April 21, 2010
Sauerkraut and Sweet Memories (An Indiana State Fair sample)

Sauerkraut and Sweet Memories

When you meet a man in his early 40s, he usually comes with baggage. By then, we all have some. But when I met Robert, he didn’t have any baggage. Instead, he had crocks. Huge grey crocks.

My husband grew up on a family farm in southern Indiana. His family was German and every year they made sauerkraut. It was an activity that my husband recalled with great affection. Robert, his mother and father would spend an entire day shredding green cabbage and stuffing it into the large grey crocks that had been in his family for generations. He and his dad would pound the shredded cabbage, which was layered with salt, with their closed fists to help release the cabbage’s juice to enhance the preservation process. His mom would then pour a bit of white vinegar into the crocks and cover the top with large cabbage leaves. The final step was placing a large plate over the cabbage leaves which was then weighted down with a heavy rock. After 6-8 weeks, the sauerkraut was ready for use in preparing one of Robert’s favorite childhood dishes–sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and hot dogs.

The first year we were married, we tried to make sauerkraut. We didn’t seal the crocks properly and they sat, fermenting, for two days while we were both out of town on business trips. As fate would have it, I arrived home first to a garage that needed to be aired out for days. We never made sauerkraut again. That was 12 years ago. I was happy to buy my sauerkraut at the supermarket while the crocks were permanently retired.

Three years ago, some new friends invited us to their annual sauerkraut making party. Recalling our experience with that activity, I thought it would be best to turn down the invitation. But once Robert found out we had been invited, he happily rescued and dusted off the crocks!

At the party, Robert shredded and pounded the cabbage. After several hours, I turned to see him wiping his face with his shirt sleeve. He looked at me and smiled, “Boy, that cabbage really goes straight to your eyes.” Maybe so, but I really think it went straight to his heart.

This is a sample Hoosier food story, written by Vic Wesseler, an Indiana based food writer, recipe creator, and Advanced Master Gardener. Wesseler lives on a mini-farm called Dirtpatch in Lebanon, Indiana, and is the creator of GOING LOCAL.

The Indiana Humanities Council has joined with the Indiana State Fair to create a humanities writing contest for its signature program, Food for Thought, which engages Hoosiers in discussions about food and how it helps define Indiana’s culture. With this in mind, the Council encourages you to write a short story or essay about an Indiana memory related to food. It might be about a special occasion, a funny incident, a favorite dish, or an ethnic specialty. Learn more here (Click on Department 114). Winning entries will receive a cash prize.

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