New Year’s Day in Berks County, Pennsylvania means one thing. Folks in home kitchens, fire halls, and other community centers are simmering pork and sauerkraut. It’s the traditional good luck meal to ring in the new year.
My grandmother made this dish every year. We gathered around our large kitchen table that my grandfather crafted by hand to enjoy each other’s company and renew our hope for better, easier times. We didn’t know the history of the dish, but it didn’t matter. It was branded into our DNA. Brought over by our ancestors. And it kept us rooted and appreciative of our commonality.
William Woys Weaver, Pennsylvania’s leading culinary historian, explains, “Pork and sauerkraut didn’t start out as the fixed dish connected with New Year’s Day. Instead, it was an outgrowth of the mid-winter feasting associated with butchering the family hogs. At that time, usually near Christmas, families invited relatives and hosted big dinners. When home butchering declined in the later 1800s, the big pork dinner tradition simply continued, either for Christmas or New Year’s.”
When Phil and I opened August First, we stuck to a philosophy. Focus on food that makes you feel good. As I thought about sharing my family’s traditional pork and sauerkraut recipe, I remembered how, while it tasted great, it often left me feeling heavy and tired. So, I started a new tradition in our home. A lovely dish of slow braised mushrooms and sauerkraut.
The technique of shredding and flash roasting oyster mushrooms creates a chewy, crunchy meat-like texture that rounds out the dish. With an assortment of mushrooms that can be found at most supermarkets, common herbs, fresh sauerkraut, this dish is bright and healthy.
It’s certainly a good harbinger for a new year full of abundance, health and joy.