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A veteran collector of PA Deitsch antiques in the vast Dutch country, recently when reading a notice for a typical PA Dutch pork and sauerkraut dinner at a church social hall, I was reminded about how many local farm auctions in which I attended and saw so many sauerkraut tools among the PA Deitsh. Not only large wooden cabbage slicing boards, but many huge sauerkraut crocks used to ferment this popular farming dish, and their counterparts, long handle huge wooden stumpers, in which farm wives and children pressed down various layers of shredded cabbage to ferment properly to be eaten with potatoes and pork in the cold winter months.
The family supply of pork was raised in their pig stable where the piglets were often fed with table scraps from the household wastes. Hogs were an indicative part of the PA Dutch diet, including fresh or smoked sausage. However, a frugal Dutch family never wasted anything, including their prized crocks of sauerkraut! So on New Year’s Eve, it is not surprising that a frugal or wise Dutch family decided to eat the last remaining kraut that had been fermenting from the previous season. So it was a Dutch proverb that a successful Dutchman would eat pork and sauerkraut to bring him good luck in the ensuing New Year, but many of our folk people always subscribed to the adage “Waste Not, Want Not!”
But this folk practice over the years had created a yearning by our folk people never to forget this dish on New Year’s Day. In Berks and Lehigh counties, natives raised and ate a huge quantity of potatoes and cabbage, which was a common dish eagerly eaten by the farming class of people. But anyone who is native to this culture enjoys eating pickled cabbage and coleslaw, besides our national folk dish, pork and sauerkraut! As with all of ethnic food dishes, the difference between good pork and sauerkraut and mediocre types, is if the dish was prepared by a PA Dutch housewife who follows a gourmet recipe.
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.