This post came about as I recent stumbled across some information about the origins of the Cumberland sausage. It made me curious about sausages and sausage flavours, I thought I’d share what I found here.
Sausages have been around for as long as recorded time. The Sumerians in what is now modern Iraq made them 5000 years ago. The English word “sausage” comes from the Latin word “salsisium” i.e. something that has been salted. Which is a clue to the major flavour and would have been used originally to prolong the usable life of the meat. The spice trade is as old as the sausage so in all probability were used at the same time. But it was the Romans who are thought to have brought sausages to Britain they used black pepper extensively which has a preservative effect too.
Tenth century Britain was familiar with Ginger, Cloves, Cinnamon, Mace and Nutmeg and in conjunction with local herbs and produce saw the early development of distinctive sausages peculiar to their region. By Elizabethan times what was a major trading port in Whitehaven would be a centre for the trading of spices and lead to the Cumberland sausage having pepper as its distinctive taste. The West Country was the leading area of apple production, often with Gloucester Old Spots eating windfalls in the orchards, so they were the natural home of pork and apple sausages. Wales with its national vegetable leek have a fantastic friend for mash and they would use chives when the leek was out of season. Lincolnshire became famous for growing Sage and so we have the Lincolnshire sausage.
However many of these local specialities were built on the back bone of the use of imported spices again used differently in each area. Manchester would use white pepper, mace, nutmeg, ginger, cloves as well as some sage often with ginger as the stand out flavour. Yorkshire traditionally used white pepper, mace, nutmeg, and cayenne in what we would recognise as a modern breakfast sausage. The Midlands fell in love with pork and tomato sausages where they originated but we know from our farmers markets that West Yorkshire loves them too. Indeed they claim them as their own.
If you add in each butcher trying to brand his or her sausage we get the almost infinite choice we have today. It’s probably why Michael Caine said: “Forget caviar, sausages are the food of the rich and famous” The original peasant food has come a long way but it deserves to be revered.