Column Around Thalen: Preserving family traditions – Alexandria Echo Press


Having been passed down from generation to generation, the blade was always sharp and could cut heads into tangled bundles in tens of seconds. My uncle, Kevin, made sure to repeatedly warn me not to cut myself. He wasn’t as concerned about my safety as about the possibility of my blood ruining the season’s preserves.

He made it easy by attaching a handle to a block of wood to press cabbage into my great-grandmother’s cabbage slicer blade while the heads were being shredded.

Once we were done with all the cabbage, my aunt, Karen, added salt to taste with a little caraway seed. We then filled mason jars filled with our mix. The salt combined with the cabbage water reacted and produced a bubbly moisture, perfect for fermentation. Kevin then sealed them and stored our collection. Hopefully by Christmas we’ll have a tasty batch of sauerkraut.

Karen let my wife and I take home some pots she had made months before.

We love sauerkraut. We take care of almost everything. Our favorite, the pepperoni pizza and sauerkraut.

The stuff I got from my aunt is some of the best I’ve had. I finished one of the jars that night.

The easy process of canning cabbage to ferment it into sauerkraut was passed down from my great-grandmother to her children. Even today, they meet regularly to carry on the tradition. Now I can pass it on to my children.

After all, we spent part of the afternoon talking about all the foods they know how to preserve and how common knowledge they were. Unfortunately, the art of canning has diminished over the generations.

There was a time when canning was the best way to preserve your harvest for months or years. Now, with the convenience of refrigerators, the original purpose of canning is exceeded. But that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten.

Canning allows an individual to be self-sufficient. Have autonomy with their food. You 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 store them for long periods of time, all without the need for an appliance that increases the energy bill. You can apply this process to most products. The cycle can be endless as long as you can keep growing healthy plants. With a healthy garden and the canning process, one wouldn’t have to worry too much about the food shortages we’ve been hearing about for the past few years.

Learning the process of canning sauerkraut got me hooked on learning how to can more stuff. It also increased my desire to one day have a big garden of my own. And it helped me connect with my family. Food has a way of doing it.

Some meals and recipes not only represent people’s cultural background, but some are specific to each family. This is our story. It tells the stories 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 grandmother taught me her liver and onion recipe. A favorite in our family that my grandmother learned from her mother. But, one of his regrets was not learning his mother’s process for kolaches. If you’ve ever had one of Florence Tvrdik’s kolaches, you know that no other can compare. This is why learning about recipes and the family canning process became important to me. As something that has been passed down through families for generations, it has become a hobby 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’ve spent with them in my 26 years outside of an entire family reunion.

Not only did we can cabbage, but we continued a family tradition.


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