Food cravings are funny things, and I had a bad one the other day for a fix of sauerkraut. And I wasn’t in the mood for just any run-of-the-mill kraut, either. I wanted the brand my good friend Dragon makes every year.
Dragon and I have been close friends for more than 12 years, when he and some of his family members landed in my neighborhood from Milwaukee and purchased a local resort. He was born in Serbia, and came to America, he says, “when I was a young boy.” After settling into the resort business, his family unwittingly brought the flavors of a different culture into my close knit community, that have been embraced full-heartedly ever since. Sauerkraut is one of those flavors.
I’ll never forget the first time Dragon asked me if I was interested in helping him in this endeavor. I happily jumped on board, with no knowledge what this process would entail. That is, until I walked into his basement and saw a pile of cabbage that could have provided toddlers with an adequate ski hill. “We’re going to make all this into sauerkraut?” I asked with some astonishment and lots trepidation. His reply was a definite “Yah” and I waited for my orders.
In the Serbian tradition, this is a preservation method that requires many hands, especially when cabbages fill a corner to the ceiling. Duties include those performed by the de-leafer; the corer; the cutter; the shredder; the bucket hauler and most important of all, the tamper man. That’s Dragon’s job.
I was assigned to be a shredder, which is a two-man job requiring a push-pulling of a half a cabbage head over a sharp blade spanning a five-gallon bucket. It is a back-and-forth, repetitious chore that all too soon requires thirst-quenching libations. While taking sips of these libations is a good way to rest, if even for a second or two, shots of a potent and constitution-building Serbian concoction called Schlivo are ingested when everyone needs a longer break.
Not surprisingly, many times during these sessions boisterous singing erupts and shredding cabbage loses its monotonous and arm-numbing repetition. I can remember one kraut season where Serbian folk songs were a favorite and were belted out with such gusto, resort guests gathered outside the basement door to see what we were up to.
As each batch of cabbage is shredded, it is dumped into a 55-gallon barrel, where Dragon sprinkles the salt and begins the tamping process with a device that looks like a baseball bat. Only Dragon does this job, as it is important to get just the right amount of salt into the mix, and the tamping technique is a special method he says “was brought over from the old country.”
After a barrel is full, several whole heads of cabbage are buried in it. The leaves of these are used in delectable Serbian dishes that are relished throughout the winter months in addition to the sauerkraut.
I am happy to report that the sauerkraut is ready and Dragon just recently fulfilled my fix. I received a container of one of the best batches ever made and I will eat it in salads and cooked with ribs, one of my all-time favorite dishes.
However, I’ll always be thankful that Dragon and I became such good friends. He is a smart and industrious man and his sauerkraut has been a welcome addition to my diet over the years. And, I’m proud to say, my knowledge of Serbian folk songs isn’t bad either.
1 qt. sauerkraut
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 (4-oz.) jar pimentos
1 tsp. mustard seed
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup cider vinegar
Mix together sauerkraut, onion, celery, bell pepper, carrot and pimentos and mustard seed. Set aside. In a sauce pan, mix the sugar, oil and vinegar. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Pour sugar mixture over salad, cover and leave in the refrigerator for at least two days before serving.