Pork was an indicative part of the PA Dutch diet, including fresh or smoke sausage, however, a frugal Dutch family never wasted anything including their prized crocks of sauerkraut!
So on New Year’s Eve or Day, 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, as is the Dutch proverb that a successful Dutchman would eat pork and sauerkraut to bring him good luck in the ensuing new year, but most simply believed and or subscribed to the adage “Waste not, want not!”
This folk practice of eating pork and sauerkraut over the years had created a yearning for people never to forget this dish on New Year’s Day. In Berks and Lehigh counties, natives raised a huge quantity of potatoes and cabbage that 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 of pork and sauerkraut!
I have been to many country farm auctions over the years that had many sauerkraut tools among the PA Deitsch, including not only large wooden cabbage slicing boards, but many huge sauerkraut crocks used to ferment this popular farming dish. Also, their counterparts, long-handled huge wooden stumpers in which farmwives and children pressed down various layers of shredded cabbage to ferment properly to be eaten with potatoes and pork in the cold winter months.
As with all of ethnic food dishes, the difference between good pork and sauerkraut to mediocre types is if the dish was prepared by PA Dutch housewife who followed a long handed down or gourmet recipe. I expect this time of year to have no shortage of pork and sauerkraut dinners at local churches and meeting halls, and definitely not a shortage of our PA Dutch people in attendance!
Richard H. Shaner is director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.