Willie’s Inspirations Continue

An ambitious sausage making party down in Iowa made me think of my long ago friend, Willie Rosin. It seems he was intent on converting 100 pounds of ground pork into a variety of sausages. Willie is like that, sort of a back to an earlier era of mankind, taking on a back-to-the-basics approach to life. Old world is Willile’s world.

It’s odd that we became buddies. He’s a Lutheran minister and I’m, well, sort of a spiritual man, compelled to commune more with a seat in the woods than a church pew. Yet, we had a connection. Catfishing. When he was ministering to a couple of country churches down in Chippewa County where I was running a country weekly, we met in some fashion of which I can’t remember and learned we shared a passion for whiskered fish. So we started going to a stretch of the Minnesota River in his aluminum boat to angle for catfish, meaning there was indeed ample time to explore and share both spiritual and real life thoughts.

We even went ramp hunting one rainy morning somewhere along the Chippewa River. A member of the wild onion grouping of edible plants, ramps are rather delicious, so convincingly so that we carefully took a hand trowel to judiciously harvest a few whole plants that I would transfer here to my woodland close to a little pond we had devoted to hopefully slow the runoff through the woods. A couple of them “took” though not enough to eventually harvest.

My old friend, Willie Rosen, holds his daughter and a channel catfish!

Willie is married to Jennifer, an inspirational band teacher. When they lived downriver in Montevideo she was suddenly having students making trips to “state” and qualifying for the MSHSL orchestra. Then suddenly, out of nowhere it seemed he took a call to Northwest Iowa which brought an end of our fishing trips. Thankfully, though, not our friendship. Nearly overnight he busied himself in converting a large yard into one of his traditionally incredible bountiful gardens and plying local rivers and ponds for catfish and other Ichthyological wonders. Oh, and Willie has never shied from having his two daughters in the boat as soon as they could hold a pole, and come autumn, they would don orange hunting fashions and head to the hills in search of whitetail deer.

While Willie had them involved in his outdoor activities and venues, Jennifer firmly placed them onto chairs in the music room. You might say their girls, and now three adopted children, are well rounded and grounded. And, once again, children in Jennifer’s charge are qualifying for prestigious honors in the Iowa state musical classifications. Then Willie became one of those rare men who packs up and follows his wife’s career. Jennifer was hired as a band instructor in Muscatine, so they packed up the clan, the boats, the sausage stuffer, rods, guns, gardening gear and kids to move across state to the “east coast” of Iowa. To me, that makes Willie a bigger man than most.

Within weeks, it seemed, Willie had accepted a new call in town and the Rosins settled in rather nicely. The kids are growing in all manners and possibilities just like Willie’s gigantic and bountiful gardens, which he is already tending to. His recent Monday, though, was filled with all that pork and a handfuls of various spices as he set out to stuff casings with kielbasa, kielbasa with cheddar, classic fresh bratwurst, bulk hot Italian and a few hot Italian links, caseless breakfast links, summer sausage along with his first attempt at Nduja, a chili-based spicy, spreadable pork sausage from the region of Calabria in Southern Italy.

Willie’s sausages, except for the Nduja and summer sausage.

One of the main ingredients of Nduja is a Korean red chili powder, and for those who haven’t ventured into Korean cuisine, it is tongue-seething hot. My first college roommate was Korean, and he wouldn’t eat in the cafeteria with us. Rather, he’d cook on a hotplate in our room and the scents from his fare were tantalizing even on a full stomach. I asked to have a taste and at first he refused. “Sorry, Man,” he’d say. “What I cook will kill you.” After much pleading through the semester he finally spread a few bites of a Korean concoction on a paper plate and handed it over. One bite had my eyes watering and quickly kidnapped my ability to taste for about a week. I’m a bit more cultivated now, I suppose, for spiciness now dominates my cooking.

Says Willie of his Nduja, “These will be stuffed into 55mm Umai casings, fermented at room temp for 48 hours, then cold smoked for a total of 24 hours. Then into the fridge to dry a bit. Nduja is a very spicy, spreadable salami I just had to try.” 

Your’s truly working my 20 pounds of ground pork into Italian sausage.

To suggest that Willie Rosen is a “Renaissance man” is putting it mildly. Whether he plants his feet behind the pulpit or in front of a transom makes little difference for he is seemingly always seeking a means to mingle the joys of Mother Earth with heavenly mirth, and to spread all that joy with both his family and his parishioners just as he did so with me many years ago. I’d suggest we were an odd couple, yet I cherished the time back then and thoroughly miss it nowadays.

So on an afternoon after watching Kurt Arner attack the huge pile of storm damaged wood and my piddling around between new photography software and seeking a burning permit before the two of us ended up in court, I pulled one of Willie Rosen’s recipes from my printed pile of unorganized recipes. When I went for the burning permit to save Kurt’s and my collective souls, I picked up three healthy looking cucumbers and went to work slicing and combining a boil of sugar and vinegar along with a variety of spices for Willie’s Bread and Butter Pickles that are now curing in the refrigerator for a week. These are about the best pickles ever. As an old journalist I’m not sure there’s that heaven Willie preaches about, but if there is I’m sure his pickles are there for all those godly sandwiches.

Here’s his recipe:

3 cups of Vinegar

3 cups of sugar

1/4 cup of pickly salt

1 teaspoon of celery salt

1 teaspoon of turmeric

1 teaspoon of mustard seed

Slice and stuff the cucumbers and onions into quart jars while you bring the brine to a boil, then pour it over the cukes and onions. Refrigerate for a week. It makes two quarts or four pints.

My efforts with Willie’s Bread and Butter pickles fermenting in refrigerated jars.

Seems so simple, yet the taste is top shelf. And to top it off, we then tracked down 20 pounds of ground pork from Pastures A Plenty and proceeded to try our hand at making our very own hot Italian sausage. Although it was a challenge to mix the various spices with the ground meat, we taste tested two patties which passed the test! Only thing left is getting our own garden shaped up and to get in some catfishing along the Minnesota River.

Oh, and just for the record, here’s a complete update on the Rosin family from Willie: “I’m the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Muscatine and Jennifer is the band director at Susan Clark Junior High. Grace, our oldest, turns 20 in May and is completing her second year of college at University of Northern Iowa, early Childhood education with special needs endorsement. Isabelle, 18, graduates from Muscatine High School in May. She will attend Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University to pursue a dual degree in horn performance and music education. Lydia is in second grade and keeps us on her toes. Loves reading, writing letters and making crafts. Ezra is growing into his autistic and amazing self. Tons of personality and wit. Abner is a master of chaos who loves Hot Wheels, big trucks, playing in the dirt and all things hunting and fishing with dad.”

Life is good both here and there. Willie has his tongue sizzling Nduja and we have those pickles along with some hot Italian now in the freezer! 

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About John G. White

Somewhat retired after a long award-winning career in newspapers (Wisconsin State Journal, Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, Denver Post and a country weekly, the Clara City Herald). Free lance photographer and writer with credits in more than 70 magazines. Editor with various Webb Publishing magazines in St. Paul, and a five year stint as editorial director at Miller Meester Advertising.

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