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Sauerkraut and Turkey

I am cooking Xmas dinner for my family and am preparing sauerkraut to go with the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. This is an old Baltimore custom, I guess derived from the overwhelming German presence here at one time. (I understand this was true in York and H-burg as well.) Am I a dying breed? Does anyone else prepare sauerkraut to go with a turkey dinner?

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  1. funny my family background is german and I have never heard of that.

    1. We always have saurkraut with turkey as a side dish. My family has been in Baltimore since the 1800s and I know many, many other families from Baltimore who so the same. It is actually quite good.

      1. our family always has creamy coleslaw on the Xmas table for some reason. The crunch goes so well with the mashed potatooes and turkey... I can't wait!

        My grandmother always made it and now my mom does.

        1. Well, who knows ... this post might spread the tradition of turkey with sauerkraut at Christmas or Thanksgiving. I want to try it. How is the kraut served? Is it plain or does it have things in it like apples.

          This is a nice article about it in the Baltimore Sun.

          As you mentioned the writer traces it back to the local German population. He says he never got a good answer why. It is his theory that Goose with sauerkraut is a common German dish and so the pairing of turkey and kraut may have been the result.

          He isn't sure why other areas with large German populations never picked up on it though. Other than Baltimore, the only other place where turkey & kraut is traditional is in Vienna, Mo.

          He also says both cities grow a lot of cabbage, so it might have just been a way to use it up.

          This link talks about unusual Christmas dishes in various parts of the country and mentions the Baltimore kraut as well as onions, apples and carrots.


          Does that mean that those veggies are served along with the kraut or incorporated into it. I'm not sure of the reliability of the info. They mention New England Christmas lumberjack pie which, as a native New Englander, I've never heard of. Never heard of North Carolina's Moravian Love-Feast Buns either

          Anyway as mentioned, this is a long-time Baltimore tradition and even mentioned in a short story by H.L. Mencken called "A Bum's Christmas."

          This is one of the all-time great Christmas stories that gave me a great laugh ... and VERY food-centric. If I ever come into a huge amount of money, I'm going to do something like this at least once in my life.

          1 Reply
          1. re: rworange

            I have heard of sauerkraut with goose and duck. The acidic nature of the dish counteracts the fat in the waterfowl.

            With turkey, that is new to me.

          2. My mother makes a turkey stuffed with sauerkraut, and it is delicious- sweet, sour and salty, all at the same time. We are not of German background- I think she probably got the recipe from the NY Times or Newsday a while ago. Anyway, I found a similar recipe in the Sara Moulton Cooks at Home cookbook, where Sara gives its background as probably Polish. The recipe is also on the Food Network website as Roast Turkey with Sauerkraut. I haven't stuffed a turkey with it, but have used the sauerkraut recipe to bake with a cut-up ckicken. My guests have wrinkled their nose when I mentioned what I was serving, but gobbled it up. Yum.

            1. My sister prepares a meaty saurkraut side dish for her Thanksgiving Dinner every year. It's not traditional -- not even to our family -- but it's a nod to our Central European background and I can't wait every year for it.

              1. know saurkraut with a turkey dog and cheddar cheese is something lese altoghether.

                1. The Mencken story is good--thanks. As I recall, Laurie Colwin wrote an article for Gourmet on sauerkraut and turkey in Balto, but I cant find it.

                  To cook kraut. Get good kraut. Eddie's in Roland park has it, and Panzer-Goetze in Lex Mkt used to have it. No doubt any good German or Central Europen rsto has some. Soak it--remember it's been preserved in salt, so must get rid of the salt. I use 3 soakings, plus some extra rinsings. Drain

                  Cover with a little broth--I use chicken. Throw in some seasonings. I use some onion, juniper berries, caraway seeds, thyme, and sage. Simmer for an hour or more. Throw out seasonings and serve. It is excellent with the turkey, potatoes, and stuffing.

                  I had never heard of kraut stuffing, but I'll try it some time

                  1. I hadn't really thought about it, but I think turkey would be a good addition to a choucroute garni! Maybe I'll have to add a thigh or two to my New Year's pork-o-rama this year...

                    3 Replies
                      1. re: mamachef

                        Funny this should get revived now … you might know I've mentioned confit-ing turkey thighs with very good results. Those and sauerkraut? H'mmmm? Just a regular thigh braised in kraut would be pretty darned good, but confit would be extra special, I think.

                        It's going to be a while before I can exercise any turkey experiments, since the family for whom I was cooking TG dinner for ten years has effectively evaporated: Pops dead, Maman isn't interested, nieces either married and elsewhere or otherwise occupied and so it goes. And Mrs. O doesn't eat it anymore. But I can attack it one thigh at a time!

                        1. re: Will Owen

                          I'd get right on that, Will. Sounds deeeelicious - and eminently do-able, even for a party of one.

                    1. When I was growing up in northeastern Maryland, the public school cafeterias always served sauerkraut with the holiday turkey lunches. It doesn't feel like Christmas (or Thanksgiving) dinner without it.

                      1. I'm a native Baltimoron(!) and it wasn't a Thanksgiving dinner at our house without turkey, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut, turnips, jellied cranberry sauce and keilbasa. Not sure if its a local thing either but many people covered their mashed potatoes with sauerkraut

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Hue

                          That's exactly why I usually have mashed potatoes with sauerkraut!

                          When we were in France, our host was going to prepare boudin noir, and asked whether I'd prefer choucroute or pommes de terre with it. I asked, "Can we have both?" He'd never heard of such a thing, but complied, and at the table thanked me for having introduced him to the combination!

                        2. More people in the US have German ancestry than any other, although we hear about others more because they came in huge waves (the Irish, Italians, Jews), settled in areas with major newsmedia (New York, Boston, LA) or stayed together in areas where they landed (Cubans, Jews, Iraqis.) Now Hispanics will have a major influence of course.
                          The Germans settled the Great Plains and moved westward throughout America but their foodways influenced everything from the beer and sausages of Milwaukee to Texas BBQ and chicken fried steak. Many tradional Christmas cookies and customs are German.
                          Most of these foods have been so thoroughly integrated into American cuisine that we don't think of them as German. I didn't until I worked with German public broadcasting and they were looking for tie-ins. We started to find them everywhere.

                          Older people told us that during the periods of WWI and WWII and the time between however, there was so much prejudice against Germans that families downplayed or hid "Old Country" ties. The traditional dishes became more and more general American and were simply integrated into the wider cuisine of the areas where they lived.
                          Throughout the entire US, there are German dishes just like this that survive in family customs. You never see them in restaurants and they are to be treasured as part of America's history.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: MakingSense

                            Some of the German Christmas customs also arrived in North America from Victorian England - Vicky's beloved Albert was German after all, and the British royal family of fairly recent German origin.

                            I don't make dinners for large groups for "Les Fêtes" (Christmastime/New Year's holidays in Québec) and may well make a duck or duck tourtière for my friends. I'm more inclined to make red cabbage with apple, red onion and red wine than white sauerkraut, though I've made the latter too. Both evaporate quickly.

                          2. A very Baltimoron-German thing. To me it's not really Thanksgiving without the sauerkraut. It's the only time of year I eat it.

                            1. Many people I know who don't like sauerkraut have been served it heated up right out of the jar or can. Most have ejoyed it when they were served it properly prepared.

                              Sauerkraut should not be harsh or sour but deliciously sweet/sour. The kraut needs to be rinsed of its pickling liquid and slowly braised with onions, apples, sugar, juniper berries and a piece of smoked pork. A piece of smoked turkey works just fine if less fat is desired. I would not hesitate to serve it as a side with your turkey or even better to use it to stuff the bird. Yumm!

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: hagar4316

                                It was only available canned or in jars in most of the US until very recently when it started showing up in plastic bags in the refrigerated foods sections. That's still not as good as the stuff you get in Germany or homemade stuff which is really rare.
                                Maybe most people have a negative reaction to it from having eaten poor quality sauerkraut or only thinking of it as a condiment for hotdogs.

                                1. re: MakingSense

                                  after reading this thread, i got a craving for a good hot dog (in a natural casing..mmm) with sauerkraut. rinsed and braised quickly with a couple on-hand spices, it was a delicious departure from the usual harsh commercial variety usually thrown onto dogs and sandwiches. i've been working on getting my chef friend to do a real choucroute garnie dinner soon.

                                  i agree that most people would change their minds about sauerkraut if they had it properly rinsed and braised with spices, like you would find along side rich meats in germany. or some of its neighbors. choucroute garnie being alsatian and all.

                                  1. re: augustiner

                                    Yes, Sauerkraut also in eastern France, in the Low Countries and in a very wide swath of Central Europe, as Bacardi reminds us.

                              2. When I roast turkey or chicken I almost always stuff it with our homemade kraut and lay bacon slices across the top. The fat from the bacon "bastes" the bird and the steam from the kraut keeps the meat moist.

                                1. absolutely. It is the "sour" to balance all that soft--delicious-- stuff that makes up Thksgvg dinner. We never have any turkey dinner without saurkraut---a little turkey gravy on top, delicious. I am from Baltimore and presume it is the German/Pennsylvania Dutch influence.

                                  1. In our house, it isn't an official turkey dinner without sauerkraut!!! The other thing we always have is succotash... Beyond that, things can vary, but the sauerkraut and succotash HAVE to be there... Both of my parents grew up in Baltimore, so I've been eating sauerkraut with turkey since I was a child. The tradition comes from my father's family - they are of German descent.

                                    1. My family is of German descent and from Baltimore, and we do have sauerkraut with Thanksgiving turkey every year. I make it with pork, apples, onions, and brown sugar. I let it cook for a couple of hours, and the pork melts in your mouth, and the brown sugar/apples make it a nice combination of sweet/tangy/sour. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

                                      1. Yay for Baltimore love! Sauerkraut on Thanksgiving Day in my house too!

                                        1. Last year when we were packing Thanksgiving baskets at te local Food Bank in Columbia, PA (Between Lancaster and York), our director was carefully checking to see that each order had a can of sauerkraut. No one had ever heard of that - except for me - a fellow native of Baltimore. I've lived in the PA Dutch area for 35 years, and never run into ot up here.

                                          As a kid, whenever we had turkey suppers on a Saturday evening at Mt. Olive Methodist Church in Randallstown, MD, , Ella McGinnis, the kitchen diva, made sure sauerkraut was included. The aroma hung in the air on Sunday morning. Mrs. McGinnis did things right!

                                          My German grandparent,s who did not settle in MD, never did it. It's a Baltimore thing, hon!

                                          1. I have been making homemade sauerkraut and wanted to integrate it with my Thanksgiving dinner. I'm not from Baltimore but I'm going for it, glad to see so many others do. The recent Saveur article on the topic sparked my interest.

                                            1. I'm 100% Czech, & Czech Bread Dumplings with Sauerkraut were a necessary & constant accompaniment to every holiday meal. They arrives alongside the Thanksgiving turkey, the Xmas Goose, the Easter Leg of Lamb or Fresh Pork Roast, etc., etc. You name it - it wasn't a holiday without dumplings & sauerkraut.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: Bacardi1

                                                Bacardi, do you have a good recipe you can pass on for Czech Dumplings? My CZ driends have said they are difficult to make here since the flour is different back home. Thx

                                                1. re: elmcitycook

                                                  Sure thing. Like I said, I'm 100% Czech on both sides of the family going back forever. All great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., were born there. This is my paternal grandmother's recipe for Czech Bread Dumplings which, served with sauerkraut, were served at nearly every holiday & Sunday dinner. (Affectionately known as "Sinkers with Grass" - lol!)

                                                  BACARDI1 CZECH BREAD DUMPLINGS

                                                  2 cups flour + extra for flouring hands
                                                  1/2 tsp. baking powder
                                                  1 cup milk
                                                  4 slices of white bread - either stale or toasted - cubed
                                                  1 egg

                                                  Bring a large pot of water to a full boil. In large mixing bowl, lightly beat egg. Add flour & baking powder & mix again. Add milk & cubed bread & combine thoroughly. With lightly floured hands, form balls of approximate tennis-ball size & drop into boiling water. Allow to cook for 10 minutes, then flip balls over & cook for another 10 minutes. Remove & allow to cool before slicing.

                                                  Leftovers are easily reheated in hot gravy or in the microwave, & make a delicious addition to scrambled eggs when cubed & browned in butter.

                                                    1. re: elmcitycook

                                                      You're welcome!

                                                      Oh - I forgot to add that frequently the dumplings don't always cooperate when you try to flip them over in the boiling water. Don't get too anal over that - they'll turn out well anyway. I just flip the difficult ones over a few times so that the floating tops get some exposure to the hot water.

                                              2. Absolutely! Wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it. We add kielbasa to our sauerkraut too.

                                                Baltimore born & bred.

                                                1. My Grandmother, throughout the 70s and early 80s would never have a Holiday meal - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter - without kielbalsa that she bought from either a lady at Church or a local, Polish butcher, and sauerkraut (we made Pierogi too). Turkey was usually the main dish, though, sometimes at Easter it would be a ham. Ironically, for the several years I lived in Baltimore during the 90s, I don't think I ever had any 'kraut - except maybe at Camden Yards once or twice.

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: MGZ

                                                    MGZ, old neighbor In South River', NJ, my grandfather, father, uncles and me (When I got promoted at 16 to operate the mandolin and drink beer w/ the men) would grate 350 pounds of cabbage into kapasta or Russian saurkraut! Then another time, we'd pitch in to make my grandmothers pork and garlic kolbasa. A lot of it!
                                                    Thanksgiving always meant the turkey w/ the kolbasa wrapped around it and bowls of mashed potatoes and kapusta. Christmas substitute ham.
                                                    Easter, after 40 days of fasting, it was a fiest of 13 different symbolic dishes, plus the kolbasi & kapusta and a bottle of vodka frozen in ice. Boy those days cannot be replicated.

                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                      We don't have it on Thanksgiving, but it wouldn't be Christmas (Christmas Eve, that is) without my mom's kapusta!

                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                        Nah, Man, I can make my Grandmother's pierogi and a few other dishes, but the old lady at St. Mary's who she got the kielbalsa from died with that recipe. Always the fresh one for Thanksgiving - always smoked for Easter.

                                                        1. re: MGZ

                                                          MGZ, just head 1/2 mile up the road to St. Peter & Paul's Russian Orthodox Church to get the real Russian kielbasis! My Uncle Paul still makes it. Polk, polk)

                                                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                            Thanks. It's too late for Thanksgiving, but since I would be heading up to European Provisions for my Christmas sausage anyway, perhaps I could get some from your uncle's church instead. Do I have to (or better, should I) call them ahead to order? Not making Gammy's pierogi until the next Holiday anyway.

                                                          2. re: MGZ

                                                            huh. My family did the opposite: smoked kielbasa for Thanksgiving and fresh for Easter. I wonder if that means anything, lol

                                                            1. re: kubasd

                                                              Actually, that may make more sense for a springtime slaughter. Smoking the meat to preserve it over the summer. Frankly, my grandparents were pretty well off in their community and may have simply done the "fresh thing" in Fall because they could. I s'pose that's how traditions start . . . .

                                                              Then again, a Fall slaughter with a winter smoke meant food for the tough months. To bad the old folks aren't here to explain.

                                                      2. I made a dish for T'giving for a couple of years w/ sauerkraut, cabbage, green onions, mushroom, bacon, & diced apple. After a few years, I stopped making it, because I was the only one who ate it...I still make it for myself sometimes, & not just at T'giving...

                                                        1. I haven't heard of it before, but it sounds pretty good! I may try some at Christmas.