The first time my wife heard that request at the Constance Thanksgiving table she almost fell out of her chair. Sauerkraut at Thanksgiving?
Yes, as essential as turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and gravy, if you grew up in Baltimore, Maryland it is likely that this fragrant fermented cabbage was on the menu at Thanksgiving.
In our family, like many Baltimoreans of German or Eastern European descent, sauerkraut is a must-have addition to the Thanksgiving table. I am named after my great grandfather (and grandfather) John Loeber. John, the elder was born in Hesse-Cassel Germany in 1824, emigrated to the states as a young man and became a cattle drover in what is now a portion of Baltimore City. My grandfather, born in Baltimore in 1891 was immensely proud of his German heritage and even spoke his own elementary version of “Dutch” to the family.
I never remember a Thanksgiving table that did not have sauerkraut. My wife never remembered a Thanksgiving table that did.
Despite her father’s roots traceable through the Deissner family back to Saxony Germany and her grandmother’s full embrace of her German upbringing in Waukesha, Wisconsin, this culinary tradition had not found its way to the Gwaltney Thanksgiving table. GiGi (as she was called by the grandchildren), forced German specialties on the family at other times of the year, but there was no recollection of fermented cabbage at Thanksgiving. So, it’s only a Baltimore thing.
For those of you who are probiotic and nutrient junkies, the good news is that sauerkraut is great for you. So, while the amino acid in the turkey is putting you to sleep and the gravy is clogging your arteries, the sauerkraut will be renovating your gut chemistry and giving you lower-gastrointestinal happiness all the way through Black Friday.
So, pass the sauerkraut* y’all and have a Happy Baltimore** Thanksgiving.
*Add some carraway seeds for the best holiday version.
**For the most authentic German Style kraut, go to your local Aldi’s and look for this jar.