|Photo credit: A Spoonful of Thyme|
Around these parts (eastern Pennsylvania) the menu of choice for New Year’s Day is pork and sauerkraut. It is said that to have the combination on January 1st is good luck. Where did that come from? To find out, I consulted foodtimeline.org. (Did you know that apple butter first came on the scene in 1765?) According to the site, the tradition of ham or pork on the first day of the year originated in Germany, Austria, and Sweden. In these areas, wild boar were caught in the forest and killed on New Year’s Day. Some conjecture that the pig represents plumpness and getting plenty to eat; a sign of prosperity of sorts. Others say that since the pig digs with its snout in a forward direction, it’s a way of looking forward as we move into a new year. Okay…
Another site mentioned that you would never want to eat fowl on New Year’s Day, as birds scratch to find their food. No one wants to have to scratch to make a living, right? Sure, I’d rather root for it with my nose! C’mon!
I’m thinking that pork and sauerkraut were all they had. The kids turned up their noses, so the parents made this thing up about eating it bringing good luck.
It’s like when I didn’t want to eat the crusts from my breakfast toast and my grandmother would say, “If you don’t eat those, you won’t get curly hair.”
“Why would I want curly hair?” I would ask.
Although it must be true. I never ate the crusts, and I've never had curly hair.
She also resorted to the “children starving in Africa” ploy. That didn’t work either. “Get me an envelope,” I’d reply.
My grandmother had a lot of superstitious behaviors. There were the traditional ones, like opening an umbrella inside, walking under a ladder, or knocking on wood. (If there was no wood around, she would rap on her forehead.) Then there were ones I had never heard of; like always leaving a house using the same door by which you entered. If your nose was itchy, it meant you were going to be kissed. (Not something that any respectable 8-year-old boy wanted to hear.) If you dropped silverware it meant company was coming. I mean, really. If you were carrying a bunch of silverware, it was easier to drop, and you were probably carrying that much because company was coming.
Once, we used her superstitions against her…kind of. A common grandmother gift was scented candles. She had five grandchildren and tons of candles, and she never burned them. As she had come through the Great Depression and was a Latshaw, she saved things. I’ll tell you about her used gift-wrap collection some time. Waste not, want not! We finally told her that it was bad luck to have unburned candles in your house. We based this on nothing, totally making it up. The next time we visited Grandmom it looked like a wake. There were burning candles everywhere! Of course all of the electric lights were off. Waste not, want not! You could barely make her out, except for the candle flame reflections in her glasses, and her dentures smiling in the darkness. She was smiling because she was saving on her electric bill.
Whatever the superstition, I prefer to say that it’s our tradition to have pork and sauerkraut on January 1st. I love it, especially served with mashed potatoes. My recipe follows. Forgive the lack of pictures, but after all, I haven’t made it yet. (That would be bad luck!)
PORK & SAUERKRAUT
1 pork roast, 4-5 lbs. (I usually buy boneless, but bone-in is fine.)
2 cans (27 oz.) sauerkraut
1 cup apple cider
2-3 tart apples, grated
¼ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon Caraway seeds
Ground black pepper
I use a covered roasting pan as well as the maxim “slow and low” to make roast pork. If you have the time to roast for 3-4 hours, pre-heat the oven to 275°. If you want to cut the time a little, use 325°.
Rinse the sauerkraut using a colander and cold water. Some people like the strong, tart flavor of the juices, but most do not. (I think that it might put hair on your chest…or at least remove varnish!)
Place the pork roast in the center of the roasting pan. If your roast does not have the fat trimmed, position it fat-side-up. Next, arrange the rinsed sauerkraut around the roast. Sprinkle the top of the roast with Kosher salt and black pepper.
In a medium bowl, combine the cider, (you can also just use water), and brown sugar and stir until the brown sugar dissolves. Pour this over the sauerkraut. Finally, add the caraway seeds and grated apples on top of the sauerkraut.
Start roasting with the lid on, periodically checking to make sure the pan doesn’t go dry. If it does, add a little more cider or water. You can also stir the sauerkraut once or twice during roasting. If you’d like the roast more browned, remove the lid for the last half hour. Your target internal temperature for well-done pork is 170°. If the roast reaches 170° well in advance of your serving time, cut the oven temperature back to 200°-250°, and the roast will just get more and more tender.
It’s tough to make gravy from the kraut-flavored pan juices, so I usually use store-bought (gasp!) pork gravy for the mashed potatoes on New Year’s Day. Sorry about that…but don’t get your snout out of joint! Happy New Year!