Jerry Sickon of Wyandotte started cooking as a kid—the oldest of nine—helping his mother.
“My mother did a lot of cooking, and I had to help her,” Sickon said.
He liked it, and today, seemingly no task in the kitchen is too big for him to tackle.
A few weekends ago, for example, he was leading a team of helpers making 550 pounds of sausage in the kitchen of the Polish Legion of American Veterans Post No. 7 in Wyandotte.
He started making sausage at home about 10 years ago after taking a comprehensive course through the culinary arts department at Henry Ford Community College in Dearborn.
“It was great,” Sickon said. “The first class was on how to clean your equipment.”
The instructor stressed sanitation, and so does Sickon.
His philosophy of cooking?
“Use good fresh ingredients in a clean kitchen,” he said.
Cooking for a Cause
The home sausage-making effort soon got too big for the Wyandotte man to keep doing. So he moved it to the big PLAV Post kitchen, and got some buddies there to help.
“When we first started, it was: 'How do we get our money back?'" Sickon said.
The men started selling sausage to recoup their costs.
“Then it was: 'We’re making a little money. What should we do with it?'” he said.
The answer was simple. Working with Post Commander Ron Cassette, the money was put into the service officers’ fund. And from there, it’s used to treat residents of the veterans’ hospitals in Detroit and Ann Arbor to some fun and to supply them with personal care items.
Now sausage making, under Sickon’s expert guidance, takes place twice a year at the post, and thousands of pounds of Polish, sweet Italian and hot Italian sausage has been sold to help the disabled veterans.
Once a month, a group from the post travels to the Ann Arbor hospital to visit, and a couple of times a year, the post brings disabled veterans to Wyandotte, where they’re given a festive meal (including a barbecue feast every summer). The vets play a form of bingo with cards for cash prizes, and go home with “goodie bags” filled with personal care items.
“It’s a good day for them,” Cassette said. “This place is packed when we bring them in."
It just keeps getting bigger. Last year, Cassette’s two daughters’ employer, Target, also helped out, he said.
The volunteers helping Sickon at his last sausage-making venture, including Bob and Cari Salamon, Caesar Pizzo, Jim Hasper, Alex Kennedy, Dan Darmetko (a retired meat cutter) and Steve Jaciuk, said they know they’re laboring for a good cause.
Making 550 pounds of sausage in a weekend is obviously hard work. But the volunteers kid around and turn it into a cheerful undertaking.
“We make it fun,” Hasper said.
Sickon bought his ingredients for the last sausage making—575 pounds of pork shoulder, natural hog casings and pounds and pounds of spices—at wholesale sources, spending about $1,200.
He toasted and ground the fennel and coriander seeds himself for the Italian sausage.
Then a good six hours of work, with expert help from Darmetko, went into cleaning, cutting and grinding the meat and adding in the spices.
“We prefer to clean our own meat and grind it ourselves,” Sickon said. “Then we can keep it high quality. We blend the lean with the fattier meat. That’s how you get a nice blend.”
Stuffing the casings started the next day.
Over and over and over, Bob Salamon heaped the ground meat mixture into the sausage stuffer, Kennedy turned the handle to force the meat into the chute, and Sickon dexterously guided the mix into the casings, called hanks, which come pre-rinsed, cleaned and packed in salt.
“My equipment I bought at garage sales or it was given to me,” Sickon said. “The trick is the timing of holding this (the casing filling with meat coming out of the chute), and someone’s got to do the cranking at the right speed.”
Cari Salamon coiled up the filled casings, which were put into plastic bags and weighed by Hasper, and then Jaciuk calculated the price per bag based on its weight. They sell the sausage for $3.50 a pound.
“We try to keep in affordable,” Sickon said.
Post members, informed of an impending sausage-making venture, put their orders in on a sign-up sheet.
The last batch had preorders totaling 175 pounds of sweet Italian, 150 pounds of hot Italian and 250 pounds of Polish sausage.
But sausage isn’t all Sickon makes in volume.
He and his wife, Susie, are famed among their friends for their St. Patrick’s Day feasts.
“Shucks,” he said, “we did 80 pounds of corned beef last time. I’ve got a six-burner commercial stove.”
He also makes huge batches of stuffed cabbage, and cooks a big pot of chicken stock every week.
He is sharing his spice blend for hot Italian sausage with Wyandotte Patch readers. This recipe is for 100 pounds of sausage. It easily can be cut down proportionately, he said, if you don’t want to go into his level of volume production.
SPICE BLEND FOR 100 POUNDS OF HOT ITALIAN SAUSAGE
600 grams salt
150 grams sugar
300 grams toasted fennel seed
400 grams paprika
150 grams toasted coriander seed
80 grams dried oregano
80 grams dried basil
120 grams freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chilled red wine vinegar
Mix the spice mixture into ground pork to create the sausage.