February 17, 2016

Enterprise #25 antique iron sausage stuffer, plus sous-vide sausage

In our menagerie of hand cranked food processing machines, I've long felt we were missing a sausage stuffer. I was attracted to the cast iron vintage beauty embodied by the line of small stuffers manufactured by the Enterprise company, of Philadelphia.

This is the same Enterprise Co. which made the #10 and #5 antique meat grinders I have acquired and put to work. They also made a range of sad irons, which I hope to get into someday. I've got a concept for an induction heat docking station which would make using sad irons more safe and convenient. There is not a lot of online documentation for Enterprise Co. or manuals for its products. Here is a neat link to a survey of it's factory on N. Third St. from 1882.

An impressive looking brick premises, powered by steam and employing up to 400 people. Looking on google maps, the site of the factory now has an ugly office supplies warehouse on it; wonder what happened to the Enterprise factory building. By coincidence one of my best friends lives some distance to the south on N. Third St.

A new one can actually be had from Chop-Rite II or it's distributors, using what looks like the same patterns for the castings. But they are expensive, and furthermore I think using an actual antique has a certain charm. I enjoy the feeling that a tool has been around for a hundred years, that others before me have put it to use, and that it might endure into the future to benefit the next owner.

There are plenty of Enterprise stuffers passing through the ebay market. They tend to go for a lot of money if they are in good shape, and even ones in bad shape are not that cheap. I'm pretty sure these are mostly used for decorations rather than stuffing ground meat and fat into intestines. After spending some time watching listings, I decided the 4qt #25 was big enough for me. This should hold over 3 kilos of meat per load, which ought to fill 20-30 sausages. Running several loads through during a session should be easy if needed, and I don't expect to be making all that much sausage per year.

I bid for one that looked in reasonably usable condition; I think I spent about $150 on it. Just for reference, you can get a new dishwasher capable stainless and plastic hand crank stuffer which probably works as well and would be easier to store and clean for less money. Guess I'm kind of a sucker for an old cast iron beauty in need of some TLC.

Stripping it Down
When it arrived, it was apparent that it in fact was not in usable condition and had been covered in a thick layer of black paint over primer, not obvious from the auction listing. The paint covered the gear teeth and the screw and everything else. Discouraged at the prospect of stripping all that paint, I put it on the shelf in the living room (yes, for decoration), where it awaited more attention for a couple years.

Lately I've been thinking on trying to finish half done projects laying about and also daytime fasting more frequently, both of which made me think of sausage and how to stuff it. Some research online turned up a number of Enterprise stuffer restorations where people had the parts bead blasted with great results and no damage to the underlying iron.

I've had heating grates blasted at a place in Everett before, but I wasn't completely happy with the experience. The internet turned up a small scale place in Somerville which did blasting and had convenient hours for dropoff and pickup, so I thought I would give them a try.

Getting the stuffer apart is easy; just use a wrench to take off the two tie bolts running parallel to the cylinder, then crank the screw all the way down and out. From this point you can remove the gear which runs on the screw, then the crank handle (using a screwdriver), and finally the horizontal shaft and gear which runs from the crank to the screw gear.

I asked the blasters to use plastic, walnut shells, glass beads, or soda as media so the iron wasn't abraded too much, but they ended up using aluminum oxide. It doesn't matter on the cast surfaces, but it did frost up the machined surfaces which was not ideal.

While I wasn't happy at the choice of media, they did do a good job with the aluminum oxide and it looked like they used a fairly high grit so the frosting wasn't as bad as it could have been. They also turned it around in a couple days, which was excellent. Cost was $140 for about 12 discrete pieces which made up the machine. I masked the wood handle before dropping it off. Here are the parts when they came back from blasting.

Unfortunately the large disc was resting at the bottom of the cylinder when I dropped it off, and they didn't realize it wasn't part of the cylinder, so the bottom of the cylinder and the top of the disc did not get blasted.

I set to work with wire wheels, both mounted on the buffer and on an angle grinder to strip the remaining paint and smooth and burnish the blasted surfaces.

Between the wire wheels, some fine non-woven pads, and toothbrush sized wire brushes used by hand, most parts were looking pretty good after a couple hours work.

Later on Becky told me the skin on my face smelled just like iron. Picking paint out of the threads of screws with a dental pick is one of those times when one questions the wisdom of decisions taken on restoration projects. But, onward.

The remaining paint was stubborn and did not come off easily with the wire brush. A thick coat of Peel Away 7 with it's accompanying cover paper was put down in the bottom of the cylinder, the top of the large disc, and the wood handle on the crank.

This was left overnight, then scraped the next day. One thing to note is that I've yet to experience paint actually Peeling Away when removing the cover paper with Peel Away 7. But it does make paint soft enough to scrape and brush off, and the paper keeps it from drying out.

We quickly discovered that the paint covered up a not insubstantial layer of rust over everything. Nice! In case you one day find yourself thinking about covering up rust with a thick layer of paint, please, just don't.

So after removing the gunk of the softened paint and stripper, I washed the pieces and put on some phosphoric acid rust remover. This was then rinsed off and some more work was done with a nonwoven pad and the little wire brush. On the wood part of the handle, I did some sanding after the paint and stripper were scraped off.

Finally, all pieces were washed with water and Simple Green, rinsed well, quickly dried with a towel,

then completely dried in the oven.

Building it Up
Raw blasted cast iron will show visible rust in less than a minute after coming out of water,

so clearly a coating of some sort was needed. Since we are making food with this, I thought seasoning it like a cast iron pan would be appropriate. Many bytes on the internet have been dedicated to discussing seasoning of cast iron. Suffice to say there are lots of opinions on the best way to do it. I think for pans it is not that crucial since once you start using it frequently, it eventually gets to the right place, provided you are maintaining it decently.

Iron parts were brushed with canola oil,

then put in the oven over a drip pan at 120C (250F).

After about an hour, I took each piece out and wiped off the now heat thinned oil with paper towels. Then the parts went back in and the temp was raised in stages first to 175C (350F) then to 260C (500F). After an hour at the high temp (with the hood running to suck out the bountiful oil smoke), the oven was turned off and the parts left to cool in the oven overnight.

The oil carbonized in the metal and gave it a darkened finish, not really like a well seasoned cast iron pan, but going in that direction.

There was none of the gumminess I've experienced after seasoning at a lower temperature. I brushed and picked out a few carbonized deposits, probably from where oil pooled, then recoated with light olive oil (don't think it really matters that much, but I was out of canola),

and did another oven cycle. This darkened the parts further and I felt it was enough for the stuffer.

I didn't want to put the crank handle in the oven, out of consideration for the wood handle. So I just heated it until smoking and darkened over the stove top, up close to the end of the handle.

After two coats of this treatment, I took the crank arm to the basement and put on three coats of my favorite oil based finish, Waterlox (just on the wood part). When dry I applied a final coat of furniture paste wax and buffed it out with a paper towel.

To finish up the iron parts, I lightly sprayed with Fluid Film, a non-solvent lanolin lubricant and rust preventer.

Ben Polito turned me on to this stuff; he now uses it to keep our cider machines in working order. It is pretty great, and I've started using it more and more. Works very well on my bike chain and other bike lube points for instance. It is food rated in Canada, which is good enough for me to feel ok about putting on the stuffer. Only downside is that is goes on rather thick, and has a funky biological smell to it. We wiped off the excess sheep grease with paper towels.

Most likely future dust accumulation would come off easier without the top coat of Fluid Film, but I feel better having it on and the gears, screw, and bearing surfaces will certainly benefit from it. I shot a little squirt into the two "OIL" points marked on the top bridge casting.

Supplemental Parts
The stuffer came with one bent up, rusty tube.

I took a chance and ordered three different size stainless tubes from LEM, product #s 606A, 606B, and 606C. All fit fine at the base, except the 1" tube wouldn't quite fit through the opening on the front face of the nut. This was easily solved in a couple minutes with a boring bar on the lathe at work.

The LEM tubes do look awful long to me; definitely a lot longer than the tube that came with the Enterprise. I suppose this lets you put more casing on the tube, but surely creates more back pressure especially with the smaller diameter tubes. Perhaps I'll cut them off someday.

I read about how people experience a lot of meat squeeze out around the edges of the disc when stuffing, so I got an inexpensive HDPE sub plate to use which fits the cylinder more tightly and is reported to vastly reduce squeeze out. My iron plate actually fits pretty tightly, so I didn't use the plastic gasket the first time.

Finally, the thing had a tendency to tip over when the screw and head assembly are swung out of the way to load the cylinder, and I didn't want the feet to scratch up the counter. I dug up a couple red cedar scraps from making our fence and screwed them on the feet.

Now our stuffer was looking sweet and ready for action!

Taking it for a spin
With the #25 stuffer finally restored and fitted out, it was time to make some sausage! On the recommendation of Sausagemania, I purchased 90 meters of 32/35mm salt packed pre-tubed natural hog casing from Syracuse Casing Company.

I ordered 2.5kg of pork butt and half a kilo of back fat from our local hipster butcher shop, M.F. Dulock. They had it ready to pick up on Saturday morning. That week, the hog was a Berkshire, and the meat looked wonderful. Gauging the level of fat in the pork butt, I chopped it up into 15-20mm cubes and did the same with about half the fat.

The kids had fun with the new foodsaver vac packer while I was chopping. Below, they are about to vacseal an origami balloon.

We wanted to make a basic sausage, to check the level of readiness for our gear and technique. We used the basic recipe from Polcyn & Ruhlman, with just salt, black pepper, and garlic.

I like garlic, and used about 1 head worth, minced by knife. We used 40g of kosher salt, which is the level recommended by the recipe and also mentioned by Michael at the butcher shop (he put it in terms of 8g salt per pound of meat), and 1 tablespoon of coarse ground black pepper. These were mixed with a wood spoon into the cubes of meat & fat,

and turned into a casserole dish to chill in the freezer for a while. Meanwhile two 9 meter lengths of casing were taken out and put to soak.

I'm looking to phase out the #10 meat grinder, feeling that it is too big for my needs, so we chilled the #5 in the freezer and set it up on the counter with the 5mm die fitted. The rate of grinding for the #5 is plenty fast for this amount of processing, but the drawbacks are that the hopper is small, so you can't load as much material and some tends to spill out if little people are helping. The bigger issue is the size of the space defined by the ID of the barrel on the housing and the outer surface of the screw. As it turns out, I should have gone smaller on the cubing step with the meat; lots of the chunks I cut were really too big and got kind of mushed as they were brought in by the feed screw. I think the #10 probably deals with bigger chunks more readily. But armed with this new realization, I feel better prepared to succeed more smoothly with the #5 next time.

In any case, it did a fine job of grinding; probably took less than 30 minutes with Child 2 helping.

The ground meat went back in the fridge while we set up the stuffing operation. A casing was rinsed and I tried to get it on the 1" stuffer tube. 32/35mm casing turns out to be just a bit too small to make this easy, so I switched to the 3/4" tube. The pre-tubed casing was very convenient to get on the tube and use!

I read about how some Enterprise stuffer users put their meat in a bag. (Yes, this whole endeavor makes plenty of opportunities for off color jokes, which I take full advantage of out of earshot of the children). The bag then goes in the cylinder, with a corner getting pulled out the spout and snipped off. This sounded interesting to me so after mixing the meat and spices with 1 cup of hard cider (substituted for the red wine in the recipe) for the binding step, I tried loading it into a 4L ziploc, which wasn't quite big enough. Next time I'll try a bit bigger bag, maybe from McMaster.

Now we were ready to start. Child 2 is munching on roasted cauliflower and apple, Child 3 wants to crank.

The kids took turns cranking the stuffer while I tried to manage the filling spout. There is a balance to how fast you allow the casing to come off the spout, how firm you let it pack, not getting the casing hung up, etc. Suffice to say I need more practice, and should probably try to do a better job eliminating air bubbles when loading the cylinder. We ended up using most of two lengths of casing, making two coils on wet cookie sheets. I had to clamp the stuffer to the counter midway through since the kids were having trouble keeping it still and also applying the requisite force on the crank.

Hmm, this sausage spiral can't possibly be 9 meters long?

Child 1 and I twisted the coils into links, another aspect of sausage making which I clearly need more practice at. Child 1 had a fine old time grappling with slick intestines.

For being so thin, hog casing is astoundingly strong. It is strange how the links hold their shape, even after being cut at the twists.

We had perhaps 150g of filling left in the bag at the bottom of the stuffer even after it bottomed out, which we made into patties and cooked in the pan for dinner. A couple sausages were also pan fried for the evening meal. They were pretty good, though a little on the salty side. Child 2 and Child 3 found them too peppery. Child 1 ate up their leftovers and was still asking for more. The garlic came through boldly. Becky thought the cohesion of the sausage filling was not as good as it could have been. I think maybe I needed to work it more during the binding step, or else fill it more tightly in the casing.

The extra sausages were frozen individually on a cookie sheet, then vacuum bagged in batches of 4 or 5. I vac sealed a set unfrozen, and of course they got horribly squished. Hence the freezing first.

Other Possible Uses for the Enterprise #25
The press is often referred to as being useful for "Cider, Duck, and Lard", in addition to sausage. It came with a cast iron bottom grate and a perforated cylinder which could be used in conjunction with a smaller diameter top plate to press material with a moderate amount of force and extract it's juices. The perforated cylinder that came with mine was beat up and very rusty, but you can buy a stainless replacement new from Chop-rite distributors. They are not cheap though, so I opted to wait to spend that money until I found something I wanted to juice with the Enterprise.

The prospect of pressing cider with this machine is not terribly motivating. Firstly, the acidic cider is going to corrode the cast iron quickly. More importantly, the capacity is not that large in the context of cider, and the amount of force it exerts is not great compared to a more purpose built apparatus. I think with the Enterprise, it would take you all day to run through a modest amount of pomace, and your yield would be low because the pressure is inadequate. Knocking up a homebrew basket or cheese press with more capacity from wood and a cheap hydraulic shop press would surely get you to a better place. Has anyone out there used an Enterprise for cider making? What was your experience?

I had never heard of this dish before, and truthfully it makes me feel a little queasy to contemplate it. Apparently it was considered the height of cuisine in 19th century France. A duck is killed by asphyxiation (to keep the blood in), and roasted intact with all organs excepting the liver. Then the major pieces are removed and the remainder of the carcass put in the press, hot. Next:

"The increasing pressure of the crank plate compacts the bird until its bones are pulverized, the organs liquified, and the carcass blood juices out of the animal, all of which sluice through a small spout in the duck press and are collected in a pan, then strained through a fine chinois. The chef then thickens the mixture with the pureed duck liver, adds Cognac and red wine, and reduces it carefully until it achieves a deep burgundy, almost black color. Diners are then treated to thin slices of the duck breast in the exquisite blood sauce, followed by a second course of roasted duck legs and thighs."

I often feel like a bit of a wimp for not being a more adventurous diner and generally embracing tip to tail eating, but still... yuck. Description lifted from the website of D'Artagnan.

We do render lard at home for use in cooking and pastry on occasion, and I've found a few references to improving the yield of this operation by compressing the cracklins to extract the maximum liquid. This makes sense to me, but I'm not sure how much extra you would gain and getting the press covered in pig fat might not be worth it unless you were rendering a large batch.

Thought about using it for cheese, but I think the corrosion issue would be a problem with the cast iron and acidic whey. There must be other projects it could be useful for.

Sausage Sous Vide
Some years ago I built a two channel temperature controller using an obsolete case design from a project at work, plus some affordable process controllers from AutomationDirect.com. It is handy to have around; my most frequent uses are in controlling a crock pot for soap making, and in controlling soil temp for germinating and growing seedlings on a warming mat. But with my recent addition of a food saver vac sealer, I'd like to try out some sous vide in a crock pot.

For those who have not heard of the concept, sous vide (french for "under vacuum") is a relatively new innovation in cooking wherein the food is sealed in a plastic bag, then kept in a temperature controlled bath for long enough to completely equilibrate to the bath temp. The setpoint of the bath is put to the level that equates to perfectly cooked for that type of food. Essentially the technique is a form of precision poaching, minus the direct contact with water. Usually meat cooked this way is finished with a short duration, intense sear to create flavor without much additional cooking.

The promise of sous vide is that it keeps the food juicy and the flavors in, while opening the process window for achieving perfectly done without overcooking, as well as enabling this to happen for the full depth of the sample. While it is possible to overcook food using sous-vide, you have a long while between done and overdone because the temperature of the food can't rise above the bath temp.

Downsides are that it works better for some foods than others, requires specialized equipment, and that it is not mentally appealing to think of cooking your food in a plastic bag for hours on end in warm water.

Restaurants apparently use the method extensively these days, in some cases to enhance the food or create new dishes, but also because it allows bulk food preparation in advance. For instance, you can sous vide a whole lot of steaks ahead of time with low labor input, then be able to finish them for orders in a minute by extracting from a bag, searing with a torch, then plating it up, with less attention to the done-ness of the cooking.

I'd read about sausage being cooked sous vide and staying amazingly juicy, so I thought I'd give it a try using my homebrew sous vide setup. Normally there is a circulator in the bath to assist in equalization of temperatures and in rapid heat transfer from bath to food, but I figured for a small amount of food it might be ok to use a still bath.

Earlier in the day I filled the crock pot with water and allowed the controller to take it up to 62C. 

Then about 1.5 hours before dinner I tossed in a bag of partially defrosted home made sausages. I used a stainless thermocouple inserted through the vent of the lid and dipped into the water to provide feedback for the controller. The sausage bag was turned a couple times during the 80 minutes of cooking. Yeah, my crockpot has awesome maple handles and an electronics knob, replacements for the crappy phenolic accouterments that cracked off after years of service.

My veggies were not done yet when the sous vide was done, so while in theory I could have just left the sausages in the bath, I took them out and put them in the fridge while waiting for the rest of the meal.

Finally at eating time I unbagged the sausages

and toasted three with a MAPP torch,

and three with the broiler on high. I discovered that the >12 year old torch has a leak and should be replaced when the whole top of the apparatus burst into flame while I was toasting the sausages. Fortunately I was able to blow it out, rather than having to defenestrate it from the second floor into the snow or something silly like that. The kids found this incident rather distressing, but also exciting, and I think it vastly enhanced their interest level in eating the sausage.

The sausage casing shrunk tight while being finished, a little like heat shrink tubing, both for the torch and the broiler. This had the happy effect of getting the sausages back into original shape, almost erasing the intense squishing they had experienced in the vac bag.

The broiler group went on a pan just used for roasting eggplant, which had some veg stuck on it and a coating of olive oil. In the broiler all this got highly charred and baked on; the pan was not that fun to clean afterwards.

So my experience (undesired combustion notwithstanding) was that the torch method was faster, easier to control the sear level, and made less of a mess.

I cut up the sausages and we enjoyed them with olive oil roasted eggplant, turnips, and carrots, plus hummus on the side. While it took an almost comical assortment of equipment and process steps to get there, these sausages did turn out really juicy and extra tasty. Probably could have seared them a little more.

In future, I may try some other sous-vide experiments. But it felt like a lot of overhead for the return.

February 6, 2016

Cutter Family Clothing Archive: 19th Century Striped Plaid Silk Dress

This is another wonderful dress entrusted to us by Becky's good friend, taken out of her mom's attic in Cambridge. The fabric handles like a medium weight, plain weave silk. It has a lustre about it and is very smooth, and a little stiff, like a taffetta.  Looking at the construction and style, I'm guessing it is late-ish 19th century, but it could be earlier or later than that. Maybe some costume or historical clothing people out there can offer their opinions...