John Shields, Gertrudes Chesapeake Kitchen

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Giving Thanks for Our Baltimore Sauerkraut Tradition

When November rolls around the holiday hullabaloo is already well underway. While the majority of folks are planning Thanksgiving feasts, decorating, scheduling holiday parties, making gift-giving lists, and have sugar plum fairies on their minds, my attention is focused on tubs of simmering, bubbling, brining sauerkraut. Bundling up, I make my way over to my friend’s Charles Village row house that is the repository for the annual batch of kraut. I pull off the weights, cloths and coverings that protect and encourage the brining process that gently transforms the lowly cabbage into fresh tangy kraut.

Although homemade sauerkraut brewing may seem a thing of the past, the practice is still going strong around much of the world. In most of the cold northern climates the tradition of curing cabbage goes back to ancient times. There are few regular sources of nourishment to be had during the cold months and cabbage fashioned into sauerkraut provides a reliable source of Vitamins A and C and Potassium as well. Cabbage and kraut have even higher levels of lactobacilli, a probiotic, than yogurt and help in the digestive process. People living in remote eastern European villages may not know the exact nutritional components of kraut, but history has shown that by eating it during the winter they stay healthy. Their home brewed kraut is still used for medicinal purposes, virility, and even hangover relief. Wow – that’s some powerful stuff!

The Final Weeks of Snowball Season in Baltimore

When you ask a Baltimorean about their favorite summertime food memories, you will likely hear tales of crab feasts from throughout their lives, and maybe about the time Aunt Josie alone ate two dozen crabs while polishing off her own pitcher of beer. But if you dig just a little deeper beyond the crab seasoning, then you will undoubtedly hear us locals wonderfully rhapsodizing about our snowballs, that very-Baltimore summer delicacy of ice enjoyed on the hot, humid evenings of summer.

For those unfamiliar with snowballs, they are sweet treats of shaved ice–not crushed, packed ice as found in snow cones–drenched with a plethora of flavored sugary syrups and all sorts of optional condiments. Snowballs are sold from snowball stands, of course, and these stands can run from an elaborate shed-like building adorned with colored lights, to a simple folding table covered with a plastic tablecloth. All stands feature the essential shaved ice machine poised and ready to conquer big chunks of ice, as well as the numerous bottles of flavored syrups. Regardless of the surroundings the results are usually the same: a delightful and refreshing icy treat slathered with your favorite flavoring and toppings.

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