The art of making smoked sausage has been handed down from father to son at one Hillsboro grocery store. For their customers, that?s good news.
Dale Franz, owner of Dale?s Supermarket, said his father, Ray, came up with a sausage recipe in 1959 that had just the right amount of seasonings and pork to create a product that people come from all over to buy.
?It?s a sausage that most everyone could like,? Franz said. ?It wasn?t a hot and spicy one?it wasn?t loaded. It was an all-around good product and you don?t mess with the recipe.?
Probably the biggest boost for the grocery store?s sausage business was the Arts & Crafts Fair, which has occurred downtown each third Saturday in Septem?ber for more than four decades.
In the early years of the fair, Franz said a group of local people had a company called Hillsboro Sausage Crafters that would grill sausage at special events.
?The group was started by Vernon Wiebe,? he said, ?and it was just for Arts & Crafts. They would grill the sausage and serve it on whole-wheat buns with sauerkraut.?
Franz said the popular sandwich required several thousand pounds of sausage.
?We started building up the supply more than a month in advance,? he said. ?By the time we got to the day of the fair, we probably had a ton in the freezer outside and 1,200 to 1,300 pounds fresh in the cooler.?
Word starts spreading
Franz said it?s a good feeling to know people enjoy their sausage.
?Every day, someone comes in for the sausage,? he said.
When he is behind the meat counter, Franz said he hears many stories about how customers came to visit Hillsboro and his store.
One man said he was from Wichita and makes a special trip to buy about 30 pounds of sausage on each visit.
?I told him we have been looking for places to sell and distribute our product in Wichita,? Franz said, ?but he didn?t want us to come up there because buying the sausage here gives him a reason to get out of Wichita.?
Franz said quite a few churches and individuals from Wichita buy the sausage.
?Many serve the sausage with verenika and (churches) usually get about 120 pounds or more,? he said.
Verenika is a cottage cheese dumpling usually served with gravy.
Word about Dale?s sausage spread all the way to Washing?ton, D.C. Nancy Kassebaum, a U.S. senator from Kansas from 1978 to 1997, became a fan.
For one of her social events, Kassebaum asked for Franz?s sausage.
?That?s a good feeling,? he said.
While most of his customers drive for hours to buy the store?s sausage, others are awaiting the day the grocery store can ship it to them.
Franz said he is working on that, but it?s complicated.
?Originally, the federal government said no and later said yes, but now the problem is a question of the federal and state legislators,? he said.
In the early years, Franz said his father would order pork butts and de-bone everything.
He used hand-cranked stuffers, but when the volume began increasing, Franz said he purchased a water-pressure stuffer.
?We just couldn?t keep up using the hand-crank anymore,? Dale said.
Today, the store uses a special grind of pork from warehouses.
?We get pork so much leaner then it used to be that we need to blend it out for two reasons?flavor and so it?s not so dry,? he said. ?Usually when the state meat inspectors have tested it, it is 81 to 82 percent lean.?
Franz said his store is a state-inspected meat facility, which means a meat inspector is on site every day of the week.
?He is here for cleanliness and to make sure we are doing all the grinding and other procedures properly,? he said.
That is one more way to ensure a good product, Franz said.
The sausage is made every Wednesday and hangs Wednes?day night and Thursday in the meat department cooler, he said.
?Usually late Thursday or on Friday, we start wrapping and get it ready to freeze so we can put it in the bunker and have it frozen and ready to go,? he said.
During a normal week, Franz said, they will make about 1,000 to 1,200 pounds of smoked rope sausage.
?Two people make the sausage and also wait on customers at the counter,? he said. ?Lana (Bichert) and Dorothy (Parks) make the sausage.?
Parks, he said, has been making sausage for nine years and Bichert for two.
Preparing for big orders
History dictates how many pounds of sausage are needed at certain times of the year.
?We start about a week in advance with two or three makings before the holidays just so we can wrap and freeze extra,? Franz said. ?A lot goes out frozen because people travel with it.?
In recent years, Franz said he hasn?t been as involved in the sausage-making as he once was because he has to manage the store, too.
Wes Hickman, who has been cutting meat almost all of his life, has joined the staff as a butcher.
?There is an art to being a butcher,? Franz said, ?and Wes started in a family-owned packing business.?
Once the problem with online shipping is resolved, Franz expects increased sales, but that?s only part of the equation.
?The sausage is an old part of the business,? he said, ?and it?s tough keeping things the way they were. A lot of grocery stores have pre-packed stuff, filling everything in and then leaving.?
Although it would be cost-effective to change the way he operates his meat counter, Franz isn?t planning to do that because of his customers.
?We have people from El Dorado who come here and they will not buy (from the larger chain stores) pre-packaged meats,? he said.
?They want fresh cut, quality meat and they are willing to drive from other places just to pick it up here.?
Asked if he will ever give up the family?s sausage secret, Franz said the recipe has been passed down to him and he?s not giving it up.