Giving Thanks for Our Baltimore Sauerkraut Tradition

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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! Why Thanksgiving and sauerkraut you may ask? Why go through all the bother of coring, slicing, salting, stomping and tending the kraut for many weeks? I like to do it for the tradition and to keep me in the rhythm of the season. Tending the kraut makes one slow down a bit. You cannot go too fast – washing the cloths that cover the vats, or skimming any foam that develops around the edges of the buckets. The living kraut takes me back to my grandmother’s basement where she would – sometimes to the dismay of the neighbor’s nose – house another year’s batch of kraut that would hold her through the long winter. Putting up my own batch of kraut that I can share with others helps me keep one foot in the past and one firmly in the present.

We know this year’s holiday celebrations are going to look very different, and many will be spending their day with just those that live in their immediate household. Here at Gertrude’s, we want to make sure you still have that delicious traditional meal that you look forward to all year, sauerkraut included. Which is why we have put together our favorite family recipes to create our Thanksgiving Curbside Menu. Our menu features a Dinner for Four, which comes with your choice of one appetizer, one entree, six sides, one bread, and one dessert. We also have a great A-La-Carte option, where you can pick and choose what you need to round out your holiday meal. Looking for those day-after Thanksgiving leftover sandwiches? We have you covered with our T-Day Sandwich Kit, which is also a great option for folks looking for a smaller portioned Thanksgiving Day meal. Order must be placed by Friday, November 20 and picked up on Wednesday, November 25 or Thursday, November 26. Visit our website for more information on the menu and order and pick up times.

Until very recently, what we grew and preserved during the harvest times, was what we had to sustain our families and communities for the winter months ahead; no star fruit from the tropics or raspberries from Chile to tide one over until the soil warmed and was planted once again in the Spring. Making kraut reminds us to plan for the future, to tend to the garden today for the days ahead. It is a reminder that the gardens we keep, the soil that we nourish and make healthy, will be the food that sustains our bodies and in turn keeps us well. So as the harvest is now in high gear, and we gather at the farmers markets to procure our needs for Thanksgiving, hanging out with my humble little batch of brewing, living, kraut gives me hope – and a good appetite – for the holidays on the horizon.

Gertie’s Sauerkraut and Apples

  • 6 tablespoons butter or olive oil
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into one half inch pieces (optional)
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 3 tart apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 jars (2 pounds each) sauerkraut, rinsed in cold water several times and drained
  • 2 cups dry champagne
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seed
  • salt and black pepper to taste

In a heavy oven-proof pot, melt the butter, and if using, render the bacon for a few minutes.  Add the onion, ginger, and garlic. Sauté for 4 minutes. Add the apples and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

Place the rinsed sauerkraut into the pot.  Pour in the champagne, caraway seed, and salt and pepper.  Toss together and bring to a boil.  Cover tightly, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45 minutes.  Alternatively, bake in an over preheated to 350 degrees for 1 hour.

Serves 8

John Shields
Chef/Author and Proprietor of Gertrude’s Chesapeake Kitchen at the Baltimore Museum of Art



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