How long can you really remember the taste of something? Do you actually remember how it tasted, or do you recall being there while you enjoyed the ambience of the loaded table and the people around the table and that pleasure is what stays in your memory, forever and ever? That’s a tough call.
My mother, Elvina Swanson Olson, 1902-1983, grew up on a farm near Rice Lake in a Swedish-Norwegian family — Norwegian culture predominating — and she carried for seven decades the strong memory of eating Swedish Potatiskorv/Potato Sausage as a very good thing. I can’t remember her describing the glories of Potatiskorv while I was growing up on our farm in Almena Township, Barron County, north of Turtle Lake. But clearly, that memory was there when I was a kid.
When we determined that she’d be with us for Christmas 1972 — we lived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C. — we all agreed that we’d try to re-create this memory, somehow. We found a generic recipe (no Internet!) and bought sausage casings, a sausage-stuffer attachment for our vintage hand-cranked meat grinder, as well as all the ingredients. We were all ready when she arrived.
One day we set aside for making Potatiskorv. Our kitchen was jammed: Grama, our three kids, my wife and I. The casings were soaking in water to remove the salt. The potatoes were peeled and ground up in the grinder. We mixed all the ingredients in a big bowl: ground pork, potatoes, seasonings, maybe onions, whatever. Now we could test her memory.
Cook a little bit of mixture in a skillet. Grama tastes it. Not quite. Add a little more seasoning. Cook a little bit of mixture in the skillet. Grama tastes it. Not quite. Add a little more seasoning, etc., etc. My oldest son, now 59, recalls about five iterations until Grama says “OK,” we’ve got it.
We clamped the grinder to the table with the sausage-stuffer attachment in place, pulled one softened casing onto the tube, pressed handfuls of mixture into the grinder, started turning the grinder handle, and wow! Out comes a Potatiskorv! We stopped, tied the end with dental floss, and kept going, handful by handful, taking turns cranking the grinder, until the casing was full. The sausage was maybe 2 feet long. We tied the end with more dental floss. One done. We moved on to the next one. My family — today — recalls that it took quite a while until we’d used up all the mixture. Grama supervised the whole thing. When all Potatiskorv were made, into a bowl of brine they went, refrigerated, until the next day.
When we ate our — today we would say artisanal — Potatiskorv, all six of us felt that our effort had been worth it, but Grama especially, because the taste was just as she remembered. My family recalls this whole experience as a very special time with her.
I want to mention two things: Every ethnic group makes their sausage out of the bits and pieces at hand, whatever they may be. Why Swedes started to make sausages with potatoes I have no knowledge, but they did grow potatoes. Some people grind the potatoes so fine you can’t see them, while others make Potatiskorv with visible bits of potato.
Afterwards, for my family, we made Potatiskorv a couple of times, but not for long. When visiting family in Wisconsin, we’d bring home a package or two. We discovered Hickman’s Butcher Shop in Lower Delaware, opened by a Wisconsin transplant, and special ordered potato sausage a few times, but not recently.
But this past summer, we lucked into Potatiskorv from Louie’s Finer Meats in Cumberland and their product is as good as it gets. We have already tasted the first one, and all agree that it’s The Real Thing.
Almost like what Grama helped us re-create that Christmas 45 years ago.