NANTICOKE — Kielbasa. Fresh or smoked, it’s a staple and favorite for many families in the Wyoming Valley.
The distinct sausage is a tradition for many a family, and many kielbasa makers have recipes that are as guarded with the security given to national secrets.
At Jerry’s Market in Nanticoke, Jan Gerrity and her brother Gerald are sixth-generation kielbasa makers.
When asked for details on the recipe, Gerald politely declined. “Even she doesn’t know it,” Gerald said of his sister as he prepared to make a batch of smoked kielbasa on Friday.
The market on Main Street was busy Friday with customers purchasing meats, salads and, of course, kielbasa.
“How’s your brother doing?” Jan asked a customer, who told her he was in Hawaii. “Do they have kielbasa there?” she asked, and the customer responded, “If they do, it’s not as good as this.”
Gerrity said her grandfather started making kielbasa decades ago and the family has kept the tradition alive. The first store was in Dallas, then it moved to Hunlock Creek before arriving in Nanticoke 24 years ago. Jan said they intend to continue the family tradition after their parents — Gerald and Joanne Gerrity — retire.
“Many of our customers have known me since I was a baby,” Jan said.
Jerry’s recipe includes pork, beef and ham, Jan said, but that’s about as much as she was going to reveal. She said they offer fresh and smoked kielbasa and also have cheese-filled and extra-garlic kielbasa.
“We have our own brand of kielbasa,” Jan said. “People like what they like.”
Whether you like mustard seeds, pounds of garlic or a touch, the taste of kielbasa enhanced with horseradish right from the root can make holidays or lunch days a culinary delight.
Kielbasa is the Polish word for sausage, and it comes in many varieties.
While kielbasa can be found almost anywhere, the taste and texture can vary greatly. Even though the same basic ingredients can be found in most kielbasas — pork, salt, pepper, water, garlic — each has its own distinctive taste.
Some kielbasa makers add their own touch to their recipe, but don’t expect them to tell . Family secrets are just that — secret.
Not too far from Jerry’s Market, Tarnowski’s Kielbasa recently opened a new store on Broadway. John Vishnefski, grandson of the family’s original kielbasa maker, owns the store and he still makes his products and smokes kielbasa at the original location in Glen Lyon.
“My family has been making kielbasa for 64 years,” Vishnefski said. “My grandfather, Thaddeus and his brothers Chet, Leo and Johnny, started the business. It’s been the same recipe for all those years.”
Vishnefski said he uses pork and beef in his recipe that faithful customers have enjoyed. Dale and Debbie Kovalich, originally from Glen Lyon, but Dover, Del., residents for 28 years, always stop at Tarnowski’s before heading home.
“Every time we come in, we stop for sausage to go,” Kovalich said. “We’ve shopped at Tarnowski’s all our lives.”
Vishnefski has owned the business for two years. He said he increased sales by about 6,800 pounds last year.
“We keep getting more and more customers,” he said. “We also go to the Wilkes-Barre Farmers Market and the Plymouth Kielbasa Festival.”
Vishnefski said he has increased advertising and has added products like cole slaw, horseradish sauce and kielbasa variations like cheese-filled, turkey kielbasa and venison kielbasa if the customer supplies the deer meat.
After selling cars for more than seven years, Vishnefski said he decided to work for himself, and he took over the family business. He said his cousin Michael Tarnowski taught him how to make the kielbasa.
Frank Cembrock of Hanover Township stopped to buy some smoked kielbasa for his sister in Montoursville.
“As soon as I walk in her house, she asks me if I brought kielbasa,” Cembrock said. “She can’t get it there. And if I couldn’t get Tarnowski’s, I wouldn’t even go to her house.”
In a modest two-story house on Marcy Street in Larksville, Rich and Irene Mackiewicz continue a family tradition that started in the 1950s. Rich’s parents — Clem and Thelma — began making kielbasa back then, and now that they have passed, Mackiewicz continues to make kielbasa for family and friends for Easter and Christmas.
“My dad would mix the seasonings together in what he called the ‘magic bag’ and then add it to the meat mixture,” Rich said. “He knew exactly how to mix it — so much per pound.”
Mackiewicz said his father would put enough seasonings in the magic bags for 10 pounds of kielbasa. He said keeping the tradition going is important even though he only makes enough for family and friends. His dad owned Clem’s Market at the corner of Marcy and Third streets and he also worked at Master Market in Plymouth for years.
“No one else in the family does it,” Mackiewicz said. “It’s a family tradition; it’s filled with good memories.”
Mackiewicz said his father always told him to “stick with the recipe” — no variations. The recipe includes salt, pepper, garlic, mustard seeds and water, but don’t expect any exact details. And the Mackiewicz recipe uses only pork butts — no beef. The casings are pig intestines; some people use beef casings. Mackiewicz has an authentic smoker in the back yard and he uses cherry and apple woods from local orchards to smoke the meat.
“When I was a kid, my dad let me turn the crank on the grinder,”he said. “I still use all the equipment he used.”
Each year at the Plymouth Kielbasa Festival a contest is held to determine the best fresh and best smoked kielbasas. Bosak’s Market in Olyphant and Komensky’s Market in Duryea have garnered multiple awards in both categories. They love the competition.
Tom and Gail Bosak and Mark and Tammy Bosak are the owners of the store that uses a 25-year-old recipe they came up with to satisfy their mother’s craving for kielbasa.
“My mother loved kielbasa, but she couldn’t eat it because she always got heartburn and an upset stomach,” Tom said. “So my brother and I came up with a recipe that she could handle without having it repeat on her.”
The Bosaks started out as farmers and then decided to open a market and make kielbasa about 15 hears ago. They can’t wait to make the 40-minute drive to Plymouth for the annual festival.
“We didn’t enter the first year because we didn’t know about it,” Gail said. “But then some of our customers told us about it and we got in the second year and every year after. And we’ve done pretty well.”
Like Rich Mackiewicz said, “It’s all in the recipe.”