What’s true about Amish and Mennonites

All right. We know that some of you have been watching some of the Amish “reality” shows that have appeared on TV in the last few years. And, you are thinking “Can this really be true?”

Amish man and wagonWell, the key thing to remember is that these shows are “entertainment”. They aren’t documentaries and they make no claims as such. Wikipedia defines a documentary as “a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record.”

On the other hand, reality TV is described by Wikipedia as a genre that “often highlights personal drama and conflict to a much greater extent than other unscripted television such as documentary shows.”

So, without condemning anyone’s show business career, let’s list a few things that are true about the Amish and Mennonites.

True: Not all Amish are the same

It’s pretty dangerous to generalize about the Amish. There are many variations of Amish churches, somewhat like the Baptist or Methodist denominations. Some are more permissive than others. In reference to the Ohio Amish groups, the most conservative group is the Swartzentruber Amish. They reject conveniences that “English” might consider the most basic – running water, indoor toilets, battery-powered buggy lights, even slow-moving vehicle signs on their buggies. Muddy driveways are common since gravel is not allowed. Farming is done without even the most modern of horse-drawn equipment (technology of 50 or 60 years ago).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Beachy Amish allow members to have electric, drive cars and tractors and have telephones in the house. They don’t approve of TV, movies or the internet, but they still require button-up shirts for men, homemade dresses and prayer coverings for women.

In between these groups are the New New Order Amish (yes, that’s two News), New Order Amish, New Order “Tob”, Old Order Amish, “The Dan Gmee” and probably a few groups we’ve missed. And within each “order”, the bishop in each district can make decisions about what’s accepted – even neighboring districts can be quite different. They pick and choose the types of technology that will serve the community, but not destroy it.

True: Not all Mennonites are the same

Amish and Mennonites (and Brethren, Apostolics and Hutterites), come from the same branch of Anabaptist Christian faith. Note that this is not anti-baptism. It means they believe in a Believer’s Baptism for those who have committed their lives to the Lord.

There are all varieties of Mennonites and most of them are more liberal than the Amish. Among the most conservative are Old Order Mennonites and Black Bumper Mennonites. Then there are the Conservative Amish-Mennonites all the way through the Mennonite Church USA conference. Many Conservatives may have grown up Amish, but “jumped the fence” to become Mennonite. Some Mennonites wear plain dress and a prayer covering, some do not.

True: Amish and Mennonites get along just fine

People are people and not everyone gets along with each other on a personal level. But as a community, the different Orders of Amish or Mennonites get along with each other. They may make fun of each other’s differences, but they generally will speak with each other and do business with each other.

Mennonite Disaster Service is one place where this teamwork is demonstrated. In the case of a hurricane, flood, tornado or other disaster, you may see both plain Amish and liberal Mennonites working together on one roof to repair shingles that have been torn away by the wind.

True: Amish do ride in cars

To clarify, some Amish will not ride in cars. But many Amish think nothing of hiring a driver to take them grocery shopping or on a hunting or fishing trip.

What’s the difference between owning a car and riding in someone’s car? They fear that owning cars and traveling at will could pull the community apart. The horse and buggy signifies the separation of being “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Families and neighbors should stay at home, work together, eat together and play together for the sake of the community. Traveling by tractor is accepted in the less conservative orders of the Amish, but again, many tractors don’t go much over 20 miles per hour.

Amish taxi drivers are often Mennonites.

By the way, Amish do go on vacation, usually by van, bus or train. They do travel on long trips to Florida or the western US, but they rarely fly unless there is a medical emergency. Air travel is not allowed by the more conservative orders.

True: Amish do pay taxes

Everyone pays taxes, including the Amish. They pay income tax, sales tax and property tax.

Amish do not collect Social Security, unemployment or welfare benefits because they believe that they should insure themselves. Insurance shows a lack of faith in God. Depending on where they work, they may continue to pay these payroll taxes even though they were exempted in 1965.

There are Amish-run LLC’s that lease workers to English businesses so that they can be exempted from payroll taxes. Note that once an Amish person exempts himself from paying payroll taxes, he o she cannot reverse this decision.

True: The Amish are community-centered, but not a commune

Each person in the community is expected to do business honestly and fairly. They are expected to pay their own bills and manage their own money. Individuals that have trouble with their finances are sometimes said to have “no management” and may be assigned a mentor by the church to teach them how to pay bills and control their finances.

True: Amish Aid does exist

Amish do not generally buy health insurance, but there is indeed a fund called Amish Aid or Amish Insurance. This fund is overseen by a committee of leaders and members of the Amish churches pay into the fund to help pay each others’ medical bills, etc. When there is an accident or sickness that incurs a huge expense, the community bands together to help raise money to pay the bill, such as fundraisers and benefit auctions.

The insurance “fee” is set by the committee of members. It’s voluntary, but most people are happy to participate.

True: The Amish do use cell phones, sometimes…

For Amish youth on Rumspringa, a cell phone is a must. Many Amish churches frown upon members owning a cell phone. That said, it’s not surprising to see Amish with cell phones, particularly for business use. Often, cell phones are limited to basic flip phones that do not have internet access.

True: Amish and Mennonites are people just like you

In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to think that living where life moves slower must be happier. Amish and Mennonites are just people like you. The same human problems plague us just like the English world…rebellious children, financial problems, marriage problems and so on. Problems are solved through the lens of living peacefully with one another.

For both the Amish and Mennonites, a key to their faith and community is submitting to one another. That means that each church member agrees to give up his/her own will for the benefit of the community, as Christ modeled for us. Loving your enemies, praying for those who despitefully use you and not taking revenge are tenets of the faith.

Why is “Pennsylvania Dutch” called “Dutch”?

What’s that language that the Amish speak? It’s called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or just “Dutch”. It confusing because it’s not the Dutch that people in Holland speak – it’s a dialect of German. So why is everything in Amish country is called “Dutch” when the dialect spoken is really German? This will require a short history lesson, so bear with us.

Deutschland, the homeland

The original Anabaptist Christian movement (meaning “re-baptizers”) began in the 1500’s in German-speaking Switzerland. Many Anabaptists lived in the mountains around Bern, Switzerland, the Alsace-Lorraine and the German Palatinate. In 1693, a conservative sect of these Swiss Anabaptists broke away from the main branch and followed the teachings of Jakob Amman, later known as the Amish. The main branch of the movement was eventually called the Mennonites, after a priest from Holland named Menno Simons.

When the Amish and Swiss Mennonites came to America, they brought with them their Swiss dialect. Along with the many German-speaking immigrants who came to Pennsylvania, the entire group was termed “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Dutch or “Deutsch” is actually German for the German language.

Du sind Deitsch!

Modern Pennsylvania Dutch varies from community to community and state to state. “Deitschers”,  or those who can speak Dutch, can always tell if someone is from out of the area just by their way of speaking. English is often mixed into the vernacular so you may catch a few phrases or words if you listen closely. High German speakers will find it difficult to understand and communicate since the Dutch dialect is so evolved – Swiss and Low German is similar but still quite different.

A word to the wise: those of you who read Amish novels may expect to have a good grasp of the Amish language. Believe me, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. I’ve lived in an Amish/Mennonite community all of my life, know enough Dutch and German to be dangerous, but I would not even try to speak Dutch to an Amish person. It’s not offensive to them, but you’ll find yourself to be the chuckle of the day and a good story at their next family gathering. Try speaking Dutch only if you have the ability to laugh at yourself!

A short glossary and the comedic side of “Dutch”

Dutch is really a fun language. This is a short list of common and amusing Dutch words. The words are spelled as they sound.

  • Diener – Minister
  • Dawdy – Grandpa (Sometimes the little house built next to the big family house is called the “Dawdy Haus“.)
  • Mammy – Grandma
  • Ferhuddled – Mixed up or confused
  • Groombadda mush – Mashed potatoes
  • Greeny bonna – Green beans
  • Lumba – Dish rag
  • Butz – To clean.
  • Wie bischt du? – How are you?
  • Kannst du Deitsch schwetza? – Can you understand Dutch?
  • Schmutz – Grease
  • Doplich or Dobbich – Clumsy. “I’m so dobbich, I tripped over my own feet!”
  • Loppich – Naughty
  • Gook mal doe! – Look at that!
  • Strubblich – messy. “My hair is so strubblich!” Grandma used to say this.
  • Hook die hanna. – Sit down! Often heard on the bus ride home from school.
  • Hinkle – Chicken
  • Gol or Golly – Horse
  • Kuw – Cow
  • Schlock – To hit. “He schlocked the ball over the fence.”
  • Bush – Trees. “He schlocked the ball over the bush.”
  • Shiddle – To shake. “My custard pie is so slimy, it’s shiddling.”
  • Glevalich – Slimy. “My custard pie is so glevalich, it’s shiddling.”
  • Iss da Chim dat? – “Is Jim home?” – A direct quote from my youth. The neighbors called us often at 6am, looking for my dad, Jim.)
  • Maydy, vit du hayra? “Girl, do you want to get married?” This phrase is actually a well-known Dutch song by Ohio musician John Schmid.

Lost in translation? German has a different word order than English, so the translation to English (and vice versa) can cause fits of giggling.

  • I stood up at 6 this morning. “I woke up and got out of bed at 6 o’clock.”
  • Make the lights out. “Turn off the lights.”
  • The lemonade is all. “There is no more lemonade.”
  • Throw the cow over the fence some hay. “Throw some hay over the fence for the cow.”
  • We get too soon oldt and too late schmart.

Have an amusing Dutch word or phrase? Post it (clean ones, please) in a response. We’d love to hear them.

Fried Amish Cornmeal Mush

No breakfast in Amish country is complete without a hearty helping of fried cornmeal mush. Most often eaten with syrup or sausage gravy, it’s a simple, honest and economical dish that has long been a staple in Amish and Mennonite households.

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Humble Cornmeal

Made with ground corn, mush was well-known on the American frontier. Corn was first cultivated by the Native Americans, but newcomers to the New World soon learned the value of corn. Easily dried and ground, corn could be ground and used in mush (either fried or in a porridge), cornbread, corn pone and grits.

Because mush required few ingredients to make and cornmeal was plentiful, the American pioneers carried corn mush with them on wagon trains and other travels. A breakfast and/or supper dish, it was served with butter and milk if available. Since the Amish themselves were pioneers from Europe with large families to feed, they soon learned to appreciate humble corn mush as must in the farmhouse kitchen. It’s been said that that corn mush might have been the food staple that kept the pioneers alive during long winters and lean times.

How to make Amish cornmeal mush

Corn mush is made with finely-ground yellow corn meal. It’s easily available in grocery stores or, if you are ambitious, you can make your own. Just be aware that corn meal is not made from sweet corn! Sweet corn is what you eat off the cob, but it’s not suitable for corn meal. Yellow cornmeal is made with “dent” corn or field corn (look for the dent at the top of the kernel). Field corn is harder and more starchy.

You will need to make sure the corn dried thoroughly before you grind it in dry mill. Specialty stores such as Lehman’s Hardware carry mills and even corn to grind.

Once you have cornmeal, mush is pretty simple. Other than cornmeal, the only ingredients are water and salt. There are variations, but here is a recipe:

3/4 cup – cold water
3 cups boiling water
1 cup – corn meal
1 tsp – salt

First make a paste with cold water and cornmeal/salt mixture, then stir in boiling water. Continue to cook (stirring often) over a low heat for about 20 minutes, then pour into a pan and let cool until the mush is set. Slice thinly and fry in oil until crispy brown. Serve hot with breakfast syrup, sausage gravy, tomato gravy or apple butter.

If you’d rather go straight to the frying, ready-made corn mush is available in many bulk food stores and bakeries in Ohio’s Amish country or online at the Dutchman Online Store.

Scrapple

For a really Pennsylvania Dutch variation, try scrapple, also known as “pon haus”. Pon haus was made at butchering time and consists of pork scraps and trimmings mixed with cornmeal mush. We won’t go into the details here, but the scraps were cuts that were not usable elsewhere and therefore made into scrapple to avoid waste. Pon haus is sliced like regular mush and fried. It’s still available in some butcher shops and sometimes bulk food stores.

Peach Pie Season in Amish Country

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Nothing tastes like summer like fresh peaches! Beginning mid to late July, they are in season here in Ohio. Families all across Amish country will buy them by the bushel and either can or freeze them.

Whether you can them or eat them fresh, you’ll want to start out with quality fruit. Here are a few tips for buying peaches.

Selecting your fruit

When shopping for peaches, be very picky. You’ll want to make sure the fruit is soft but not bruised. While bruised peaches spoil quickly, peaches that are hard will never ripen correctly and are not as tasty. To save yourself both grief and work, be sure to select free-stone varieties – “cling” peaches do not lift off the stone easily and will be harder to slice. Red Haven is the variety of choice but there are many good options for eating and “putting away.”

If you plan to can or freeze your peaches, try to ask for varieties that do not turn brown when sliced. Although the peaches may taste OK, they won’t retain the beautiful yellow color they had when fresh. If you’re not sure what kind of peaches you have, just coat your sliced peaches with an acid, such as lemon juice or orange juice. The acid helps the peaches look fresh and yellow until you eat them next winter.

It’s fine to store peaches in your refrigerator, but be sure to store them side-by-side. Stacking peaches will cause them to bruise and get mushy. Before eating fresh peaches, remove them from the refrigerator to warm up. Peaches at room temperature seem to have better taste than those straight out of the frig.

If you do happen to buy some peaches that aren’t ripe (a ripe peach should be soft but not mushy), just lay them out in one layer on your kitchen counter. They’ll ripen up naturally in a day or so.

Where to buy peaches

In Walnut Creek, Hillcrest Orchard is one place that raises their own peaches (50 acres of peach and apple trees) and they pick them only when they are ripe. Peaches will be available there by August 1.

Another option is at our local livestock auctions, such as Farmerstown (Tuesday), Mount Hope (Wednesday) or Kidron (Thursday). You’ll find multiple vendors there with peach varieties such as Harvestor, Contender, Red Haven and the later varieties of “white” peaches. If you are in the market for large lots of fruit, check out the Farmer’s Produce Auction in Mount Hope on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

In Plain City, just west of Columbus, you’ll be able to find peaches at Yutzy’s Farm Market. They’ll be selling the varieties Contender, Red Glow and later Red Haven. All three are good for freezing and canning and are free-stone varieties.

Peach Pie

Fresh peach pie, as the name states, is made with fresh uncooked peaches. At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, pie bakers peel and slice the peaches, then cover with a homemade peachy-orange glaze. Although we can’t give you our recipe (it’s got a secret ingredient), it’s made with peach-flavored jello as its base. It’s the job of one baker to peel the peaches for all our pies – it takes nearly all day. The pies are made by filling a pre-baked pie shell and topped with whipped cream.

On the other hand, if you’d like to bake your peaches into a pie, here’s a simple Peach Cream Pie recipe that comes from our original and old-fashioned 1973 Der Dutchman Cookbook

Peach Cream Pie
From Mrs. Ben Miller

1 cup white sugar
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Approximately 3 – 4  fresh peaches, depending on the size

Fill an unbaked pie crust with peeled fresh peaches. Mix the sugar, cream and cornstarch and pour mixture over the peaches in the pie shell. Bake like a custard pie.

Editor’s note: Instructions for baking a custard pie are as follows: Bake for 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until until nicely browned on top.

What in the world is Rhubarb?

Ahh…rhubarb. It’s one of the first crops of the spring. A sure sign that spring really has arrived, it starts sending up its first green shoots as soon as the ground begins to warm, usually in April in our neck of the woods.

Photo of Rhubarb

Rhubarb often has beautiful red stalks

Don’t know what rhubarb is? Well, you’re not alone. Here in Ohio’s Amish Country, most people are quite familiar with the plant. Most people with a garden will have a clump of rhubarb somewhere on the property. The wide triangular leaves of this rhizome are poisonous, but the stalks have a unique tart taste that makes wonderful pies, cakes, jams. salads and many other tasty recipes.

Rhubarb is said to be a very “old” plant, meaning that documented knowledge of the plant goes back as far as 2,700 years in China. The roots were said to have medicinal value and were a prized commodity. In his travels, Marco Polo became acquainted with rhubarb and soon the roots of Chinese rhubarb were traded in Italy. Interest in the plant began to spread throughout Europe. Seeds or rootstock were brought to America with the early pioneer farmer. Cultivation and use of the stalks as a food grew as sugar became more readily available as a sweetener.

How to grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a cool season crop and is well-suited for Canada and the northern United States. Winter time temperatures must be below 40 degrees to break its dormancy period. Harvesting can begin as soon as the stalks are between a half inch or an inch in width. The more you harvest, the more the plant will yield.

It likes well-drained slightly acidic soils with an abundance of organic matter. The recommended fertilizer is well-aged manure. Since no herbicides can be used, weeds can be a problem and should be addressed by diligent hand-weeding and hoeing. Rhubarb is relatively pest and disease-free.

Our own rhubarb patch was started from the seeds of a neighbor’s plant. Rhubarb will grow a rather unsightly seed head which many people cut off before it reaches maturity. Leaving the heads on the plant also seem to strain the vigor and decrease the yield. Alternately, roots can be dug and transplanted to start a patch.

A word of caution: If you go looking for rhubarb, don’t confuse it with the weeds that grow along the road sides. This is Burdock, a weed that is considered toxic! It looks similar but is not what you are looking for. You can tell by the leaves – rhubarb has smooth leaves and burdock leaves have woolly undersides. It will grow into an annoying perennial weed that spreads quickly and produces cockle burrs that will attach themselves to your clothes, your hair and your dog. Don’t let this get going in your garden.

Recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Der Dutchman Rhubarb Crumb Pie

Our crumb-topped rhubarb pies from Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley Restaurants

Here’s the best part! At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, we make rhubarb-cream cheese cookies, coffee cake and the most popular of all, rhubarb crumb pies. Rhubarb has many delicious uses but because of its strong tart flavor, it requires large amounts of sugar. Often, bakers will mix in strawberries to lessen the tartness. Below is a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe from our 40th Anniversary Cookbook contributed by on of our salad cooks, Clara I. Miller.

1 pint fresh strawberries
2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind or 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Make (or buy) enough pie crust for a double crust pie:
1 layer to line your pie shell, 9 inches in diameter
1 layer to form your top pie crust (or make a topping of crumbs with butter, brown sugar and flour)

Combine the sugars, flour and lemon; Add the fresh fruit and toss together. Add the mixture to your unbaked pie shell and cover with the second the top crust. Pinch together the edges and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Enjoy warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

Exploring the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek

The Old German Culture Museum

The Old German Culture Museum still stands in Walnut Creek.

Holmes County, home to the world’s largest Amish community, has its share of attractions and shopping. But as of last May, another venue reopened in the village of Walnut Creek. The German Culture Museum has been open in the town since the early 1980’s with a collection of historical items pertaining to the arrival of the Amish in the area, Amish origins in Europe, as well as local traditions and lore.

Housed in a small house where President William McKinley once slept, the original German Culture Museum was a the brainchild of several of Walnut Creek township’s history fanatics, particularly the Schlabach Family, Wayne Hostetler and Roscoe Miller. With the blessings of the Mennonite Information Center (known for the Behalt cyclorama), the team started assembling collections of items that belonged to the early pioneers of Walnut Creek, as well as photos, books, and other antiques. Stanley Kaufman, a former art professor living in Berlin, expertly arranged each room of the little house to describe different aspects of life in the township from the early 1800’s to the present day. Guided tours were available during the weekend.

As years passed, the Museum directors saw that the little blue building would never be large enough to house all of the collection. There was no place to display a surrey, wagons or the numerous local furniture pieces that were housed in two dark damp storage facilities. The old building was neither climate-controlled, weather-tight or handicap accessible – all problematic issues. When land was donated by the Schlabach Family for a community building, the idea began to circulate to relocate the German Culture Museum.

In May of 2007, work began on a brand new Walnut Creek Community building to house a branch of the Holmes County library, a community meeting room and the new home of the German Culture Museum. Entirely paid for by a community fund drive, the building was completed and work began on moving the extensive and fragile collection from the old museum to its new basement home across the street. It took quite some time and a lot of grunt work to clean, build displays and arrange the antiques, but the museum reopened in the summer of 2010.

Jonas "Der Weiss" Stutzman Reenactor

Larry Miller, local resident, as "Der Weiss". Der Weiss means "The White One" in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.

Rooms have been built to feature the old Kitchen, Bedroom (complete with rope bed and straw tick mattress), Dining Room, Textiles and Tool Collection. In addition, you will be able to see a small replica of a European Hiding Place where Mennonites hid from persecutors during the Reformation and the completely restored and Rockefeller Surrey. A museum feature is a replica of the cabin built by first settler in Walnut Creek, Jonas Stutzman who was known as “Der Weiss.” On a visit, you may even experience a conversation with the old fellow in the form of a Der Weiss reenactor.

Oh, by the way, Ohio’s newest covered bridge over the Walnut Creek has been named Stutzman Crossing in honor of Jonas. To find out why Jonas was called “Der Weiss,” view an interview with “Der Weiss” at the Grand Opening of the bridge last November.

At the new museum location, you’ll be now be able to tour at your own pace, but feel free to ask questions of the museum attendants. Expect to spend an hour there (or more if you are really a history buff), and take your time to view all the fascinating variety of items on display. You won’t need to be a local or a member of the older generation to enjoy the experience – all ages and school groups will find this to be a step back into time.

As of spring 2011, the museum plans to be open on Saturdays, with possible additional days throughout the week. Since the museum is staffed entirely by volunteers, entrance fees are on a donation basis – a great idea for families on a budget. To inquire about hours or book special tours, please call 330-893-2510

If you’re looking for an economical and educational activity, the  German Culture Museum should be a planned stop on your trip to Walnut Creek or Amish country. The museum is located on Olde Pump Street, just around the corner from the well-known Der Dutchman Restaurant in the basement of the brand-new library building. It is handicap-accessible and parking is free.

Pork & Sauerkraut for a prosperous new year

Every culture has its traditions for health and wealth for a New Year. Here in Ohio’s Amish country,  the tradition is to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. As my dad always said, if you want to have “money in your pocket” for the next year, you have to eat sauerkraut.

Why pork and sauerkraut?

True to our Swiss and German heritage, the pork custom is based on the notion that fattened pigs symbolized wealth, progress and forward-thinking. For example, when searching for food, pigs will root in the ground, pushing their snouts forward. Therefore, a pig is always pushing forward in the future. It’s also difficult for a hog to look backwards, unlike a chicken or turkey which scratches backward when foraging. It’s said that a Pennsylvania Dutchman would never eat chicken on New Year’s Day.

Sauerkraut, a long-standing tradition in Germany, is believed to bring blessings and wealth also. Those seated at a New Year’s feast would wish each other goodness and as much money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of sauerkraut.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Translated from the German as “sour herb” or “sour cabbage”, sauerkraut is finely shredded cabbage that has undergone fermentation by lactic acid bacteria. The lactic acid lends the distinct sour taste to the cabbage. There is no vinegar in sauerkraut, though it can be used with fresh cabbage to make coleslaw. Easy to grow and easy to preserve, the humble cabbage is high in Vitamin C and lactobacilli (healthy probiotic bacteria). It is said to be good for digestion and provides a nutritious meal to combat diseases such as scurvy.

Years ago, almost everyone in Amish country was a farmer and had a big garden to grow cabbage and other produce. Before grocery stores and processed food, people had to work hard to grow, preserve and store food for the lean winter months. Everybody made sauerkraut, including my Grandma. Although I was too young to ever participate, my aunt filled recently fill me in on her kraut-making technique.

First, she harvested and washed the fresh cabbage, removing any brown leaves.  The next step was to cut the cabbage and shred it into fine pieces. She saved the hard crisp center of the cabbage as a snack for the children.

Next she placed the shredded cabbage in a freshly-scrubbed 10 gallon ceramic crock (ceramic or glass is important – metal won’t work), mixed in salt and let the cabbage set until it wilted slightly. The wilting of the cabbage indicated that fermentation was beginning. The next step was the cleaning a large round piece of slate, cut to exactly fit the diameter of the big crock. The slate was fitted into the crock on top of the cabbage. She then pressed the slate down on the cabbage to compact it and remove as much air as possible. A large heavy field stone was placed on top of the slate to weigh it down keep pressure on the cabbage.

It was important that the crock remain in a cool dry place for the rest of the fermentation. Grandma placed her sauerkraut crocks in the central part of the old farmhouse basement, away from the drafts of the coal-furnace, so that the temperature would remain constant and cool. Depending on the temperature, the sauerkraut was ready to eat in about 6 weeks. A longer ferment would yield a more acidic or sour taste to the kraut. The sauerkraut was served with homemade sausage from the home-raised pork that my Grandpa would butcher by himself each winter.