Three men take on Basque tradition

By Lauren Brown
Burns Times-Herald

Some traditions are so tightly intertwined with culture that they become something more — they become part of one’s heritage, something passed down from generation to generation. Corey Taylor, left, and Mitchell Ebar tie off the chorizo. (Photo by PETE RUNNELS)

During the holidays, these links to the past seem to surface more frequently. Three Harney County men with Basque ties,  Pete Runnels, Tony Diaz and Joe Ebar, remember their relatives making chorizo, so they decided to get together to make a batch for their friends and family. “We all jumped at the opportunity,” Runnels said.

Chorizo is a spicy, garlicky sausage that most locals recognize from the annual Basque festival held in Hines Park each June.

Making chorizo is an involved process that takes a week, but the camaraderie and memories that were byproducts of the process are something Runnels, Diaz and Ebar want to hold on to. They will likely make this an annual Christmas tradition that they hope to pass on to their kids and so on. “It’s been a long process, but it was something we all remember,” Runnels said.

Diaz was the one with the chorizo recipe, which he had from Ebar’s  grandmother, Josephine.

Runnels said that he always remembered chorizo hanging up to dry in his grandmother, Martina Larraneta’s, laundry room. Diaz and Ebar had similar memories.  Their relatives used to run Basque boarding houses in Burns, and chorizo was a diet staple. “To them, it was a fact of life,” Runnels said. “They made it year-round.”

To begin their chorizo, Runnels, Diaz and Ebar started out with 100 pounds of pork shoulder. They cut the meat off the bone, ground it up and then used the giant mixer at Figaro’s Pizza to mix in paprika, salt and water.

They then stuffed little packets of garlic in the big tubs of meat. The garlic packets were rotated three times per day for three days. Then the meat was stuffed into hog casings using antiquated machines from the 1930s. They tied the casings and hung them to dry, poking holes in the casings to facilitate the drying process.

Runnels said the chorizo is still drying in his garage but should be ready just in time for Christmas.

Once the chorizo is done, he will give it away as gifts to his brothers and sisters, though his daughter threatened that there had better be some left when she arrives in Burns for the holidays. Runnels said that it’s traditional to eat chorizo as simply as possible — on a roll. “We don’t ever use ketchup,” he said. However, he noted other traditional dishes with chorizo include scrambled eggs and chicken and rice.

Runnels hopes making chorizo will become an annual tradition, and he’s grateful to Diaz for sharing the recipe. “It was fun. I’m sure we’ll all do it again,” he said. “It’s heritage that breeds tradition.”

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