Can you imagine a life without seasons? I can’t, and I don’t want to. We are blessed to have four seasons in Montana. Each one brings its own traditions and memories.
I could make a case for each one of the seasons being my favorite. As I crouched on the side of a mountain in Mineral County picking huckleberries at the peak of summer this year, I thought to myself, this could be the best season.
But the truth is I love autumn and always cross my fingers that fall will not be cut short with an early winter. I break out my flannels, turn to comfort foods, and hope to see beautiful fall foliage. Fall is a prized season for many Montanans — the return of the school year with a more regular schedule, football season, hunting season and sausage season.
You read that right: sausage season.
If sausage season has eluded you up to this point, it’s about to become a regular part of your life. For me, it’s a tradition I’ve grown to love since my earliest memories of watching my grandpa and uncles huddle around cutting boards, knives, grinders and stuffers as they made the family Volga German sausage.
I have tried to carry on that tubed-meat tradition and used the lessons learned to branch out and make other kinds of sausages.
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For the last few years, I have developed a sausage recipe that is quintessentially Montanan. This herby breakfast sausage uses that great Montana treasure I was picking in August as one of its stars — huckleberries. It also co-stars sage, a traditional breakfast sausage ingredient native to Montana, along with other herbs.
Sausage-making can seem like a complicated process with too many tools to acquire before you start. Not true! The fundamentals of sausage-making, especially if you make patties, require no special tools. Here are a few tips:
1. Freshly ground pork — If you don’t have your own grinder at home, never fear! Go to your local butcher and tell him you need freshly ground pork with a ratio of about 25% fat to 75% lean. That ratio may surprise you, but sausage traditionally has that amount of fat to keep the meat from drying out.
2. Game meat — If you harvest some game this hunting season, you get Montana bonus points for swapping out half of the pork for some nice elk or venison. Keep the fat/lean ratio I mentioned, however, which is why you want to keep some of the pork with a good amount of fat.
3. Keep your meat cold — One reason sausage is made in chillier weather is because you want the ingredients to remain cold during the process. Heat starts to melt the fat, which makes for bad texture. Keep it cool, folks!
4. Ratios — If you have a kitchen scale, the appropriate salt level is about 10 grams per pound of meat. Many people don’t have a scale, so I’ve approximated the salt amount in teaspoons per pound. Salt is the most important ingredient in any sausage. Feel free to adjust up according to your preference.
5. Do a taste test — Want to know the best part of making a batch of homemade sausage? It’s the taste-testing. We were all born with different taste buds, so frying up a little patty and checking for salt, sweetness, herb levels and more is your chance to make this sausage your own.
6. Use frozen huckleberries — After all other ingredients are combined, add the frozen huckleberries and fold them in. You don’t want to add thawed huckleberries or they will pop everywhere before you enjoy their delicious berry burst in your sausage.
Montana Huckleberry Sage Breakfast Sausage
1 pound freshly ground pork
3 tbsp of frozen huckleberries
2 tsp of kosher salt (adjust up according to preference)
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
1/4 teaspoon of fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tbsp of huckleberry OR real maple syrup
Freeze for patties or use sheep casings to make breakfast links if you have a stuffer. Enjoy!
Jon Bennion is a native Montanan, born and raised in Billings. Outside of his day job as an attorney, you can find Jon experimenting in the kitchen and developing recipes that often feature a Montana ingredient or story. Jon posts on Instagram as Intermediate Chef (@intermediatechef) and lives in Clancy.