As my brother jovially played the classic festive song, It's the most wonderful time of the year, originally by Edward Pola and George Wyle, I became excited about our family's annual winter tradition.
It's not Christmas in July, but a special occasion that our hungry eyes look forward to each year when the temperature is just right. Far from gathering around a shiny ornamented tree in a decorated room, complete with a typical Italian feast to feed the masses for days on end, a dozen of us sit in the basement garage, assembled around a long table of raw pork, ready to put in the hard yards.
Wearing novelty aprons, we become butchers for the day, helping make the much-loved menu staple, cacciatore sausage. Served hot or cold, the thick, cured Italian salami is a family antipasto favourite, usually consumed before a series of other courses.
"The day is all about seeing my family united and happy. It's memories that are priceless."
The sausage-making tradition continues on my mother's side in which her mother and my grandma, Giuseppina Mercadante, is now at the helm of the multi-generational family production, which all happens in her garage.
My grandma and her late husband Carmine immigrated to Australia in 1958 from the provincial town of Grassano in southern Italy. Inspired by old Basilicata regional traditions, they began to make sausages to give them and their friends a taste of home.
My mum and her daughter, Rita D'Orazio, says they began making sausages around 1970. "The day was about getting together and working as a team as well as having a good time. Everyone had their role. Dad's role was to debone the pork meat as he had worked as a deboner in a small goods factory," mum says.
"He would sharpen the knives razor blade sharp, and in the early days, there were many bandaged fingers. We got better as we improved our cutting skills and he was also in charge of filling the casings."
Mum says my grandma's role was to season the meat, then loop the filled casings to create each sausage. "Each loop would then have about six individual sausages hanging off it," mum explains.
As the family expanded – three daughters, five grandchildren and respective spouses – so to did roles and quantities. This year, we ordered 23 kilograms of pork to make the sausages, which took half a day's work. But my family used to order much less and it took much longer.
"We only made a small amount as we didn't have any proper equipment. All meat was cut by hand," mum says.
To help speed things up, my grandpa innovated. Mum explains, "To fill the casings, dad fashioned a specially made funnel out of the metal of an olive tin. We pushed the meat in by hand, and it wasn't until we got serious about it and started making a quarter to half a pig of meat that we invested in a mincer with attachments."
With grandpa's passing in 2018, my family is still learning how to perfect our sausages. Grandma sources the meat from a specialised butcher and delegates each family member a task.
From cutting and mincing the pork, adding spices such as chilli and fennel and rolling the meat in large meatballs, to filling the intestine casing with the mixture by machine, she has streamlined our roles – but not without a good laugh.
Grandma says, "The day is not only one of teamwork, but it is also one of many laughs, joking around and of course, eating.
"To me, the day is all about seeing my family united and happy. It's memories that are priceless. What more could I ask for?"
Love this story? You can follow the author Instagram @theroamingflamingo.
Chewy and fragrant, these biscuits are the perfect way to finish a night, and equally good for morning or afternoon tea.