Regional Meat Week

A sausage is nothing if not practical, meat made from forgotten bits stuffed into a best-ignored casing. Scraps, fat, the thin sheath of intestine: the inherent grossness of sausages is also the stuff of literally millennia of humor. One of the oldest known comic writers, Epicharmus of Kos, wrote the play, "The Sausage," sometime in the 5th century BCE; Greek theater writ large essentially created sausage’s phallic connotations. (In this sense you can thank them for the upcoming animated horror film Sausage Party.) And then there’s sausage’s darker history: most of us don’t want to see, as the idiom warns, “how the sausage gets made.”

The darkest (in the etymological sense) of all sausages—call it boudin noir, call it black pudding—also contains sausage’s darkest (in the death metal sense) ingredient: blood. And though the consumption of blood is a major taboo in two world religions (both kosher and halal diets forbid it), as an ingredient it is one of the world’s most ubiquitous. Where there is sausage, there will also be blood.

Check, for example: the United Kingdom’s black pudding (fat and oats and blood), Germany’s blutwurst (rind and barley and blood), Ireland’s drisheen (milk and fat and blood), the Caribbean’s moronga (spices and herbs and onions and chili and blood), Central Europe’s kaszanka (offal and buckwheat and onion and blood), Italy’s many varieties of sanguinaccio (blood and blood and blood), Spain’s morcilla (fat and rice and onions and blood), Finland’s mustamakkara (pork and rye and four and blood—often served with lingonberry jam), France and Cajun country’s boudin noir (pork and onions and spices and blood), mainland China’s red tofu (coagulated blood fried whole), Mongolia’s sheep-based blood sausage and Tibet’s yak, Malaysia’s too huet (blood curd), south Vietnam’s dồi huyết (fat and basil and blood), Korea’s sundae (potato noodle and barley and blood), Kenya’s mutura (meat and spices and blood). Blood sausage is global.

It shows up in Homer, as Odysseus lies sleepless in Ithaca (where he has returned but not revealed himself) “rolling from side to side, / as a cook turns a sausage, big with blood / and fat, at a scorching blaze, without a pause.” It shows up too in in the late 4th century Roman cookbook, Apicius, which recommends the addition of “hard boiled yolks of egg,” pine nuts, onions and leeks, “raw ground pine,” fine pepper, broth, and wine to the standard set of ingredients. In Tudor England, dickhead Henry VIII had a taste for black pudding and served it at his most opulent banquets. 

In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy’s hero sloppily kicks over the vessel that had caught the blood of the pig he and his wife just butchers. His wife yells at him—“Now I can’t make any blackpot. There’s a waste, all through you!”—while Jude looks upon the spilled blood, “forming a dismal, sordid, ugly spectacle—to those who saw it as other than an ordinary obtaining of meat.” In a kind of double class consciousness, Jude sees what people who are disgusted with blood sausage see, while also recognizing it as “an ordinary obtaining of meat.” How, really, does blood differ from steak?

A July 17, 1936 issue of the Milwaukee Journal claimed sausage to be "probably the oldest form of processed food" and, while that is probably not true, there is something essentially, anciently human about this meat that is the worst parts of all other meats. Since 1700 B.C.E., when sausage was first recorded in cuneiform in Mesopotamia, chefs have been combining these throw away ingredients with the same hope of white Midwestern housewives who trust in the compounding power of casserole: to produce a dish that is greater than the sum of its parts. The sometimes-taboo inclusion of blood somehow makes sausage even more to the point. Why clean up something that is at its core a mess, a compromise, a comingling? In this way blood sausage is perhaps the ultimate sausage, the most sausage sausage, the “real America” to bloodless sausage’s fake America. Blood sausage does not fuck around. It is made of blood. Blood sausage knows what its job is and does it. It will feed you. It will waste nothing.