Vote 1, the sausage sizzle!

Grilling Sausages, courtesy Unsplash. Under Wiki Commons Licence, 2015.

With a Federal election being held across the nation this weekend, we’ve been having a bit of fun discussing the idea of the ‘Democracy Sausage’ which was deemed Australia’s Word of the Year for 2016, by the The Australian National Dictionary Centre in Canberra.

Freshly made sausages made by Feather and Bone Butchery. Photo (c) Scott Hill for Sydney Living Museums

Crowd pleaser

Loved by kids and adults alike, of all walks of life, as comfort food served at home with mashed potatoes, a barbecue staple or out-and-about street food in a slice of bread and the mandatory squirt of sauce (you can decide whether it should be tomato or barbecue flavour), can there be a more universal snack-cum-meal in Australia? And with plant-based-protein versions, sausages can now be enjoyed by vegetarian and vegan consumers and are therefore truly democratic.

Grant Hilliard from Feather & Bone Butchery with sausages ready for the grill. Photo (c) Scott Hill,  Sydney Living Museums

The sausage sizzle

According to food historian Barbara Santich in her book Bold Palates: Australia’s gastronomic heritage,

‘The sausage sizzle is a uniquely Australian variant of the the barbecue and almost by definition a public event’. [4]

Sausage sizzles are generally associated with charities and fundraising and in many cases take the sausage to the people, rather than be reserved for invited guests. Depending which way you load your onions, Bunning’s hardware shops have made the charity initiative a tantalising marketing coup, but government elections also guarantee a good turnout of voters in public schools and church halls, so are a perfect opportunity for community groups to reach a captive audience.

Country Women’s Association New South Wales logo circa 1930s, printed on the Association’s ‘Calendar of cakes & afternoon tea delicacies.’1931. © Sydney Living Museums

The winning vote!

Sizzling and sausages have long been a united force, with references to sausages sizzling and sizzling sausages in various publications since the 1800s, but the ‘sausage sizzle’ as an event appears to have emerged in the 1940s.

A Trove newspaper search reveals a headline ‘Sausages Sizzle’ at a hockey club get-together  in Toowong in Queensland, but it may be something of a red herring rather than a true sausage sizzle. A ‘row of tea billies and sausages and chips sizzling in the frying pans’ sat atop a campfire. There were ‘a few anxious moments’ for the cooks in charge when one of the guests ‘persisted in coming too near the fire with crackers’ (but that’s another story..). [1]

In June 1841 a ‘sausage sizzle’ competition was held by the Grand United Oddfellows Friendly Society ‘Pride of Juvenile branch’ in Adamstown near Newcastle, NSW. Sister Dale and Brother Shepherd won the comp, but does a competitive ‘cook off’ qualify as a ‘sausage sizzle’ in today’s sense?  [2]

But the prize really has to go, I think, to the Forbes Junior Country Women’s Association (CWA) for their ‘Full Moon Sausage- Sizzle’ which was to be held on March 18, 1946. Guests were asked to bring along condensed milk, dried milk, soap or jelly crystals, which would be  parceled up and sent to England as part of the World War II recovery effort. [3]

Putting the semantics about the ‘sausage sizzle’ aside, each of these examples exemplifies the social value of the sausage, as a relatively inglorious food that is easy to prepare and eat, and its role in supporting occasions where people gather together to share a common cause.

Political debate

Mike Williams from the ABC’s ‘History Listen’ weighs into the political debate about sausages, the sausage sizzle and their roles (not to be confused with the sausage roll) in ‘The unauthorised history of the sausage sizzle‘. Click on the link to download or listen to online.

[1] ‘Sausages Sizzle. Taxation’s hockey Party’. Daily Standard (Brisbane, Qld. : 1912 – 1936), Wednesday 24 October 1934, page 9.
[2] Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW : 1876 – 1954), Friday 27 June 1941, page 17
[3] Forbes Advocate (NSW : 1911 – 1954), Friday 8 March 1946, page 6
[4] Santich, Barbara. Bold Palates:Australia’s gastronomic heritage. Wakefield Press, Kent Town, South Australia. 2011p. 146