The "Christkind" Presides Over a German Christmas
The "Christkind" Presides
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Reinbold, A.
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Christmas Memories with Recipes:
Jenifer Lang



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~ Bess Streeter Aldrich (Song of Years)

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Lit-Up Facade of Konigsbau and Ferris-Wheel During Christmas Market, Nuremberg, Germany
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Christmas with Sauerkraut
Jenifer Lang, © 1988

Christmas Memories
with Recipes
1994, Wings Books, a division of
Random House Value Publishing, Inc.


(from the Editors): “Her Catholic-Jewish Irish-East European background has
given Jenifer Lang a broad outlook, broad enough for the staple dish of her
Christmas dinner to be a family-developed sauerkraut with giblet gravy. Lang,
American editor of the newly [1988] revised Larousse Gastronomique, writes
extensively on food.”

“Having a quirky family can be trying; one thing you can say – it’s never dull.
Mine was full of drama and intrigue, laced with a certain schizophrenia.
Take my maternal grandparents, for instance; my grandmother was an
Orthodox Jew and my grandfather was a superstitious Irish Catholic. This
lifelong love affair between two strong-willed people produced profound
cultural and religious influences in my childhood. Usually, I tended to
identify with the grandparent I had spoken to last, and the end result is that
today I feel both Catholic and Jewish to the same degree, especially when it
comes to the kitchen.
Because my parents were in their teens when they married, my five siblings
and I spent much of our time in the company of Mimi and Boppa, as we called
our grandparents. Whenever we moved… they followed along and set up house
just next door to us…
…One of the side benefits of my grandparentage was that we all got to celebrate twice as many holiday as anyone else, all of those on the Jewish calendar and
all of those on the Christian calendar, clearly the dream of every child.
Christmas was the highlight of the year for all of us; it was not only one of
the most worshipful days of the Catholic year but it was also full of the kind
of revelry that appealed to the immigrant entrepreneur in Mimi and Boppa…
Included in the festivities was a massive Christmas dinner that was Norman Rockwellian in it American correctness – turkey, of course, with a bread
; mashed potatoes; sweet potatoes with a toothachingly sweet
marshmallow topping; Day Glo-green spiced pears and red pickled crab-
apples; a relish tray with radishes, scallions, carrots, celery sticks, and
black pitted olives; soft Parker House rolls; and two kinds of pie: mincemeat
and pumpkin (we kids never went
near the mincemeat pie but devoured the
pumpkin with loads of freshly whipped cream).
The one oddity to this feast was a testament to the fact that my grandparents
had come to détente in the culinary sphere of their lives. Served at dinner
right along side everything else, in an ornate sterling-silver Victorian vegetable
dish, was a somewhat unusual family specialty: sauerkraut with giblet gravy. It never seemed unusual to me, of course. In fact, it was always my favorite part
of the dinner…
…No one in my family can tell me how or when someone first decided to put
the giblet gravy on top of the sauerkraut as well as the mashed potatoes, but
as with the person who was brave enough to try the first oyster, his or her
descendants are forever grateful for the original audacity.
The sauerkraut gives a teasingly piquant touch to an otherwise somewhat
bland and good-natured series of traditional holiday dishes. If the turkey is
wild, as it should be, then the sauerkraut is an essential counterpoint to the
slightly gamy taste of the bird.
All of Mimi and Boppa’s many descendants serve sauerkraut with giblet gravy
as part of our Christmas dinners. Those who marry into our family think this a
little odd at first, but invariably they are converted to the custom…deliciously
confirmed Mimi’s and Boppa’s idiosyncratic personalities and proving that
romance and love of good food can overcome seemingly improbable marriages.”

Mimi’s Homemade Sauerkraut

“The way Mimi made sauerkraut, from fresh cabbage and pickled for weeks in stoneware crocks in the basement of my grandparents’ house, it bore little resemblance to the salty, sour, canned or packaged supermarket version; it
was truly a vegetable, and it spoiled me for sauerkraut for life.”

Makes about 3 1/2 quarts

10 pound firm white cabbage
6 tablespoons kosher salt

Remove the tough outer leaves from the heads of cabbage; cut the
heads into quarters and remove the cores. Using a sharp knife or a food
processor [or a mandoline, if you are so fortunate!], slice the cabbage
as thin as possible.
Using your hands, mix the sliced cabbage thoroughly with the salt. If it’s easier, mix half the cabbage with half the salt, repeat with the second half
of the cabbage and salt, and then mix the two batches together. Allow the
salted cabbage to rest for about 15 minutes so the wilting process can begin.
Pack the salted cabbage firmly and evenly into a large clean ceramic crock
or glass jar, large enough to hold all the cabbage. (You can often find large glazed jars in flea markets.) Using your hands, press down firmly on the cabbage until the juice rises and covers the surface of the cabbage.
Weigh down the sauerkraut. Mimi weighed down hers with a dinner plate
and some tin cans, but I use a more modern method: Half-fill a sturdy
plastic bag with water and close the bag tightly. (If you don’t think the
plastic bag is strong enough, put one plastic bag inside another.) Place the
bag on top of the cabbage so that the entire surface of the cabbage is protected from the air. The weight on the cabbage also helps bring out
the juices. Add enough water to the bag so that the brine exuding from
the cabbage just covers the surface.
Allow the cabbage to ferment. Cabbage ferments best at a temperature
of 68 to 72 degrees; therefore it should not be kept in a refrigerator but
in a cool cellar, pantry, or back porch (depending on the season). At
that temperature, the fermentation should be completed in 5 to 6 weeks.
Taste it after about 5 weeks, and if it is too crisp, let it ferment for
another few days.
If you’re not using all of it right after it has finished fermenting, put up
the remaining sauerkraut and process in a water bath. (See any basic cookbook for canning instructions.)


Jenifer’s Sauerkraut Cooked with Apples

Makes about 8 servings

3 slices bacon, diced
3/4 cup chopped onion
4 cups drained sauerkraut (about 2 pounds undrained),
either made from scratch or packaged
1 1/4 cups chopped apple (cut into 1/2-inch pieces)
1 1/2 cups Champagne or white wine
10 juniper berries, put into a tea ball or a piece of cheesecloth

In a heavy non-aluminum saucepan, place diced bacon and onion and
sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, until
the onion is translucent.
Add the remaining ingredients and partially cover the saucepan. Adjust
the heat so that the liquid simmers and cook for 40 minutes, stirring
occasionally. Discard the juniper berries and serve sauerkraut in a
covered vegetable dish.


Boppa’s Giblet Gravy

Makes about 8 servings

1 whole medium-size unpeeled onion
1 pound chicken or turkey giblets (see Note),
rinsed and drained
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion (with skin)
4 cups broth
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 bay leaf

1/2 cup fat removed form the roasting pan after turkey
has roasted, or 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups stock
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Giblets reserved from stock

To make stock: Heat a dry heavy skillet over high heat for 3 minutes.
Cut the whole onion in half and place, cut surfaces down, in the hot
skillet. Heat the onion pieces until the cut surfaces are completely
blackened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Place charred onions in a heavy
large stockpot. Add the remaining stock ingredients to the stockpot
along with 4 cups of water; bring to a boil, stir, and lower heat so that
the stock simmers slowly. Cook, uncovered, for 2 hours, stirring once
or twice. Pour the stock through a strainer; reserve liquid. When solid
ingredients are cool enough to handle, remove the giblets and reserve.
Discard remaining vegetables and seasonings.
To make gravy:
In a heavy medium saucepan, heat 1/2 cup fat from
the roasting pan (or butter) over medium heat and stir in the flour.
Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has turned a golden brown
color, about 5 minutes. Pour in the hot stock and whisk while bringing
to a boil. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, reduce heat to
a slow simmer, and cook gravy uncovered, stirring occasionally,
for 15 minutes.
In a food processor or by hand, chop the giblets into very small
pieces, about 1/8- to 1/4-inch dice. Add to the gravy and heat for
2 more minutes. Serve in a gravy boat at the table, to be used on
turkey, mashed potatoes, and especially on the sauerkraut.

Note: You can collect poultry giblets – gizzards and hearts,
but no livers – in the freezer and defrost them for this recipe,
or buy the whole lot from a butcher.

Featured Archive Recipes:
Schlachttopf mit Sauerkraut
Gigi's Choucroute
Smoked Pork Chops Baked with
Juniper-Apple Sauerkraut


More Christmas Memories:
Robert Finigan
Edward Giobbi
Marcella Hazan
Jacques Pepin
Julee Rosso
Helen Witty


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