In the US there is a very popular tradition of eating black eyed peas, or hoppin John for good luck in the new year. It’s a southern tradition that seems to have spread beyond all regions. I don’t quite understand why, but maybe I’m just a little too set in my own ways. Although it is a little past due, today we are talking about a Northern New Years day tradition, Pork and Sauerkraut. In most parts of Pennsylvania we see lots of Pennsylvania Dutch foods. The Pennsylvania Dutch were originally German immigrants that came to Pennsylvania in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Over time the German language transformed into a dialect known as Pennsylvania German (or “Deutsch” which was mispronounced as Dutch), and over time English became the language of choice.
There is a heavier concentration of Germanic (and even Polish) traditions and foods in Allentown, Hershey and Lancaster because this is still known as “Pennsylvania Dutch Country.” Although we typically think of PA Dutch primarily as the Amish, or Mennonite communities the fact of the matter is that PA Dutch is permanently ingrained within a lot of Pennsylvania’s population. According to Wikipedia “German-Americans remain the largest ancestry group in Pennsylvania”. A lot of the Pennsylvania Dutch culture has moved west towards other parts of Pennsylvania including Pittsburgh, but it’s also in Ohio, West Virginia and other parts of the country where the Amish communities have relocated to. Here in the Pocono’s there is still a heavy PA Dutch culture, it is not as saturated as in the Allentown or Lancaster area but it is definitely here. The Pocono Mountains have a lot of European presence, there is a unique mixture of German, Irish, Polish and Ukrainian influence. From what I have seen, generally speaking there is a heavy German-Polish feel to what we call PA Dutch. It’s not quite German, it’s not quite Polish, it’s not quite “All American.” It’s Pennsylvanian.
Onto the Food: Pork and Sauerkraut is a traditional New Years day meal. This tradition is German, in origin. In Germany pork is a sign of well-being, nourishment, progression, and good luck. Sauerkraut is traditionally eaten on both new years eve and new years day. Sauerkraut is seen as a sign of longevity, wealth and happiness, they say “may you have as much wealth and happiness as there are shreds of cabbage in the pot.” A long thin strand of kraut, is a symbol for a long healthy life. As a whole lets just face it… Germans love their pork and sauerkraut… not just around new years. As you would see baked bean suppers in New England and Maine, you see pork and sauerkraut suppers around here. Churches often host community pork and sauerkraut suppers, sometimes you see ham and pierogi suppers as well.
My families food, has evolved over the years. It is always changing as I latch onto new tastes and flavors but the core of our traditional meals are always German-esque. (We ate a lot of kielbasa, pierogi, potato salad, cabbage and when we were lucky sauerbraten.) Pork and Sauerkraut along with hog maw are traditional Pennsylvania Dutch New Years day meals. (Hog maw is a stuffed pigs stomach, I haven’t tackled that tradition…yet.) What pork you choose to use is up to you. Knuckles, feet, and miscellaneous innards have been used throughout history, as this tradition has always been a fairly humble peasants style dish. Pork and cabbage are typically very affordable. Pork roast, rump and shoulder are what are common these days. Many variations are like mine: A mixture of what’s in the freezer.
As a kid I ate a lot of kielbasa, when I found myself out on my own at seventeen my instant go to meal was always kielbasa and rice. A lot of people reach for chicken breast, I went for kielbasa… a lot. It was about two years into our marriage when Stephen waved the white flag, “please no more kielbasa, I hate it!!!” Last year we found a natural kielbasa that was practically life changing, now Stephen is A-ok with kielbasa anytime at all. That stuff is like fatty, sweet, meat candy. I use a mixture of boneless pork loin and hormone-antibiotic-and-nitrate-free hot dogs and kielbasa. You can use more or less of one or another. You can toss in a hock or shank, you can omit the hot dogs and use just the roast. Use a leg, butt , shoulder …whatever. Its “pork” and sauerkraut. The specifics are unimportant.
As a kid we often had a lot of brown sugar added to our kielbasa and/or sauerkraut. I didn’t add any sugar this time but a hand full of real brown sugar and some mustard really go a long way. A bit of garlic and dill is also kind of nice.
- 1 cup crock pot caramelized onions (or 1 large onion sliced)
- 3 to 4 cups, sauerkraut (two pounds, more if you like)
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 1/2 to 2 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 pound hot dogs, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 pound kielbasa, cut into bite sized pieces
- Rinse sauerkraut under cold water for 30 to 40 seconds. (This helps to reduce excess salt.)
- Toss everything into a crock pot and stir to combine.
- Cook on high for one hour, reduce to Low for three to four hours or until the meat is tender and falling apart.
- The sausages will become dark and slightly chewy, if you pull apart the bits of tenderloin they will be pinkish in color. You can pan fry the pork roast bites in some butter or lard before adding it to the crock pot, this will add more flavor and somewhat prevent the “squishy” and gray looking meat. I’ve always just thrown it in the pot.
- Bone In Variation: If you are using a shoulder, or butt its best to low and slow the recipe. If it fits in your crock pot, great. Go for 6 to 8 hours on low. If not, use a dutch oven or other pot with a tight fitting lid. Set the oven to 250 and cook for 4-6 hours. (check now and again for done-ness, as roasts will vary in size)
Pork and Sauerkraut is normally served over mashed potatoes. You can do mashed cauliflower instead, potato salad, or split pea puree. I like homemade applesauce or braised greens. We do a “Thanksgiving style” spread for a lot of our special suppers. (organic corn, baked beans, mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce)
The Pork: Use Nitrate Free, natural, antibiotic free, hormone free pork if you can find it. Sometimes we stray from our strict standards because our single income budget demands so.
The Sauerkraut: Look for NATURAL ingredients. You can buy a few brands that will only contain cabbage, salt and water. Sauerkraut is really easy to naturally ferment yourself, and you can buy raw lacto-fermented sauerkraut at the store. This recipe cooks the hell out of the sauerkraut so using kraut you have babied and cultured seems to be a waste. If you have an abundance of it, go ahead and use it but I am wicked stingy with my raw foods.
Slow and Steady Wins The Race: I Really Do love Crock Pot Caramelized onions. You should really give them a try!