Cervenak family can smoke them over fresh hickory wood. Courier-Post photo by Susan York.
Sausages of various lengths are refrigerated until the Cervenak family can smoke them over fresh hickory wood. 1989 Courier-Post photo by Susan York.