CHANHASSEN -- They call themselves "sausagiers" to show their spirit of adventure. They see their sausages as a dancing chorus line, and give them names: DaVinci's Dog, Merry! Merry! Cranberry and Rockin' Reuben.
At the Minneapolis Farmers Market this summer, they appeared in black bebop hats and yellow garden clogs to push their specialty sausages, variously flavored with things like cayenne, ginger and cranberries.
One ingredient, though, seems to be a constant for Cherie Peterson and Merry Barry, the sisters behind My Sausage Sister & Me.
The sisters grew up in the food business. Their grandfather, Joe Gaspar, began making sausage from his own special recipe on a big butcher block table in the back of his small-town grocery store in the late 1920s.
Their father, Elmo Gaspar, took over the store in Eden Valley, about 70 miles west of Minneapolis, and a butcher mixed the trimmings from pork roasts, steaks and chops with aromatic spices and stuffed the mixture into casings.
The sausage was a staple on the family's lunch and dinner table, but it wasn't until their father died in 1999 that the sisters were inspired to launch new careers. Peterson had taught home economics for 15 years, then worked in real estate. Barry was a hair stylist for 25 years.
Both said it was a discussion of that old butcher block table, as their father's possessions were divided among family, that got them thinking about the old business.
"We were both at that right stage in life that, let's do something fun and something that women don't normally do and just see where this goes," Barry said.
"So it was either transmissions or sausages," Peterson joked.
"And we knew we had no future in transmissions," Barry chimed in.
They also knew their new business had to be food and had to be fun. Their mother and grandmother both loved to cook and were happiest when they had a table full of people and food, they said.
"It's sort of like, good times, good food and we want to be there," Peterson said. It didn't hurt that Peterson had years of experience teaching cooking.
They went to work in Peterson's Chanhassen kitchen, equipped with a KitchenAid mixer, sausage-making attachments and a few books on sausage making.
Their first effort -- chicken sausage -- was "just awful," Peterson said.
"The texture was like sawdust and it was so dry you could hardly swallow it," Peterson said.
After learning from butchers that chicken or turkey sausage needs muscle meat and sometimes skin to give texture and make it juicy, they decided pork was more their speed.
From then on, it was trial and error. They drew up lists of possible spices and other ingredients and began mixing and matching.
They created the recipe for Merry, Merry Cranberry sausage by looking at the ingredients and spices in chutney, which goes well with pork, then adding dried cranberries and onions, which also compliment pork.
Once a recipe is perfected, an area butcher shop makes the sausage.
Peterson and Barry sold their first sausages in July 2000. They hit the road with their sausage wagon -- a commercial kitchen on wheels -- performing at art fairs and county fairs. They also began selling gift boxes on their Web site, http://www.sausagesisters.com.
Their road costumes draw attention and the recipes they give out for using sausages in soup, appetizers and main dishes such as spinach pie helped people remember them.
The best-selling of their 10 varieties is Leave it to Cleaver, made of pork, wild rice, grated carrot, onion and seasonings.
"It is so Minnesota. People will come up and say, 'I'll have that hotdish sausage,"' Peterson said.
"The only thing it doesn't have is cream of mushroom soup," Barry joked.
But they can do sausage with finesse, too. Thai One On -- with ginger, soy sauce, green and red peppers -- is designed to serve as part of an Asian meal or as an appetizer dipped in peanut sauce.
Their tweaked version of their grandfather's sausage -- Poppa Joe Meets Granny Smith -- also is popular. "We added the apples, the toasted walnuts, the bacon. But Poppa Joe put the cayenne in it," Barry said.
"Most of the sausage that you see out there is old world sausage -- a Polish sausage or a Czech sausage based on old world recipes. We basically took those recipes and made them new," Peterson said.
"I'll challenge you to find a Merry, Merry Cranberry with dried cranberries and the seasonings of chutney," she said. "Yes, there's a lot of competition out there, but our product is so different."
Dave Preisler, executive director of the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, agreed that the combinations -- especially those using fruits -- are unusual and isn't surprised that they work.
"Pork has got an attribute where it takes on flavors and seasonings very well in comparison to other meats," Preisler said. "If you're looking to try and put some different kind of exotic flavors out there, pork is a great way to do that."
Business is going well for the Sausage Sisters. In their first year, they sold more than 9,000 pounds of sausage. Packages with five large links sell for $6.
"In the scheme of big business, that doesn't sound like so much, but to us, it sure does," Peterson said. "It's like 50,000 links," her sister added.
But they're thinking ahead to their second act.
"I'm going to say we would do 18,000 pounds next year," Peterson said.
And they'll be expanding their flavors to an even dozen so they can have a Sausage of the Month Club.
One customer suggested a sausage with a fudge tunnel. That could mean a Mexican offering is in the works. "Mole has chocolate in it," Peterson mused. "I can just see picking those ingredients out of there and using them in a sausage."
On the Net:
My Sausage Sister & Me: http://www.sausagesisters.com
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