PULASKI TOWNSHIP, N.D. — Things are hopping on this crisp November afternoon as members of the Duray and Kasprick hunting clan get together to mark a seasonal rite of work and pleasure.
It's sausage-making time, and this 24-by-24-foot heated shop east of Warsaw, N.D. — an area rich in Polish heritage and tradition — is absolutely bustling with activity.
Deer season was good, and there's meat to grind and spices to mix with pork and venison. There are casings to wash and stuff before the sausage goes into the smokehouse the next day. Decked out with modern equipment and even some stainless steel counters, the shop looks and smells like a real meat shop.
"This is our 40th year working together making sausage," said Henry Duray, of Grand Forks. At 64, the recently retired manager of Grahams Island State Park is the old guy of the crew and the unofficial spokesman.
It's quite an operation.
By the time the smoke clears — literally, as all of the meat goes into three smokehouses outside the shop — the Durays and Kaspricks will turn 357 pounds of venison from seven whitetail bucks into 650 pounds of sausage. That includes everything from Italian and Polish sausage — of course — to "Slim Jim's" summer sausage and their famous "Polish Baloney."
"We're known to have pretty good sausage," Duray said. "We used to mix up all our own spices. Nowadays, the spices are pretty good. You find the right one you like, just buy it."
It's a time-honored tradition for Duray, his brother, Dennis, and their cousin, Jim Kasprick, the leaders of this sausage-making brigade.
"It's the three of us that anchor it," Duray said. Then as now, making sausage was part of the fabric of life. Time was, they even butchered their own hogs, but now they just buy the pork.
"Jim, Dennis and I, we've hunted together all our lives, but sausage making, it's all been here on farm," Duray said.
There's not much left in this flood-prone part of Walsh County near the Red River, but the Duray homestead endures. Several new buildings have been moved in over the years, skidded across ice and snow, to replace the original structures.
Mostly uninhabited, the area today is rich in wildlife habitat, but deer once were a rare sight, Duray says.
"When we first started hunting here when we were kids, there were no deer," he said. "We never saw one. We really didn't start seeing deer until the late '60s and early '70s."
Tags were filled early this year, and the crew already has been grinding and mixing several hours on this Friday afternoon.
The work and socializing will continue past midnight.
Roger Duray of Fargo, the youngest brother of the crew, is here along with brother Gary Duray and his wife, Jeanette, of Leonard, Minn., and Kasprick's son, Corey.
Work commitments kept another brother, Jeff Duray, and Henry's son, Andy, from being on hand for this year's sausage making.
As Minnesota residents, Gary and Jeanette Duray don't hunt in Pulaski Township anymore, but they still help make sausage. Gary helps Jim Kasprick grind meat, and Jeanette works at the sink, soaking and rinsing the sausage casings before they're stuffed.
"We just enjoying helping," she said. "It's fun; it's the reward."
As a tribute to "Necktie Joe," an old uncle who lived in Minto, N.D., Kasprick dons a necktie for the camera while working at the grinder.
"We're calling him 'Necktie Jim,'" Henry Duray joked. "Necktie Joe wore a necktie every day, no matter if he was milking cows or working in the fields — it didn't matter."
People come and go throughout the afternoon to sample the wares and perhaps have a cold beverage or three. Henry's brother-in-law, Peter Solem, of Oslo, Minn., stops by for a visit, as does Jim Kasprick's son-in-law, Kelly Restad, and grandson Jaris Restad, 6, of Grand Forks.
There'll be even more visitors, once people find out about the doings in Pulaski Township, Duray predicts.
"I don't think people know we're doing it yet because we got done hunting early," he said. "Usually, like last year, there was probably 20 people in here at one point."
Kasprick figures they'll be done making all of the sausage by 1 a.m. or so. There has to be time for socializing, after all.
"You've got to have fun," he said.
As long as all of the sausage is ready for smoking by the next day, everything's good.
"We've gotten better organized, and we can get through it faster now," Duray said.
Secret's in the smoke
The secret to good sausage is in the smoking, and that's Duray's specialty, a skill he says he learned from "Little Frank" Ebertowski, an old neighbor who lived down the road back in the day.
"I'm the new Frankie," Duray quips.
There's one smokehouse for baloney, one for sausage and one for the Slim Jim's.
"You've got to get everything right," Duray said. "You've got to get the deer right — clean them, process them, take care of them — and then it's get good pork and mixing spices and when you're done with that, smoking.
"And you can ruin it all smoking if you don't know what you're doing."
Never let the meat get too hot during smoking, Duray says.
"You can't undo too hot," he said. "You get it too hot, it's ruined."
Like his mentor, "Little Frank," Duray does everything the old-fashioned way, using cured burr oak and tending the fire to get the perfect temperature in each of the smokehouses.
No propane here.
"I use old smokehouse fire rings and I use oak wood — that's the traditional way of doing it, and we've stuck to that," Duray said. "Some people use the wood to get the smoke flavor, and then they turn on the propane.
"That's easy, but we don't do it that way."
Duray says he needs to teach the next generation the old ways of smoking. Otherwise, he says, the tradition and the history will be lost.
"But you know what they'll do, they'll get the old propane burner," he said. "It's much easier. But this is the old way of doing it.
"It's what we know — it's what we do."