The nose-tickling smell of sauerkraut filled the basement and seeped into the upstairs as August ended.
The kraut, which some dared call rotting cabbage, reached canning age in a Red Wing crock that Mother also used for other purposes. Depending on the season, it also held hardened homemade soap and hams soaked in brine.
The aging kraut was pressed down with a large plate and a field stone, which did not stop me from sampling Mother’s work. Sauerkraut, pork bones, new potatoes, and pig ears and feet, was a treat fir for royalty. Others — with the notable exception of the pork appendages — agree.
Helmer certainly agrees. He, who cans more than 700 quarts of kraut, pickles, chicken, and pork annually, adds carrots and other ingredients to the sauerkraut. He shares the end products with friends if they agree to return the empty jars to him. An innovator, he cleanses cucumbers in a washing machine. My wife would allow no such thing, but his companion understands it is just him being who he is.
I have learned that washing machines are also dual purpose. World War II veteran and farmer Richard told me about the time he made butter in the washer when a long-winded blizzard isolated the farmstead for three or four days. The cream that had been separated would spoil unless something was done.
Over his wife’s considerable objections, the cream was poured into the washer. It churned out a good product and greased the machine’s inner workings at the same time. The washing machine worked better after returning to its original use than before.
Fall festivals organized by a couple churches in this region offer a complete menu of red cabbage, potatoes, ham, spatzle, sausage, and sauerbraten, which at its core is a pot roast marinated in herbs, spices, and wine vinegar. The feasts’ popularity nearly rivals the lutefisk feeds that other churches have held for years.
A Protestant church in Kenyon, Minnesota, features the best in German desserts served by volunteers dressed in European clothes.
It seems people are willing to tinker with basic sauerkraut by adding ingredients of questionable worth. Another church in southeast Minnesota served it with spicy peppers mixed in. The result, as one can easily imagine, is a combustible culinary mixture that ought to be draw the interest of the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Food has been on my mind more than usual these days since Kathy has left on a seven-day jaunt to the East Coast for a religious conference. She left behind leftovers and cautions about not eating too many things that are not good for me.
Sweet corn (and the butter and salt that accompanies the ears) was the first on the list along with others.
When the cat is away the mouse will play. Corn, kraut and pork hocks served as one meal before the leftovers. The fridge, it was made known, needed to be emptied so it could be more easily cleaned.
All that was left after the third day was cold cereal, bread and milk, which was Kathy’s 2%, reduced fat ultrafiltered and lactose free. It did not taste like the 2% milk that I had grown used to. I complained, when the switch was made from whole milk, that the 2% was nothing like what I had grown up with.
Real milk was dipped from the bulk tank with cream rising to the top in the refrigerator. I have grown accustomed to the change, but the ultra-filtered, lactose-free product is a step too far.
The doctor says that my goal should be to lose 20 pounds to ease back and hip pain. The news led to a discussion among my friends about the things they have tried.
Keith said he drinks vinegar diluted with water each day and it works. If only the same could be said for sauerkraut, potatoes and pork.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.