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Friday, 18 May 2012

The Great Sauerkraut Fiasco

By Marcy Belson

I asked my cousin Katie if she remembered this day. She said no. I didn’t think there was anyone in my family who didn’t remember that day; it surely made a lasting impression on my young mind. This is how it happened.

Summer in the desert, that day was probably 90 degrees, maybe closer to 100. No air conditioning in our home, it was 1946 and it was Canning Day. Cabbage in a box from the field, a couple of pressure cookers, huge pots to boil the glass jars after they were filled.

Six women, young, old and in between. Katie’s grandmother, Mittie McAdoo, her daughters, Helen and Ruth, my grandmother, known as Peg, her daughter, Maxine and my mother, the in-law to all of them. Plus me, age nine.

I was banished from the kitchen. Everyone knew how dangerous pressure cookers were - why, the lid could blow off at any second. Best to keep the children out of range!

I have no idea why it took six women to can the sauerkraut, but it was an assembly line production and they proudly took their share of the finished jars when they left for the day.

After the jars cooled enough to be handled, I helped my mother carry them out to the back sun porch, called a patio in that area. It was a big screened in room with a red concrete floor and it was where my upright piano stood as well as all sort of fishing gear, a sewing machine and an electric mangle.

The mangle is another story, the story of my mother buying and mastering the art of ironing a shirt on a mangle. For a short time, she even ironed the sheets, our underwear, the dishtowels. That didn’t last long and the mangle became part of the patio lost-leftovers of our life.

Back to the sauerkraut story.

We placed the quart glass jars along one wall next to the steps into the house. There were two concrete steps, cool in the summer and the preferred spot for a nine-year-old girl to read a book or listen to the adults in the dining room - a forbidden offense, but doable.

It may have been two or three days before the first explosion. Kaboom! My bedroom was at the back of the house and the noise was enough to awaken the entire household.

I was told to stay in my room, my father took his trusty 38 pistol and prepared to shoot the intruder. It was sauerkraut, of course. Everywhere sauerkraut plus fragments of the glass jar. The mess was cleaned up the following day.

But before the day ended, another jar exploded, then another. Boom, boom, boom. No one was allowed to enter the screened porch. Ha ha. I didn’t have to practice my piano lesson.

I was expected to sit at the piano for 30 minutes every day but Sunday. I was about as thrilled as my mother was with the mangle. So the sauerkraut explosions were not only exciting, but truly had saved me from the hated task of doing what I was learning to despise.

It went on for about two weeks. I believe my mother finally built up her nerve, took the wheelbarrow to the back door of the patio, loaded the intact jars and dumped them by the trash in the alley.

I was totally deflated the day I came in from school and was told to resume my piano work. To put the icing on the cake, my father would tell me to play a few tunes whenever my parents had company for dinner.

I would march out there to the piano and struggle through whatever the nun music teacher had managed to drum into my head. A later teacher told me to give up the music quest that, as an adult, I was determined to conquer. He said that I couldn’t chew gum and work the foot pedals. I digress.

My mother said the sauerkraut blew up because her husband’s family of women must have done something wrong during the canning. It wasn’t her fault!

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Did the porch smell like sauerkraut?

Whenever my brother smells sauerkraut he remembers the time he spent in Korea in the Army - around 1957. Apparently Korean kimchee (kimchi) is, basically, a fermented vegetable dish akin to sauerkraut. The Korean families buried their kimchi jars while the contents fermented and he said you could always tell when one was being opened by the smell.

Of course it wasn't your Mother's fault the sauerkraut jars blew up.

I really doubt she was anxious to work in the kitchen in the middle of the desert,with 5 other women who also would have rather been ANYWHERE else in the World.

Did they ever hold another sauerkraut canning day?

My guess is that every one of those ladies went to the store and bought a can of Silver Floss or Kisslings from that day on; then they used the cabbage for cole slaw.

You were lucky to be banished from the kitchen,Marcy.

Loved the story!

Susan, my husband was in Korea in '57-'58 in AFKN, Seoul, he agrees with your brother!
Nancy, I never canned anything. Looked like a nasty job to me!

We have sauerkraut stories, too. And we love the stuff. But this story was funny times two. Thanks for sharing.

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