Thursday, January 26, 2017

Luck to You in the New Year (with Pork & Sauerkraut)

Blog Post by Shayla Carey

Luck, be it good or bad, is a useful psychological impetus in our daily lives.  Never mind that walking under a ladder is unsafe:  it’s unlucky and so we go around it.  For that reason, we probably save ourselves a lot of hurt from falling objects and/or people.  Traditions abound surrounding luck symbols and, without them, I would have had no reason to try pork and sauerkraut—a savory and salty meal best enjoyed mixed with mashed potatoes (in my humble opinion) and accompanied by cold mulled cider.

A fresh ham on display at the
2016 Harvest Days
Because my Southern Pennsylvania-bred husband wants to ensure our family’s good fortune every year, we feast upon pork and sauerkraut every New Year’s Day.  It’s a Pennsylvania German tradition that dates back centuries1 and, if my husband has anything to do with it, will last for many more years.  The pig as an ancient symbol of luck and was a farm animal in Europe for thousands of years2.  It roots forward, grows fast, and to possess many meant the farmer was prosperous and would eat for a long time to come3 4.  It was also a symbol of fertility and was associated with the Welsh goddess Ceridwen5 and the Gaulish god Moccus (“pig” is “muc” in Irish, “mochyn” in Welsh, and “moch” in modern Gaulish).  To eat it was to subscribe to the folk notion of “like produces like”1 and other cultures eat it on New Years’ Day too.  The South eats ham, fatback, and hog’s jowl; Italy makes their pork into sausage, and people in the Philippines, Cuba, Spain, Portuga, Hungary, and Austria eat a suckling pig roasted whole.6 7

Fresh cabbage enjoying a salt bath as it becomes sauerkraut
I, for one, am more of a fan of the luck applied to cabbage, as I could use a little more green in my pocket.  Who doesn’t?  According to German, Irish, and Pennsylvania German lore, cabbage is a symbol of money and consuming it will help you increase your fortune.  This is mainly because of its green color and tendency to resemble folded money when cooked.  For this reason, it shares its lucky distinction with collard greens, kale and chard in the South, and kale in Denmark.  The Croats and Slovaks enjoy their cabbage surrounding meat.8  The Pennsylvania Germans ferment it for weeks in a salt brine before eating it, keeping the nutrition in and imparting it with its distinctive salty tang.  Irish Americans enjoy cabbage at other times of the year, too, and, coupled with corned beef, makes for a simple, nutritious, and satisfying meal. 9 My family also likes to cook cut up cabbage leaves in the same pot as egg noodles.  They are a great vehicle for butter and parmesan cheese and the dish is a really easy side dish for the winter months, as both noodles and cabbage take the same amount of time to cook.

With pork and cabbage meaning so much to so many cultures, I have to admit that my husband’s family may be on to something.  I certainly do feel lucky to be alive, whole, comfortable, and surrounded by family for the coming year.  In the spirit of wishing you luck in the new year, I leave you with a recipe gleaned from the Landis Valley Cookbook, available at the Landis Valley Museum Store.

Pork and Sauerkraut
3- or 4-pound pork roast
2 baking apples
2 quarts sauerkraut
¼ cup brown sugar (more or less, depending on the tarness of the sauerkraut)
Salt and pepper

Put pork into a large roasting pan, fat side up.  Sear all sides of the meat on top of the stove.  Arrange the sauerkraut on top and around the pork.  Thinly slice the apples and mix with the sauerkraut.  Add brown sugar and stir it well into the sauerkraut.  Add enough water to nearly cover the sauerkraut.  Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until the meat comes off the bones when stuck with a fork.  Serve with mashed potates.  Julia Lewis, c. 1930

1South Central Pennsylvania Legends & Lore, by David Puglia, page 26.
2For a really interesting article about the history of pig farming in Europe, click on the BBC article, “Pig DNA reveals farming history.”
3Landis Valley Cookbook, Landis Valley Associates, page 131.
4”Dead Lucky! What Germans Consider Lucky Charms” by Tatjana Kerschbaumer, Goethe Intitut.
5The Magic Arts in Celtic Britain, by Lewis Spence, page 160.
6New Year’s traditions around the world,” by Nancy Clanton; Atlanta Journal Contitution.
7”Lucky Foods for the New Year,” by Lauren Salkeld, Epicurious.
8“Lucky Foods for the New Year,” by Annette Foglino,