In the meat section of Village Fresh Market there is a laminated paper posted on the back wall with Scandinavian dancers holding a Swedish flag that reads: “Swedish Potato Sausage.” While it is unclear how long the paper has been there, Jim Stevens might be the person to ask.
Stevens has been making Swedish potato sausage in this meat market since 1965, the year that the current Village Fresh opened as Richland Market where he was the meat manager. While many Swedish families have their own unique variations to the recipe, for the past 49 years Stevens has used one passed down by an old Turlock butcher with six basic ingredients: potatoes, onions, beef, pork, salt, and pepper.
“It’s simple,” he said, noting that the customers often season it further when they cook it themselves.
In the meat case at Village Fresh Market there is a bowl in the back, behind the rib eye and rack of lamb, filled with this potato sausage. While the sausage seemingly blends in with the other meat offerings, individuals travel from Fresno to the Bay Area to purchase it, just one of many traditions in the Swedish culture for families near and far.
“When the early Swedes came over it was very important to stretch their meat,” explained Stevens.
While the sausage is a versatile meat for various dishes, making it is also labor intensive. Not only does Stevens peel and cut the potatoes and onions, he also grinds the meat before mixing it together and using a hydraulic stuffer to get the mixture into a natural hog casing.
“Back in the old days, they used to use a cow horn to get the casing on,” explained Stevens, showing just how old the tradition is.
While Stevens has continued to make the sausage for decades, he does have a helping hand from the current meat cutter at Village Fresh, Corey Laird. Working shoulder to shoulder with Laird, so far this year the duo has made three batches of Swedish potato sausage and will make three more by Christmas. While Stevens has trained half a dozen individuals over the years on how to properly make the sausage, people often find the process to be too much work.
“And it is,” said Stevens. “Not just making the sausage, but the cleanup is a chore too.”
So why does he do it?
“This is a lost art,” he says over his shoulder as he links the sausage. “Plus, it’s a hobby to me.”