This morning I called my godmother. Aunt Rosie is my mother's younger sister. She and my Uncle Buddy were my godparents and, a few years after Uncle Buddy died, she married Jim who is as sweet and dear as he was. When I asked Aunt Rosie how she manged to get two such wonderful guys in one life time she replied, “Just my natural charm.” She has a point.
Anyway, when she answered the phone I said, “Happy New Year, do I smell sauerkraut cooking?” She laughed and said, “You've got a good nose!” We talked for awhile. She is reading Each Angel Burns and is in love with Maggie, one of the main characters. “She's so beautiful,” Aunt Rosie said, “I'm not making as much progress as I should because I keep reading parts over and over because I love the descriptions.” That makes me very happy.
So then I called my sister Lisa and said, “Happy New Year, do I smell sauerkraut cooking?” She started laughing. “Yes,” she said, “it should be ready by one. Wish you were here.” After we talked I called sister Beth and asked the same question. She said they had theirs last night but there is enough leftover for today. I could probably call everybody in the family, ask the same question and get the same answer. I don't ever remember a New Year's Day in my life that I didn't smell sauerkraut cooking. I just put mine on here in Gloucester.
Sauerkraut on New Year's Day has been a family tradition as long as I can remember. Mom always said it brought good luck. Gram said it gave you a good “cleaning out” after all the excesses of the holidays. Either way I've always cooked it wherever I lived to start each new year. In fact today I had a dish of raw kraut for lunch. I've always loved it raw and often make a sauerkraut salad in the summer.
Different people fix it in different ways. My favorite is the way Gram cooked it, in a big Dutch oven with a good sized chunk of pork and lots of pepper. When it is nearly finished I'll mix up some baking soda dumplings and drop them into the liquid to simmer. Since I happen to have a package of extra smokey hot dogs in the fridge, they'll likely wind up in there too. My friend Patty's mother used to cook her sauerkraut with a ham in it. The flavor is lovely but I found it too salty for my taste. But it doesn't matter, sauerkraut is the food of the gods for us Pennsylvania Dutch folks.
I know a lot of cultures have different New Year's traditions. When I lived in Texas lots of people insisted that black-eyed peas and cornbread were necessary on New Year's Day. And I had a friend who always made a big pot of gnocci with tomatoes, basil and garlic just like his mother did to start the year. It was delicious --- good with sauerkraut too.
It seems that lot of people are trying to hold on to those old traditions and I think that is a beautiful thing. I've been talking to some old friends lately --- people from the neighborhood I grew up in or who went to the same school I did and I am continually amazed and delighted by that instant shared memory thing that happens. Within a few minutes of chatting something will come up --- something I haven't thought about in forty years --- and yet there it is, crystal clear and as easy to talk about as it was back then. Thanks to Facebook I've re-connected with friends from the neighborhood, an old roommate, people I haven't seen in decades and yet, within minutes, we have things to talk about.
My sister Lisa's friend Kim called me last night and, while we were talking, so many things came up. “Are you making sauerkraut tomorrow?” I asked. “Oh, thanks for reminding me,” she said. “I promised my mother I'd bring her some.” We talked about the family cookbook and she said, “Don't forget your mother's iced tea recipe, that's the best iced tea in the world.” Though I make it a couple times a week it never occurred to me to put it in the cookbook. I will now.
So, anyway, Happy 2010. May it be a year of peace, prosperity, creativity and joy for all. And have some sauerkraut. It'll give you a good cleaning out!
Thanks for reading.