According to a very good but unverifiable source, when the Mennonite Brethren split from the Kirchliche Mennonite in the Russian Molotschna colony in 1860, they did so at least in part because of sausage.
Which, if you have met more than two Mennonites of Russian Mennonite descent, makes sense. We still argue about sausage.
Traditionally, Mennonite Farmer’s Sausage is made from pork and has minimal seasonings. It is leaner than your standard sausage, has a crumbly texture, and a heavy smoked flavour.
This sausage is nothing like the insipid wursts found on British and North American breakfast tables or the Bratwursts and Italian sausages served in buns for lunch. If it is at all related to the Hot Dog, it’s the kind of relative that won’t attend the same family functions.
Just as a whiskey aficionado can decipher the subtle distinctions in flavour profile between the various distillers’ unique mix of mash, any offspring of a Mennonite emigre from Russia can identify the subtle distinctions between sausage from Winkler and that from Altona (or Saskatoon or Breslau or Abbotsford…).
And knowing the difference, we have our preferences. We can’t always explain what it is but we know what we like. And with the passion of purists everywhere, we all insist that our own particular favorite is the only true sausage, all others being pretenders intent on destroying our heritage.
It is not uncommon for Mennonites to pack their suitcases full of sausages when heading off to the parts of the Mennolands that don’t have farmers’ sausage. Or, even, to parts of the Mennolands that are dominated by the “wrong” sausages. You could trace the movement of Mennonites by the suitcases full of sausages that have criss-crossed North America, each suitcase claiming its territory as a sort of sausage imperialism.
The split with the Mennonite Brethren back in the nineteenth century was not, however, a dispute over which butcher shop made the best, most crumbly roakworscht. Nor did the founders of the new Church insist that their followers abstain from sausage and/or other forms of smoked meats. Any schismatics who proposed such a doctrine would doom their sect to obscurity.
But oral tradition still claims a connection.
Traditionally, sausage began on a particularly festive day in the late fall or early winter when friends and neighbours gathered for the pig butchering. It took a village to kill a pig in those days, or at least, a good segment of it. When everyone gathered, the pig was dispatched, the meat was carved, the various parts cleaned and preserved, and the sausage casings stuffed. In recompense for their labour, all the helpers took home their choice of sausage meat and casings. Which they ground, mixed, stuffed and hung up in their chimneys to smoke over the winter.
But before they went home, the vodka came out. By all accounts, pig butchering day was the closest to a festival that Mennonites ever experienced. Even teetotalers protested that they needed to provide vodka on butchering day lest their neighbours scorn them. Tradition, after all, was tradition.
It is also documented history that the Mennonite Brethren broke from the Mennonite community in the Molotschna colony citing among other things, “the sinful practices of colonists.” As far as I can tell, it is undocumented history that defines those “sinful practices” as the heavy consumption of vodka at pig butchery festivals. But it might have been. Some things just never get written down.
Still, I don’t think the Brethren stopped butchering pigs even if they curtailed the festivity of it all. I haven’t noticed any confessional distinctions in our love of the wurst, or even whether one branch of Church tends to favour one smokehouse over another. We all go a little gaga over the stuff.
When my online research turned up the existence of a bacon martini, I thought I might simply infuse vodka with sausage for a Mennonite Farmers’ Sausage cocktail. That, however, resulted only in destroying a perfectly good piece of farmers’ sausage.
So I changed my strategy.
Traditionally, the sausage is served either with verenijke or boiled potatoes and schmauntfat – a cream gravy. Everyone has their own recipe but they all involve cream. Mine also has sausage drippings.
This cocktail recipe takes the goodness of the sausage and puts it into a cream cocktail — like a Baileys that tastes like meat. Yes, it’s a bit odd, even if you like thinking of gravy as a beverage.
The Schmauntfat Cocktail
- 1 1/2 vodka
- 1 1/2 oz sausage schmaunfat*
Throw both ingredients into a cocktail shaker and shake with ice until chilled. Pour into a cocktail glass and garnish with a piece of cooked farmers’ sausage from your favorite smokehouse.
*Bake farmers’ sausage in a pan with a bit of water. When the sausage is cooked, remove from the oven and set aside the sausage. Place the pan on a stove element and whisk in sour cream, cooking to a simmer. Add enough cream to thicken it slightly. For the cocktail, allow to cool to room temperature.
(Full disclosure: I only actually managed to drink a sip or two of this one. May you be braver than me).