OLFEN – Fall brings out the German heritage in the little hamlets that are sprinkled around the Concho Valley.

OLFEN – Fall brings out the German heritage in the little hamlets that are sprinkled around the Concho Valley.

Each year, friends, relatives and neighbors, gather and work side by side in the communities of Olfen, Rowena and Wall to prepare sausage and turkey dinner for the thousands who travel to the small communities to enjoy the fruits of their labors. And each year, these small communities grow by thousands in one day, while they serve the traditional turkey and dressing and handmade German sausage.

This is the time of year for fall festivals and when families and friends gather together to prepare their best German sausages, from recipes handed down through generations of families who have storied histories in the area, as tillers of the soil.

The lure of fertile and available land brought a flood of immigrants to the Concho Valley, many from Germany and Czechoslovakia, and almost all farmers.

On Friday, a group of about 50, which included men, women and children of the church, plus friends and family who traveled to help, packed the kitchen next to the St. Boniface Catholic Church in Olfen to work shoulder to shoulder to prepare approximately 7,500 pounds of sausage. There were six generations working side by side to make the sausage that day.

On Sunday, they served over 3,000 dinners, from the church located within the community of Olfen, where the population is estimated to be around 10 souls.

Lee Allen Jost, 65, who succeeded his father Lee Jost, who has since passed away, as the “keeper of the recipe,” has been making the sausage more than 20 years, when his father passed the torch to him. But he has been involved in the process since he was a child. Lee was working side by side with other skilled sausage makers, many who lend a hand to prepare sausage for the fall festivals in Rowena and Wall.

“I have been helping for as long as I can remember, since I was about 5 years old,” Jost said.

But he holds the recipe particularly for the seasonings, close to the vest, since it is top secret. In fact, he keeps the recipe in a safe, whispered one of the sausage makers.

James Matthiesen has been participating in the fall sausage making sausage for 59 years years in Olfen.

“I’ve been doing this since I was five years old,” Matthiesen explained adding that he is one of Olfen’s 10 residents who helps with the annual project.

“We recently went to Olfen, Germany about three weeks ago to see how they make sausage and guess what? Our’s is better,”Matthiesen said proudly.

Sausage making was a German custom brought to this part of the world at the end of the 19th century. The tradition started at St. Boniface in 1922 when a group of German farmers got together and started making sausage like they learned from their parents.

In those days, each farmer would donate a hog or cattle to the church and the men would commence to the task.

The hogs and cattle were butchered then and there and they de-boned them and ground the meat with a hand-cranked grinder.

They've come a long way in 95 years and today they have automatic grinders and a sausage-stuffing machine to streamline the operation. On this day, they worked they worked until about 4 p.m. cranking out 7,500 pounds of sausage.

“We have it down to a fine art,” Jost said.

And, they have fun too.

“It’s great comradery,” said Mike Halfmann, who is the sausage chairman this year. He’s been making sausage for 25 years.

And it is a right of passage handed down from father to son to grandson.

Elijah Ynostrosa, 11, was shoulder to shoulder with the older men making sausage, which has done since the tender age of seven.

“I really like this,” he smiled.

There was lots of work to be done to. Once the meat, which includes lean beef and pork, is ground up, it is weighed and then pre-measured bags of salt and pepper are added and then, the secret seasoning. Then mixture makes its way to three sausage-stuffing stations manned by six to eight stuffers. Once the sausage is stuffed, the links are hung on racks and wheeled into the walk-in refrigerator, where they hang until they are smoked. Then about 3,000 pounds is prepared to sell, while 4,500 pounds is boiled and flash fried to be served during the festival.

Gus Schneiderheinz was a newcomer this year, who traveled all the way from San Antonio to watch the technique. He has been making sausage for about six years in the small community of Willow near Fredericksburg in the Hill Country.

“This is a great operation,” Schneiderheinz said. “They’ve really got this down.”

Next door, the ladies of the church were busy making 750 pounds of coleslaw, which will accompany about 1,500 pounds of turkey, 45 pans of dressing and more than 200 desserts, Last year, the church sold more than 3,200 meals during the last year’s festival.

Puggy Fuchs, was one of the only females in the sausage area.

“I’ve been doing this for 37 years,” she said adding that it has been since she married her German husband Bob who is in charge of the cooking and flash frying.

About 75 families belong to the parish and they work very hard, with the help of family, friends and neighbors, to lovingly prepare the meal and the sausage. The parish sells the sausage to hundreds of hungry folks from all over the state.

But, there is a little bit of competition going on. Friendly competition that is. Catholic churches in Rowena and Wall all have festivals and sausage is a tradition in them all. So if you miss the fabulous lunch today, there are two more opportunities. St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Wall, will have their festival on Sunday, Oct. 15, complete with the traditional fall festival fare, turkey and sausage.

The weekend of Nov. 12, when St. Joseph’s Fall Festival commences in Rowena some of the same friends and family from Olfen will be working there to prepare the sausage and the turkey and dressing meal. The fall festival this year is called “Celebrating 110 Years of the Light of Faith.”

Last year, St. Joseph’s served 3,800 folks from the area, both inside St. Joseph’s and with take out meals. And, these sausage makers will get busy on Friday preparing the meat and will make the sausage on Saturday. Nov. 11.

St. Joseph’s Fall Festival has also been going on for 95 years and they too are planning to make 4.5 tons of sausage and to serve almost 4,000 people.

The festival started there to honor Armistice Day, which was the official end of World War I on the “eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”

“But in 1922, the fall festival started so the church could raise funds to build a new church,” said Publicity Chairman Pat Vancil.

Everyone in the church is on a festival committee for the festival, which is the largest fundraiser of the year. There are committees for everything from potatoes and green beans to desserts, sausage and publicity.

“The priest has said when you’re baptized you’re automatically put on the festival list,” Vancil quipped.