why do we eat pork and sauerkraut
Part superstition and part tradition, itвs like a Pennsylvania Dutch-style insurance policy for the new year. Pork and sauerkraut is believed to bring good luck and good fortune in the months ahead. Pork's on the menu because pigs root forward -- the same direction most people hope to go in the new year. Conversely, serving chicken on New Year's Day is unwise because chickens scratch backward -- not a direction anyone wants to go. Having good supplies of pork and sauerkraut for winter also made early Pennsylvania Dutch families feel rich because they knew they wouldn't go hungry in winter's bleakest months. But pork and sauerkraut is also deeply rooted in Pennsylvania German foodways. William Woys Weaver, Pennsylvania's leading culinary historian, explains:
Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as the fixed dish connected with New Year's Day. Instead, it was an outgrowth of the mid-winter feasting associated with butchering the family hogs. At that time, usually near Christmas, families invited relatives and hosted big dinners. When home butchering declined in the later 1800s, the big pork dinner tradition simply continued, either for Christmas or New Year's.
There s nothing quite like New Year s Day in a Pennsylvania household as the smell of fermented cabbage emanates through the kitchen as you try to nurse your gnarly hangover. And if you re not from Pennsylvania Dutch land, you may have missed out or lucked out, depending on your point of view on this long-standing tradition of eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year s Day to ensure good luck in the coming year. I grew up in one of those smelly New Year s Day households in central PA. And I was surprised to learn that people from elsewhere, including many from Philadelphia, had no idea that eating slow-cooked pork with a side of stinky cabbage was a New Year s Day tradition. The dish is a German custom that was brought overВ by the Pennsylvania Dutch who settled largely in the central and southcentral portions of the state. William Woys Weaver, a food historian and author based in Chester County, said winter butchering often took place in the months just before Christmas or New Year s, so celebratory meals happened around those times with a feast of roasted fresh pork. Sauerkraut was often added to the meal as a side dish because fall is the height of cabbage harvesting.
To make sauerkraut, at-home cooks would pickle the cabbage to turn it into the soft side dish and, largely, to preserve it before refrigeration had become a commonality. Unless you ve brined your own cabbage before (kudos if you have! ) you probably aren t aware: It actually takes between six and eight weeks of soaking the stuff before the cabbage turns to full-on kraut. From the peak fall harvesting of cabbage time in October, the sauerkraut was done right around the holidays. The slightly-sour, tart dish was found to be a perfect pairing with the fatty pork. But the custom of having a pig in the backyard started to disappear by the latter part of the 1900 s, Weaver said, soВ people continued the holiday custom throughВ the butcher shop. That s when theВ pork and sauerkraut combo more or less shifted to Christmas Day dinner or to New Year s Day. And it continued on Jan. 1 not because of convenience, but because superstition kicked in. The folk saying was that pork brought good luck, Weaver said, since the pig roots forward. This rooting forward by the pig and its snout symbolizes progress, as compared to the chicken and the turkey which scratch backward. he idea that pork brings good luck along with it is actually pre-Christian and deeply embedded in Old World ideas about pigs and their animal form as a symbol of Lugh, an Irish deityВ who was believed to have controlled good luck, money and wealth.
Somewhere along the lines, sauerkraut picked up its own superstitions. The Pennsylvania Dutch are known to tell children that if they eat sauerkraut on New Year s Day, they re in for a sweet year. It s also said in Dutch folklore that long strands of sauerkraut represent a long life to be lived, and the green color that sauerkraut starts as can symbolize money: The more kraut, the more cash. The tradition grew and was picked up by many non-Pennsylvania Dutch. Today,В grocery stores around the regionВ carry pork and sauerkraut this time of year as it s in high demand. In Pennsylvania, the custom of pork and sauerkraut dinners was continued by local church groups and civic organizations like fire halls, Weaver said. Nostalgia for the good old days on the farm was turned into fundraisers, and so the demand continued. Have a tip? Email us at See something wrong on the site? Please.
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