By Judy Buchenot Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) After receiving rave reviews for their chicken sausage from friends, the Graves family decided the door to opportunity was opening. They found a packing plant that would make the chicken sausage the same way they did in their home kitchen and went into the chicken sausage business.
"When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us," once observed Alexander Graham Bell.
The Graves family has experienced some closed doors in the past years but they have always been willing to look at the doors that open for them, including one that has landed them in the sausage making business. "It really has been a journey for us," says Sarah Graves who lives with her husband Ron and their three daughters in Montgomery.
The couple is originally from the area but had moved to Southern California where they had a successful mortgage company. Then, nine years ago, the banks starting having trouble and "we pretty much lost everything," recalls Ron.
When Ron's mother, who lives in Aurora, Ill., needed assistance following surgery, the family decided to return to the Midwest to help her until new opportunities arose.
"We were on a tight budget and one of the ways we chose to save money was to make everything from scratch," says Sarah. "It was not only an economical decision but also a health decision. I started making 90 meals a month all at home, all from scratch."
Cookies, salad dressings and even butter were made in the Graves family kitchen.
Each month, Sarah purchased eight whole chickens that she cut up and separated into bags to use for everything from stock to dinner.
Ron and their daughters all joined in the effort of chopping, mixing and fixing.
As part of their resolve to eat healthy, the family decided to give up pork and focus on turkey, chicken or beef.
This not only meant giving up pork chops but also pork sausage, pork sausage pizza and many other pork-based favorites.
The family tried some chicken sausages but the cost was high and the quality was fairly low.
Then Ron decided there had to be a way to give chicken sausage the same satisfying flavor as pork sausage. "For two years, I kept playing with it," recalls Ron, who started by buying a meat grinder attachment for his Kitchen Aide mixer. He found that dark meat gave him the most flavor and that care had to be given to grinding the chicken to achieve the correct texture.
He found a way to add broth to keep it moist. He discovered lamb casing to use in place of pork casing. "I did not want to use any preservatives or too much salt or any fillers," he explained.
After many trials, he discovered a secret ingredient that was a game changer. He had friends and family try the chicken sausage and the common response was "are you sure this is chicken?" The ingredient remains a family secret giving them a competitive edge.
After receiving rave reviews for their chicken sausage from friends, the Graves decided the door to opportunity was opening. "We realized that we were on to something," says Ron.
They found a packing plant that would make the chicken sausage the same way they did in their home kitchen and went into the chicken sausage business.
Casey's Foods in Naperville was the first store willing to carry the chicken Italian sausage that contained basically chicken, herbs, peppers and Kosher salt, making it a sausage without gluten, MSG, preservatives or additives.
Other stores began to also carry the Scratch Family Foods and food service operations began using it to prepare dishes. Caputo's, Standard Market, Pete's Fresh Markets and Casey's Foods in Naperville and Woodman's Market in North Aurora carry the chicken Italian sausage in several different varieties.
The family also is now making a chicken meatball that has been well received. The family will be selling their chicken sausages at Ribfest in Naperville as a fundraiser for Lillie's Quest Camp, a children's summer camp sponsored by the nonprofit groups the Carlton Center and 5 Breads & 2 Fish.
"It all started when we wanted to make something healthy for the family," says Ron, who is 56. "But now it has become something for everyone."
"We have really been surprised by the number of people who have decided not to eat pork or beef. They really appreciate our chicken sausage," says Sarah, who is 38. They hope to have a chicken sausage pizza and a chicken breakfast sausage available at area markets in the fall.
After cooking from scratch for nearly nine years, Sarah has an impressive collection of tried-and-true recipes which she has altered to meet her healthy standards. She hopes to create more healthy Scratch Family items from her recipes in the future.
The whole family participates in demonstrations and festivals where the sausage is featured, which keeps everyone busy. However, they are still committed to making everything from scratch in their home kitchen. "We do Chinese, Mexican, Italian," says Ron. "We even make our own gyros."
"I do the baking and serve as a sous chef for Ron who does the cooking and grilling," says Sarah. "Cooking is like a part-time job for me, I spend about 25 to 30 hours a week making meals."
She believes in having several simple dishes that can be prepared with little fuss or muss.
RON AND SARAH'S CULINARY CUE When you make the commitment to cooking from scratch, it doesn't mean you have to do everything by hand. They suggest in investing is a quality food processor, blender and mixer to make the tasks go more quickly.
Sharp, high-quality knives, clever gadgets and other useful tools will help make preparation less burdensome and more appealing.