THE ETHNIC KITCHEN
The making of sauerkraut is a tradition brought to the new world by Eastern European, Middle European, and Scandinavian immigrants. The fermentation and making of sauerkraut using cabbage was typically done in the fall when cabbage was ready for harvesting. Sauerkraut provided ascorbic acid or Vitamin C to prevent scurvy as fresh citrus fruits were not available during most of the 1800's. Ships packed sauerkraut in barrels, knowing that voyages could take six to nine weeks. Many immigrants who refused to eat sauerkraut on the ship and voyage died or disembarked with scurvy.
Often, the making of sauerkraut was a family affair as it took many hands to harvest the cabbage, cut and slice the cabbage, place it in stoneware crocks and stomp the cabbage with a wooden stomper or device to draw out the juices after salt was added to begin the fermenting process. The Centennial Log Cabin in New Prague's Memorial Park has two old homemade sauerkraut cutters from local families. The slicing blades were made by a local blacksmith and sharpened every year. The old cabbage slicers at the log home were designed for a person to sit while slicing. One end of the kraut cutter rested on a crock and the other end rested on a chair or stump. The size of stoneware crocks varied in gallon size depending on the amount to be sliced and the size of the family. Initially, stoneware crocks were kept in a cold cellar under the house and brought in kettles to the kitchen as needed. Today, sauerkraut is processed in canning jars and put on the cellar shelves. I have often been told by older citizens of taking sauerkraut of the crocks with their fingers as kids and eating it when exiting the cellar.
Sauerkraut was a staple in most Bohemian and German homes. Kraut is often combined with potato dumplings, pork, duck, and jitrnice for dinner. Zelnicky is a Bohemian cracker made with sauerkraut, and sometimes cracklings. (pork fat cut into cubes and browned on the stove in a cast iron skillet) Every family and ethnic country had their own food traditions and yet, Kraut was common among the first early settlers, no matter what country they emigrated from.
Are you ready to try this tradition? Click on the images below and we'll show you how!