In an earlier blog on Brer Rabbit, I had referred to the fact that I read Enid Blyton’s Brer Rabbit books as a young boy. One of the stories featured Brer Rabbit eating sausages. Two things about that puzzled me: I knew that rabbits were herbivores and I wondered why he was eating meat (never mind why he was wearing trousers and smoking pipes). The second was the sausages themselves. Growing up in a predominantly vegetarian household, meat was a once or twice a month affair. It was a delicacy and a much-anticipated meal. We normally ate fish or chicken. Sausages were mysterious, just pictures in a book. Around 1976, my dad’s cousin moved to Bangalore in search of a job. He stayed with us for some time. One evening, he returned from work with a package. He announced they were sausages and asked if my mother could cook them. I hung around excitedly as the string around the package was untied. Inside were a few links of olive colored sausages! I poked at them gingerly before my mother shooed me away. My uncle had eaten sausages at his hostel in Kerala and I guess he felt a hankering for them. There was only one problem, he didn’t know how they were cooked. Neither did my mother! My mother thought that our family friend Judy aunty would know, but neither of us had phones and we were not really in the mood to walk the 10 minutes or so to go over to her house for instructions. Ah, the days before the web! So my mother poured some oil into a pan and shallow-fried the sausages. Big mistake! They sputtered, throwing hot flecks of oil in all directions. The skin burst and some of the meat spilled out. But they smelled heavenly! They tasted even better! I had never quite eaten anything like this before. The combination of spices was perfect and even though the sausages were greasy, they were greasy in a good way! A new favorite was born.
After that, I would pester my mother to allow us to bring sausages home. We found that they were available at the Kalpataru Supermarket on Infantry Road in Bangalore. They were also available at Cook’s Palace on Nandi Durg Road. I’m sure they were available at the Ham Shop on MG Road too. My mother was not too keen on them though. For one, they were pork, something that we did not cook or eat at home. The other issue was the fear of tapeworms. We could never be sure about the conditions in which these sausages were prepared. These were not the mass-produced pink stuff but minced meat in a natural casing. But even then, perhaps once every two years or so, she would relent and I would wait with giddy excitement on the anointed day! By then we had realized that they were greasy, so we would coat the skillet with minimal oil and keep the pan covered prior to cooking them.
James Herriot is one of my favorite authors and being a vet, he is a frequent recipient of gifts of sausages from the farmers in Yorkshire. In his book, “All Creatures Great and Small”, he describes an anecdote about the local butcher who calls him to deliver calves. It is a difficult presentation and after Herriot delivers the calves, the butcher who is notoriously tight-fisted drops a few links of sausages in his car. Herriot is surprised and then decides to test the butcher by asking him how much he owes the butcher for the sausages. He describes the butcher’s face as there is a conflict of emotions within him and the butcher finally reverts to his true character and charges him for the sausages! I had a similar experience in an Indian grocery store in South Florida. The shopkeeper who would normally remind me to pay him the next time if I was a nickel short, graciously offered my young niece a packet of biscuits. We politely demurred but he was insistent that we accept the packet. Only when we got back home and checked the receipt that we found that he had charged us for the packet of biscuits!
While on a trip to Bombay in 1985, my grandfather happened to be out of town. He would under no circumstances allow us to bring sausages home but since he was out, we bought sausages and salami from the local MAFCO (Maharashtra Agro and Fruit Processing Corporation) outlet. The salamis were something else! Breakfast for a couple of days consisted of omelets, salami with the inimitable pav (bread rolls) lubricated generously with butter. I felt guilty as I cooked the salami in the pan and told my grandmother that it was only fish. She looked at me, smiled and asked since when did fish start to look like pigs! I had forgotten the picture on the packaging. But that was my grandmother, an incredibly sweet lady who took all the shenanigans of her grandchildren in her stride. I don’t think we brought salami again home on that trip. Another treat in Bombay was to eat Frankies at Farmer Brothers in Dadar. These were chicken frankfurters served on a hot dog roll.
Sausages are also an integral part of my High School’s Old Boys Day breakfast. By tradition, this is held on the first Sunday of September each year. I happened to be in India in September 1998 and attended the breakfast. In keeping with a long-standing tradition, it featured eggs (sunny side up), sausages, bread with butter and an apple. All washed down with piping hot coffee. Even though each one of us could easily afford to buy the sausages outside and eat, it was a thrill to try and inveigle an extra one for oneself. I happened to be seated next to a Muslim alum who offered me the sausages served to him. I was one up without even having to ask!
When I initially moved to the US, I would go crazy when I went to the supermarket. The meat section had so many varieties of meat. I tried various sausages but they just did not taste the same as the ones I ate at home. I think the sausages we used to buy in India were called Oxford sausages. There were masala and cocktail sausages too. For a while, I tried experimenting with various combinations but could never replicate the taste. Sometime around 2001, my sister-in-law’s friends visited us in South Florida and stayed with us for a couple of days. As I waxed nostalgically about the sausages I ate in India, the lady said that she knew how to make them. I hastily grabbed a pen and sheet of paper and started to write down the recipe. Onions, ginger, garlic, garam masala. Boil and cut the sausages. “Wait a minute”, I said, “I want to know how to make the sausages”. “Why would you want to do that?”, she asked with a puzzled expression, “when it is readily available in the stores!”
I’ve never figured out the recipe for those sausages. On my trips home now, I am too scared to try them out for the fear of tapeworms. Then again, if I did try them, I might be disappointed. It’s happened with some of the movies that I loved when I was younger. I’ve watched a few of them again and somehow, over the years, their charm has faded. Perhaps it’s better that I yearn for that elusive taste. But if you happen to know the recipe for those sausages, please do let me know!