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The thing about sausages

Food for thought: the Meat and Livestock Commission claims that 39 per cent of the British eat sausages at least once a week. Last year, we ploughed through 300,000 tonnes: 12lb per capita of the population. Make an adjustment for vegetarians, health faddists, BSE-fearers (reports that even sausages labelled "pork" contained a proportion of beef products have caused queasy moments), the religiously inclined, heart patients and dieters, and the true figure is probably around 18lb. Which means that we're each eating around three sausages a week.

This figure seems rather low. If you have ever watched a barbecue, you will have noticed that even the snootiest supermodel can chow six of the things as they bounce from the coals. Bonfire night alone will probably account for a month's worth of sausage consumption. Imagine a vegan bonfire night: "Fancy some Linda McCartney textured vegetable protein before we set fire to the compost heap?".

The thing about sausages is that they're not so much a culinary choice as a way of life. Indeed, if you read the Euro-scare stories that form the backbone of our tabloids, you could well believe that the one thing the British hold dear, apart from the right to work 80-hour weeks if our employers want, is our sausages. Brussels wants our bangers! Beware the Eurocrat! He wants to limit the ratio of breadcrumbs to meat, cut down on hoof, hair and gristle. They'll be having us eating garlic next. Our national culture is at stake. Vote Goldsmith!

A change, though, is creeping through the culture, and it's come in via the increasingly sophisticated palates of shoppers. Where the sausage used to be a simple comfort food, it is now a statement of pretension. This is no bad thing: I still have nightmares about the sausages we were force-fed at primary school. Anyone who's ever choked on a rubber glove filled with sourdough will have a rough idea. Nowadays, the average supermarket basket is almost as likely to contain a six-pack of pork and leek as anything pink and droopy.

A study of chill counters reveals a disturbing preponderance of development department dreams. Waitrose, among the "traditional" varieties, sells Toulouse (pounds 1.49), Pork and Leek (pounds 1749) and Spicy Mediterranean (paprika, pepper and chilli) (pounds 1.79). Safeway plays it safe with Lincolnshires, Cumberlands and Porkinsons. Marks & Spencer, whose genius in inventing bangers with the fried onion incorporated (pounds 1.99) deserves applause, also wins the award for most revolting food idea for 1996: Daffy Duck Sausage Nuggets with crisp-crumb coating (pounds 1.59).

Asda have gone the biggest bundle on the trend. They now offer 23 types, including Tomato, Mesquite, Spanish Caliente, Aberdeen Angus, Toulouse, and Pork and Leek. This week, Toffee Apple - pork with dried apple and a maple syrup glaze (99p) - joined the range. They look weird in the pack. They cause havoc on the grill pan. And, to someone who coped with primary school sausages by adding honey, they taste heavenly. I'm just waiting for chicken and peanut butter.