DSC00865 If you had asked me, thirty years ago, what sort of holiday magic I hoped to someday impart to my grateful family, I never would have predicted that it would be all about pork products. But such is my fate. I am the official maker of the sausage rolls. That is my one unchanging task, year in, year out, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

            It’s no small job. I’m one of six siblings, who all married and have two or more children. My oldest nephew is now married and has a baby of his own. Looks like our gatherings, which average 20 or 25 people, are just going to keep getting bigger.

For each holiday, I purchase four pounds of pan sausage from Bob’s Quality Meats on Rainier Avenue in Columbia City. In recent years, I’ve also bought a package of fake sausage for the vegetarians in the family. Then I mix up a quadruple batch of buttermilk biscuit dough. I roll out a quarter of the dough at a time, cover it with sausage, and roll it up together into four and a half long cylinders, which I wrap and put in the freezer. When the big day comes, I slice, bake and serve the sausage rolls piping hot. I must do this. It is written.

           Except, of course, that it’s not written at all. It just sort of happened, a long time ago, that sausage rolls became mandatory. And I went along with it, because—well, maybe because I like having one unchanging holiday task, one that I know will make everyone happy and make me feel useful.

            What many of the younger family members don’t know is that it’s also my own small annual testament to a woman I still miss. A long time ago, she was my mother-in-law.

            “Oh, there she goes, bringing up that first marriage,” I can hear my children saying.

            “What first marriage?” I can hear my youngest nieces and nephews asking.

            Well, kids, way back when I was in my twenties, before I met your Uncle Rustin, I was married to someone else. A nice young man from North Carolina. And so I had a Southern mother-in-law. She was no home-fried stereotype: stylish in an unpretentious way, she worked full-time for a jewelry company, a job she liked. Her nickname was Sam. 

Sam was a voracious reader, an Anglophile, and she enjoyed cooking. And what she cooked bore little resemblance to what my mother cooked. Potato-chip cookies, for example. Or Broccoli Surprise, which involved a lot of cheese, breadcrumbs and sauce. My first husband had never eaten a naken broccoli spear until he dined at our house in Seattle.

            But it was Sam’s sausage rolls that really won me over. What a sinfully rich, animal-fat-laden, incredibly tasty idea: to roll up sausage with biscuit dough, bake, and eat while still piping hot. And so versatile: have a few with coffee on Christmas morning, OR serve as an appetizer later in the day! Sam made them with Bisquick (and so I did too, for many years) and Jimmy Dean’s Pork Sausage (ditto, until I discovered Bob’s).

            In those first-marriage years, I liked to cook, but I wasn’t terribly confident. So to come across something I could make so easily and that everyone in my family instantly loved? It’s no wonder I’ve clung to the formula for three decades.

            And even though, to our Northwestern taste buds, sausage rolls seemed so Southern and therefore clearly tied to that first marriage, the fact that my family members wanted me to keep making them was more than just a damn, these are good! product endorsement.  It was also a way of saying, without having to say it out loud: Don’t worry, Ann. We will ALL survive your divorce. And we will all continue to cherish memories of your first mother-in-law, who died too young from cancer, and your first husband, who really was a nice guy—and who, I’m happy to report, remarried a long time ago and has two kids of his own.

You know what’s funny? I’ve never asked him if they have sausage rolls every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve just always assumed.

Registration is open for Intro to Memoir Writing at SCCCStarts Jan 6, 2014. Six Monday nights. Non-credit = all inspiration, no stress!

Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area.  Podcasts available.

Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.