It's Thalen's Turn column: Preserving family traditions
The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
For being handed down for generations, the blade was still sharp and could slice heads into tangled bundles within tens of seconds. My uncle, Kevin, made sure to warn me numerous times not to cut myself. He wasn’t as concerned for my safety as he was about the potential of my blood ruining the season's preserves.
He made things easy by attaching a handle to a block of wood to press the cabbage into the blade of my great-grandma’s cabbage slicer as the heads were shredded down.
Once we got through all the cabbage, my aunt, Karen, added salt to taste along with a bit of caraway seeds. We then packed mason jars full of our mixture. The salt combined with the water in the cabbage reacted and produced a bubbly moisture, perfect for fermentation. Kevin then sealed them and stored our collection. Hopefully, by Christmas, we will have a tasty batch of sauerkraut.
Karen let my wife and I take a few jars home that she made months before.
We love sauerkraut. We put in on nearly everything. Our favorite, pepperoni pizza and sauerkraut.
The stuff I got from my aunt is some of the best I have had. I finished one of the jars that night.
The easy process of canning cabbage to ferment into sauerkraut was passed down from my great-grandma to her children. To this day, they still get together regularly to keep the tradition going. Now I can pass down it down to my children.
After all was said and done, we spent some of the afternoons talking about all the food they know how to preserve and how it used to be common knowledge. Unfortunately, the art of canning has dwindled through the generations.
There used to be a time when canning was the best way people could keep their harvest for months or years on end. Now, with the convenience of refrigerators, the original purpose of canning is outdated. But, that doesn't mean we should forget it.
Canning allows an individual to be self-sufficient. To have autonomy with their food. One can take a tomato, remove the seeds and potentially grow dozens of tomato plants and produce even more tomatoes with even more seeds. Then you can take those tomatoes and preserve them for long periods of time — all without the need for an energy bill-raising appliance. You can apply this process to most produce. The cycle could be endless as long as you can continue to grow healthy plants. With a healthy garden and the canning process, one wouldn't have to worry too much about the food shortages we have been hearing about over the last few years.
Learning the process of canning sauerkraut got me hooked on learning how to can more things. It also increased my desire to have a large garden of my own one day. And it helped me connect with my family. Food has a way of doing that.
Certain meals and recipes not only represent the cultural background of people but some are specific to each family. It is our history. It tells the tales of where our people came from and the foods they had to sustain themselves. And family recipes are their artistic signatures.
Earlier this year, my grandma taught me her recipe for liver and onions. A favorite in our family that my grandma learned from her mother. But, one of her regrets was not learning her mother's process for kolaches. If you ever had one of Florence Tvrdik's kolaches, you know no other can compare. This is why learning recipes and the family canning process has become important to me. As something that has been passed down through families for generations, it has become a pastime that allows you to bond, talk with each other and understand our own history.
The day my wife and I spent with my aunt and uncle was the most time I have spent with them in my 26 years outside of a whole family gathering.
We not only canned cabbage but we preserved a family tradition.