Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year: Time To Cook the Sauerkraut!

I do not remember a New Year's Day of my life when I did not eat sauerkraut. Sometimes on New Year's Eve, too. It's a Pennsylvania Dutch thing and, when my mother was alive, she would make sure all her kids served sauerkraut to start the new year. Even when I lived in Texas – where people eat black-eyed peas on New Years Day – Mom would call and say, “Is your sauerkraut cooking?” It always was.

When I was still living in Pennsylvania and working part time in bars most of them served sauerkraut with pork and sausages at midnight on New Year's Eve. There are endless ways to cook sauerkraut and you can take your pick just as long as you make sure it is served to welcome in the new year.

Some years back, while I was in Houston, my friend Michael's ex-wife Karol gave me a recipe for something she called Russian Christmas Soup. It was a creamy chicken soup with carrots, bay leaves and sauerkraut that you ladled into a bowl with tiny boiled potatoes in it. Since my family had a tradition of having a variety of soups on Christmas Eve, and since we all love sauerkraut, I could not wait to make that the following Christmas. It was a huge hit. My mother said she thought it was about the best thing she ever tasted and, from then on, I made Karol's Russian Christmas Soup every Christmas Eve.

Even though Mom died quite a few years ago and I haven't been back to Pennsylvania for Christmas in years I still make that soup. It has evolved over the years. I now add peas and mushrooms to it but I still make it. This past Christmas Eve, as it was simmering away, I thought about Karol. I knew she was on Facebook because her daughter Ashleigh is a dear friend and I saw her posts on Ashleigh's wall. So I wrote a message to her telling her that, even though inadvertently, she had become part of a tradition in my family. About half an hour later I got a message back from her that was so sweet. She said she hadn't made that soup in years but was now thinking about making it.

2012 was an amazing year for me. My book sales were very, very good and helped me make some much needed improvements in my life. I wrote The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt and it has been selling quite well. I've gotten so much great feedback for it. So I am looking forward to 2013. I have my sauerkraut all ready to cook tomorrow and, to celebrate the tradition, here is Karol's recipe:

Russian Christmas Soup
Boil 1 plump chicken in 6 cups water. Remove chicken to cool and set aside 1 cup of the broth. Add:
½ c. each chopped celery & carrot
1 cup chopped onion
4 chicken bouillon cubes
Simmer until tender.
Reduce heat and stir in 1½ cup whipping cream. Bring to a gentle simmer. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to soup. In small saucepan melt ¼ cup butter and stir in ¼ cup flour to make a roux. Blend in reserved liquid. Heat until thick, add to soup while whisking. Add in 2 cups rinsed sauerkraut. Heat through. Add salt and pepper. Serve in a soup plate with a few small boiled potatoes in the bottom. (Cook the potatoes by themselves for the best taste.)

Wishing all of you a very Peaceful and Prosperous New Year!!! And thanks for reading.

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