When I think of traditional Pennsylvania foods I tend to think of two dishes (thought not combined) sauerkraut and scrapple. Both of these dishes conjure to mind thoughts of early days in America. I think that image comes to mind because both food items tend to preserving second choice foods. While I grew up eating sauerkraut maybe once a year and enjoying, scrapple was something not permitted in my childhood home. Thus I was interested to learn more about the process involved in making both of these dishes for our Harvest Festival here at Quiet Valley.
Fermented foods play such a large role in human history and prehistory. Food manipulation and preservation has allowed us to survive in unending climate variations. And while things that are old and moldy may not be everyone’s favorite treats, we are alive today because our ancestors figure this out. Fermentation is used to detoxify poisonous plants and make them edible. Most of the time fermentation is the process of preserving food for a later date.
Making sauerkraut is surprisingly easy. In the garden at Quiet Valley we grown numerous heads of cabbage. These cabbages are gathered from the garden usually 10-20 heads at a time. We have two wonderful cabbage experts who work those heads down into thin slices. Fun fact: did you know cabbage plants will regrow heads? If you slice them early, you will get miniature heads growing back in their place.
Once the cabbages are sliced thinly they are placed in a large stoneware crock and salt is added. The salt causes the cabbage to release water and keeps dangerous bacteria from growing. Salt does encourage bacterial growth but it’s the kind that causes fermentation and not spoilage. The salt causes the cabbage to release water. The cabbage is pounded down to the bottom of the crock and the salt water forms a protective seal over the top. This is allowed to ferment for at least a couple of weeks but some people do wait a couple of months.
Once it it ready, according to Gary (one of the founders of the museum and the resident sauerkraut expert) we scoop out the top and bag it up. Here at the museum we freeze the sauerkraut for Christmas time. But it can just as easily be canned or eaten straight way. Traditionally the Pennsylvania Germans would eat sauerkraut and pork as part of their New Year’s celebration because pigs rout forward and it will bring good luck.
The Quiet Valley Blog is written by Kat Muller as she explores the farm museum throughout the year. Follow along with Kat and learn about the farm!