You Don’t Have to be a Grouchy German to Enjoy Sauerkraut

Rath-Wald, Carmen. "You Don't Have to be a Grouchy German to Enjoy Sauerkraut." Napoleon Homestead, 28 September 2011, 2.

German Russians found their place in North Dakota more than a century ago. In the mid-19th century, thousands of Germans moved to America in search of freedom; many settled in North Dakota. Their traditions and customs were passed down through generations. Now the Tri-county Tourism Alliance wants to keep that heritage alive with a unique project combining culture and food.

"Local foods, canning, preserving, gardening butchering-- all that stuff is very popular right now, and we lived it. Our parents had to do this for survival. So we`re like, yeah, let`s do a cookbook," said Sue Balcom, a member of the Tri-County Tourism Alliance. "But let`s not make this a cookbook. Let`s actually make it into a coffee table book, with folklore and stories and the wonderful things these people did on a daily basis and didn`t ask for any credit or recognition."

The stories describe life for first and second generation Germans from Russia.

"We made bread every week, every four days, or so it seems like. We made dumplings with chicken or whatever you had on hand," said Helen Rath from Wishek.

The cookbook also shares the traditional ways of doing things, like making sauerkraut.

"When I think back to the way my mother did it, my little sister, who was four, my mother would wash her feet very carefully and lift her and she would tramp the cabbage down," said Theresa Eissinger, a second generation German from Russia, living in Napoleon.

These women say it`s important to preserve history now, before it`s too late.

In a list of the world’s gourmet foods, sauerkraut never seems to make the cut. But don’t tell that to the folks who make their home in what’s known as North Dakota’s "Great Sauerkraut Triangle." Although called a triangle, this irregular polygon-shaped region (spanning roughly from Ellendale west to Linton, south to Zeeland and north to Napoleon) dishes out some of the best German food, architecture and culture this side of Munich. In the words of North Dakota’s most famous German Russian, 1950s band leader Lawrence Welk, the region is "wunnerful, wunnerful!"

Prior, Ginny. "Dakota Deutschland." North Dakota AAA Living Magazine, September/October 2007.

My own heritage traces back to this area settled by German immigrants from Russia who fled the oppressive tsarist tyranny from about 1880 to 1920. I was born in Wishek, North Dakota, which, before cartographers drew state lines, was part of the German-Russian territory. When Ginny Prior writes about a high school cheer her uncle taught her, I can relate.

"Wieners und wieners und sauerkraut," he’d begin with his thick German accent, "we are from Hosmer, five miles out!" I bet we weren’t the only German descendants who shouted the rhyme.

Well, yes Ginny, you are right, a similar version in Wishek, Hazelton, Linton, Napoleon, and Zeeland could have went:

“Wieners und speck und sauerkraut, We are German, there’s no doubt!”

For the best sauerkraut, NDSU says use firm heads of fresh, disease-free cabbage. Shred cabbage and start sauerkraut between 24 and 48 hours after harvest.

Yield: To make about 9 quarts of sauerkraut, use the following ingredient proportions:
25 pounds cabbage
3/4 cup canning or pickling salt

Preparation: Work with about 5 pounds of cabbage at a time. Discard outer leaves. Rinse heads under cold running water and drain. Cut heads in quarters and remove cores. Shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter.  Put cabbage in a suitable fermentation container. Wash hands thoroughly before beginning. For each 5 pounds of cabbage, add about 3 tablespoons of salt. Mix thoroughly, using clean hands. Pack firmly until salt draws juices from cabbage. Repeat shredding, salting and packing until all cabbage is in the container. Be sure the container is deep enough so that its rim is at least 4 or 5 inches above the cabbage.

For best quality, store canned sauerkraut in a cool, dark place and use within one year.

Nutrition Information
A half-cup of sauerkraut has just 20 calories and provides 25 percent of the daily  recommendation for vitamin C.  If you are watching your sodium intake, however, remember that sauerkraut is fairly high in sodium. A serving of sauerkraut provides about one-third of thedaily recommendation.

Printed with permission of Carmen Rath-Wald and the Napoleon Homestead.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller