Editor’s Note: This story was originally published in 2018.
On New Years Day in Lancaster County, is there really a reason to wonder: what’s for dinner?
Pork and sauerkraut are a tradition. This is delicious. It’s a perfect comfort food for a winter day. And that brings good luck.
A mainstay of the cold-weather Pennsylvania Netherlands of the 1800s, pork and sauerkraut are a combination of two staples.
It starts with sauerkraut, a thrifty, healthy dish that keeps well and is easy for farmers to prepare. Add in some roast pork, something Pennsylvania Germans love, and you’ve got a holiday dish that can be served on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Years.
Lancaster County residents could travel during the holidays. Many make it a point to be home on New Years Day so that they can make a batch of pork and sauerkraut or buy meals from one of the fire departments and local churches that host meals on January 1. .
“We’re going to be out of town… but we’ll be back for the pork and sauerkraut,” says Dean Evans of Lancaster. On New Years Day, Evans enjoys going to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church for his meal of pork and sauerkraut.
Ring in the new year
Tuesday, New Year’s Day, is the peak of pork and sauerkraut. More than half of people who responded to an LNP / LancasterOnline poll said they ate pork and sauerkraut on New Years Day. About 30 percent say they like it anytime of the year. year. Others love pork and sauerkraut when it’s cold outside or at the Thanksgiving or Christmas table.
So why is January 1 the day to fire up the slow cooker and take out the jars or cans of sauerkraut?
Many follow family traditions.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll hear two common reasons: good luck and pigs.
“A pig, when it searches for food, it takes root forward,” says Jeff Hershey, president of the Denver Lions Club. “It’s supposed to bring good luck because you are stepping into the New Year.”
Most like to cook a pork loin or a roast. Others prefer a shoulder. For Lori McCarty of Marietta, a pork shoulder is the perfect size for her family, and it’s affordable.
Boston butt is also a popular fit because it has a fair amount of fat in it.
“It must really be a German gene in me,” says William Schmidt, from the canton of Manheim. “It must be something fat.”
And a few people like to use pork chops, crispy tails, or hot dogs.
While some cooks are turning to Silver Floss brand sauerkraut, making your own is the only option for others. However, it takes a few months.
The Denver Lions Club begins in October by shredding 250 heads of cabbage, salt them, and wait patiently for eight weeks. Hershey, the club president, will monitor the sauerkraut as it ferments, adding brine when needed and watching for spills.
When it’s ready, the volunteers package the sauerkraut and sell it in early December, just in time for pork and sauerkraut season.
“We tell new people that you want to cook it slowly in your oven or in a slow cooker,” Hershey says. “Leave him there for six to eight hours. Homemade sauerkraut does not cook as quickly as processed sauerkraut.
Making your own sauerkraut can backfire. Many home cooks have stories of failed fermentation. Schmidt remembers an attempt to do this 20 years ago.
“I had a batch that was really horrible,” he says. “It didn’t ferment. He rotted.
He tried again, and the second batch was better.
Some people like to add a touch of brown sugar or apples to their sauerkraut to give it a hard time, as Schmidt puts it. Some add a can of beer to keep the dish moist.
After Evans inherited his grandmother’s cookbooks, he tried a version with juniper berries.
“It gives sauerkraut an evergreen essence,” he says.
If homemade sauerkraut fails, many local churches and fire departments have pork and sauerkraut meals on New Years Day to raise funds.
The Lititz Brethren Church has been serving pork and sauerkraut for two decades to raise money for the church’s youth conference.
Last year, about 1,800 people showed up for a meal at church or took it home, says Marty Hershey, president of the dinner (not related to Jeff Hershey).
Work begins in October, when volunteers prepare and freeze homemade applesauce. They take a break, then a few days before the New Years, a few volunteers get together around 2 a.m. to start cooking 950 pounds of pork butts. Another group cuts the pork. The day before the big dinner, they made the rolls and pastries.
And New Years Day begins with baking the potatoes to make mashed potatoes on the side.
In the end, 140 people helped prepare, cook, serve the meal, carry on the tradition and maybe even bring good luck.
For more PA Dutch dishes:
Lancaster County loves whoopies: here’s where to find the best
Fasnacht Day: what is it, where you can buy them, as well as a vintage recipe
Love it or hate it, Pennsylvania Dutch pork mouth is meat and potatoes stuffed in a stomach
PA Dutch Eats: We want to know everything from the readers