Having just celebrated its fourth year the Harwich Sausage Festival is proof that a silly idea in a pub can lead to something wonderful.
At some point around 2009, at a planning meeting for the Harwich & Dovercourt Bay Winter Ale Festival, the CAMRA planning committee started talking about sausages. We quickly found that there was a lot of knowledge around the table about local producers and how well sausage dishes worked with beer. This conversation continued, in a rather meandering and jokey way, for the next 3 years until we finally decided to make something of it. The rest, as they say, is history.
The aims of the Harwich Sausage Festival are complex – we want to promote sausages, traditional butchers, pubs and real ale. We want people to think about where their food and drink is coming from and what is going into it and we want people to support their local pubs and butchers – quite a long shopping list for a small band of volunteers.
Fortunately having “brainstormed” for quite a long time we came up with a format that worked well in 2011 and we’ve stuck to it.
So – on Saturday 8th November 2014 we held our fourth Harwich Sausage Festival with sausages from nine local producers, presented in three real ale pubs within easy walking distance in Harwich.
The proceedings start off at 11:00 with our traditional “pre-meat” which is really an excuse to check out the Hanover Inn and get everything ready for our frivolous sausage throwing event which commences at 11:30. The object of the exercise is for throwers representing our nine producers to throw a raw sausage as far as they can. After the first year there was much concern that we were wasting good food but the throwers are each allocated a “standard sausage” by the organisers – throwing being the only fit purpose for the out-of-date slimy, supermarket horrors we provide. Amazingly the Harwich Sausage Throwing Record now stands at 150 feet and 6 inches.
The real object of the sausage throwing though is to make sure that a good crowd develops so we can tell them about the delights that await in our three excellent Harwich real ale pubs – the Hanover Inn, the Alma inn and the New Bell Inn. So – about midday – the winning thrower is announced and people are instructed to tour all three pubs and taste all nine local sausages.
As in previous years the Hanover Inn got a lot of early attention from sausage and beer lovers and the piles of sausage samples quickly started to reduce as eager tasters got to work. As in all pubs nobody knows which sausages are from which producers – the organisers having collected the sausages the previous day, labelled them with letters from A to I and distributed them. Thus in the Hanover Inn the public found three sausages, cooked, cut into sampling slices and labelled G, H and I. Also present is a quantity of voting slips with clear instructions that each voter must visit all three pubs to taste all nine sausages for their vote to count.
If the crowds had packed out the Hanover the Alma and the New Bell were pretty much the same with well over 150 people eager to soak up the atmosphere and vote for their favourite sausage. As always there was much talk about sausages and the flavours that the producers might have gone for this year. There was certainly a very spicy chilli number in the Hanover but it was next to an intriguing concoction that people were really having to think about. The three sausages in the Alma were perhaps more straightforward but no less delicious. The New Bell is known as Sausage HQ during the festivities as it was within its hallowed walls that the Sausage Festival was conceived and it was absolutely packed with sausage tasters with talk of a “kebab flavoured” sausage.
The tasting lasts from noon until about 14:30 with people wandering around Harwich visiting the pubs, tasting the sausages in no particular order and bumping into friends and strangers for a chat about sausages, beer, the weather or whatever takes their fancy.
At 14:30 we collect up the voting slips and regroup at Sausage HQ (aka the New Bell Inn) for the count which this year took place in the kitchen because the pub was so packed. There are always a few spoilt ballot papers – some people fail to fill out their form correctly in their eagerness to get around the pubs and we reject anything that doesn’t correspond to our rules – our competition is informal but we want to ensure fair play and that the winner can truly claim to have produced a champion sausage. That said we had 99 complete and valid slips and the winner was the favourite sausage on over a quarter of them.
“And the winner of the Harwich Sausage Festival 2014” .. was Primrose Pork of Great Bromley with their delicious Pork, Honey and Mustard creation – a new recipe but already very popular in their farm shop. Second place was the Alma with their very spicy chilli sausage and joint third went to T. Stobbs & Sons of Brightlingsea and St. Osyth Butchers. St. Osyth maintained their reputation for exciting flavours with a pork ploughman’s sausage (with cheese and pickle) following on from their superb black pudding sausage last year. Champion sausage makers Darren and Keith from Frinton Road Butchers in Holland-on-Sea had created the superb “kebab flavoured” sausage in the New Bell which was a blend of lamb, beef and some delightfully subtle spicing.
All-in-all a good day was had by all – Primrose Pork are delighted winners and looking forward to hanging our cherished Frying Pan Trophy in their shop – after we’ve had it engraved of course. Hopefully the public went away delighted by what they sampled and eager to seek out local sausage producers. The organisers are already looking forward to next year’s event.