A few weeks ago Jimmy and I were driving east in North Carolina to meet James at a State Park where he had been working on a class project with his team and professor. It was morning and we were going to see our boy! Both of us had enjoyed our breakfast; egg white omelets with flash sautéed local organic vegetables and goat cheese. We also had grits, a wonderful, toothsome multi-grain bread and loads of piping, hot coffee. It was a three-hour drive ahead of us and as we hadn’t seen James yet, were eager to hit the road. On the highway the scenery was lovely…there were patches of snow here and there left over from last week’s mini-blow. And the sun was out! After about an hour and a half Jimmy pulled off the highway and into a torn up, pot-hole filled parking lot along side a diner equally simple and ordinary. Almost down-trodden looking. “What are you doing?”, I asked and he answered, “I want to get some coffee, want some?”. Now, I rarely drink coffee after breakfast especially when traveling since I’ve probably already had too much. But it sounded good and it was cold out. We parked, got out of the car and raced inside barely looking at our surroundings. It was cold! The wind was just whipping about us and all I could think of was my hair that had just been so pretty with soft curls and was probably now ruined. Thanks Aeolus. I flung the door to the diner open and the place was packed. Just a beehive of activity! One of the waitresses behind the counter was pouring coffee from her right and had her grand-baby sitting on her left hip talking shyly to one of her customers. Orders were flying left and right, people were greeting each other, hot platters of food were being placed in front of hungry patrons and the finished remnants of breakfast were being whisked away. No one stopped what they were doing when we walked in but EVERYONE looked up and at us. Including the three-year old perched on his grandma’s hip. Plates were still picked up and delivered to the waiting diners, the decibel level of noise changed not one iota, but they ALL looked as if to say, “She ain’t from roun’ here. No, ma’am, she ain’t. We’ll talk about her later. Did you see her hair???”. But in a friendly way. I stood at the end of the counter next to the cashier while Jimmy went to wash his hands. And then I had that epiphany; the one when you realise you’re in a special place so don’t waste it by pretending you’re on a diet or still full from the breakfast, okay? Biscuit. Homemade, perfect-like-Mary-Poppins-in-every-way, biscuit. I asked the young lady at the cashier box, “Do I want bacon or sausage biscuit?”. “Oh, ma’am, ah don’ knoow!”, she answered so sweetly just about wringing her hands with concern for me and my pleasure. I looked at Mr. Farmer-Man standing next to me waiting to pay, he had gold encircling his two upper front teeth, “Excuse me, but do I want sausage or bacon biscuit?”. “Sorchich!!”, he immediately replied. The young waitress then informed me that this gentleman and his wife drive over every weekend from Raleigh for the sausage biscuit. “Sausage it is!”, I triumphantly announced. “Link or patty”, was the next query. But that was easy. I didn’t need anyone’s help with that one! “PATTY!”, I just about screamed I was getting so excited. I ordered our coffees, one black and one with cream and sugar. The poor waitress was beside herself with the distress of possibly disappointing me. “Ma’am, ahm SO sorry but the cream an’ sugah is raht ovuh they-uh. Is zat awl raht?”. I was completely in the warm, friendly spell of this young woman who held my happiness in so high regard and Mr. Farmer-Man who waited until my order came out to make sure I had made the right decision. Obviously these people didn’t know me but for right now they cared about me with a genuineness that I hadn’t felt from strangers in a long time. Jimmy came out, we paid, ($7.00 for two coffees and two sausage biscuits, can you imagine?!) and I thanked them both profusely for all their attentions. Jimmy left a REALLY good tip. We grabbed the bag and coffees and ran back out into the cold and to the car. Remember, we had just finished breakfast barely an hour and a half before. As I opened the bag Jimmy asked, “Are you going to eat that NOW?”. I just looked at him. “Well, YEAH!”, I answered, “I want mine hot and this is ALL homemade. These aren’t nasty store biscuit.” “Well, tell me how it is.” “Okay.” The sausage biscuit were huge, wrapped in wax paper, with little wisps of steam rising out every now and again. They had been split in half and I could see a crisp, deep brown char on one side of the meat and as I bit into the biscuit tender pieces of the delicacy crumbled back into the wax paper. I was in Southern heaven. The sausage was spicy, really spicy, I could make out quite a few flecks of red pepper flakes in between the black pepper. I knew my husband would be happy. As we continued driving we chatted about the prices we had seen up on the menu board. Jimmy spied $6.05 listed for the rib-eye combo. Now, there’s nothing wrong with goat cheese, Kobe beef or mesclun salad. And, of course, there’s nothing wrong with mushroom stuffed ravioli with a pesto cream sauce or spicy tuna hand-rolls or edamame hummus. Port wine reductions and beef tataki are fine. But I say there’s also nothing wrong with HOMEMADE, plain American fare. In that diner, “Ray’s Drive In” to be specific, I saw gorgeous, steaming bowls of house made vegetable soup coming out of the kitchen. There were little ones eating homemade pimento cheese for breakfast on thick slabs of toast. Hand made biscuit were stacked on just about every table along side bowls of stone ground grits not overly processed but coarsely ground with flecks of black and brown here and there all wrapped in a thick, silken blanket of cream and butter. Really, when you consider it, plain local fare can be pretty sophisticated in that so few ingredients are called for that the ingredients have to be of the finest quality so the dish can truly shine. Think about that sausage patty I happily wolfed down. There are few ingredients needed and they are easy to assemble. But in order to make them truly stellar they need to be made by hand with fresh herbs and spices. Sausage bought at the grocery store in a plastic roll is going to taste exactly like what it is. But make it by hand and you and your family are going to be happy maybe not all day but at least thru breakfast!! Here I’ve made up several pounds that I’ll divide between my sister Pamela, my brother Tommy and me. I’ll freeze them individually and have a quick breakfast at my finger tips at any given time. Give it a try. I think you’ll be really glad you did!
The beauty of this recipe is that the flavors in the meat intensify with time. I’ll mix up a big batch, shape into patties, wrap individually in plastic and then freeze. I plan to do this before James comes home in a few weeks with a few college buddies for spring break. It’s perfect. I can pull out a couple of patties if it’s just Jimmy and me or a lot if I have a house full of people. The recipe is also quite flexible in that you can add or change the spices and flavors to your liking. Sometimes I add lemon zest instead of orange. At times I add neither. A peeled and finely minced, tart Granny Smith apple is delightful. Instead of adding the salt directly to the pork mixture you can make a paste with a clove of fresh garlic and the grains of the salt. Dried thyme is a rich and earthy addition as is ground coriander. So go crazy and get real. You’ll love it!
Breakfast Sausage Patties
- 2-2 1/2 pounds ground pork
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 2 teaspoons ground sage
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes (we like our patties spicy)
- 2 tablespoons ground dried bay leaves (optional)
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange or lemon zest (optional)
- 1/2 cup ice-cold water
- In a medium-sized bowl mix all ingredients EXCEPT pork and water.
- Add pork then water to the spice mixture.
- Using your hands mix the meat with the spices so the flavors are evenly distributed.
- If not freezing let sausage rest in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
- If freezing shape into thin patties, individually wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. Thaw prior to cooking.
- Cook in a frying pan over medium to medium-high heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.
Your colorful descriptions are practically poetic!
Loved your story. Whenever we travel we always try to stop where the locals are. Usually that’s where you will find the best local fare.