Pennsylvania Dutch Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut was developed primarily as a way of preserving cabbage throughout the year. The Amish and the German settlers in the Lancaster County region of Pennsylvania grew enough vegetables in their gardens and farms to last during the harsh, winter months. However, before the processes of canning and freezing were perfected, it was difficult to preserve the vegetables for any extended period of time.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, there were many attempts to preserve the vegetables. Some of these attempts were somewhat successful. One way that was used to preserve vegetables such as carrots, beets, and cauliflower involved burying them underground. Insulated with leaves and straw to prevent freezing, the vegetables managed to last for a few months by this means. Potatoes and onions were stored in root cellars of farmhouses to help preserve their longevity.
Sauerkraut was developed in Europe as an alternative way to preserve cabbage. Recipes were brought over from Europe by Germans who settled into the Lancaster County region of Pennsylvania.
The basic method of making this Pennsylvania Dutch dish involves first shredding the cabbage into a large crock. Then, each layer is salted. Next, the layers of cabbage are stomped firmly. This stomping serves to break down the strong fibers and release the natural juices of the vegetable. Boiling water is then usually added to the cabbage which is then sealed in the crock or in jars for about ten days as fermentation took place.
During the fermentation process, the juice of the cabbage tends to expand and squeeze out of the crock or jar. When the container is opened after the 10 days, the cabbage at the top tends to blacken on contact with the air. That blackened layers is removed and disposed of. The finished product is then cold-packed in jars. It usually sets for four to six weeks before it is used.
Like any food, there are variations on how it is prepared and served. Some Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch chefs steam the cabbage instead of using boiling water. Some add vinegar, butter, and/or sugar to the mixture. As for serving, it is usually added to meats such as roasts or spareribs and baked. Or, it can be eaten alone. Some people even like to add some sour cream to balance out the taste.
Originally, mainstream American society frowned upon sauerkraut. It was looked upon as peasant food eaten only by farmers. However, by the 20th century, this tasty Pennsylvania Dutch staple became popular throughout the country among all levels of society.
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