Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sauer Dispositions

Poets are a heterogeneous lot. Some of us seemingly lurk in the periphery of life’s thickness, but don’t be fooled - if we’re lurking, we’re usually observing to better contribute ourselves to the whole of humanity (or, if in a less than sterling temper, to at least remark to ourselves what we think about it all). We don’t always write about the nicest or prettiest moments in life or laud the finest of another’s attributes, but we generally write about whatever “truth” we’ve witnessed and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Most of the time we carry paper and a pen so that we can scribble some record of what we see or feel, providing ourselves with notes on which to later reflect. But we’ve been known to grab an extra napkin at the local diner and jot down our thoughts if we forgot to bring our journals along. I’ve been known to, when there was neither journal nor napkin within easy reach, scurry until I found something on which to write, yelling all the time to those around me “Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me!” so as not to lose a specific mental image. Some of us wield cameras, snapping away, taking photographs in order to closely study life at a more thoughtful pace than a given moment will instantaneously allow. We may be wordsmiths, but I believe our imaginations are generally larger than our vocabularies.

So it went when this picture was taken of the cabbages in Papa’s garden. The plant’s leafy fullness, revealing itself layer by layer but all the while hiding its innermost wealth, still catches my attention when gazing on this photograph. I shared the picture in an email to a dear friend, celebrated artist and poet, Merrill, who used to keep a prolific garden with her husband. She responded wondering what we do with all the cabbage grown. I filled her in on precisely what happens:

“yes, ma'am...we crock it for sauerkraut...but, to your point, that's still a lot of sauerkraut. 

my dad and I have deep and lengthy discussions about...cabbage...and what to do with it, and how to do it. we keep old earthenware crocks in our collective pantry. one point on which we readily agree is the imperative use of those crocks. after that it's "katie, bar the door" - one skirmish after another ensues. 

he likes a small chop, i prefer a larger cut. i'm very handy with a chef’s knife and prefer its use. he's affixed a sharp blade to a hoe handle which he insists does a more efficient job in chopping up all that cabbage. we chop, and disagree... chop, then disagree some more until we finally pile hundreds of handfuls of little green shards into the waiting, clean crocks. 

making sauerkraut requires packing the cabbage in salt. can you imagine the "petite guerre" this summer when he realized that he had run out of morton's table salt and i offered the notion of using my store of sea salt instead? 

over the next few weeks we check the kraut's progress several times. lifting back the leathery mother of mold capping each crock, we spoon into one pungent green darkness after another to sample - is it tart enough? 

my dad shifts his body to allow me room enough to approach the crock with my own tasting spoon: "we shouldn't have used that salt of yours. it don't taste just right." 

i reply, "papa, there's not a thing wrong with that kraut except it's chopped too small. but I think it's ready to put in a jar." 

i never take seriously our disagreements over sauerkraut. the hushed tones of our quarrels are always tempered further by a softness in his eyes as he applies himself to every step of the process. but mostly because i know that once the first killing frost has chilled the air and our garden lies in deep, naked furrows, he'll come through my back door asking me, 

"sue, will you make me some of your little kraut and bacon pies?"

Merrill wisely reminded me that I needed to savor every moment and every difference. “.... that's all there is of life... that's all there needs to be.” 

Sauerkraut and Bacon Pies

½ lb. bacon, diced
2 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves removed and chopped
3 small yukon gold potatoes, boiled in their jackets til tender, then peeled
1 quart sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. whole caraway seeds
½ tsp. ground caraway seeds
freshly ground black pepper
1 stick of butter
1 box phyllo dough, thawed
1 ¼ cups sour cream

Put bacon and onions into a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat until bacon is browned but not crisp, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley and transfer to a large bowl. Coarsely grate potatoes into bowl with bacon mixture. Add drained sauerkraut and whole and ground caraway seeds. Mix well. Season to taste with pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and cook until lightly browned. Pour clarified butter into a small bowl, discarding milk solids.

Unwrap phyllo from its plastic wrap and immediately cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent its becoming too dry. On your countertop, take one sheet of phyllo (immediately cover the remaining dough with the damp kitchen towel), brush phyllo sheet with clarified butter. Add another layer of phyllo dough, brushing it again with butter. Continue until your pastry is to a desired thickness. Pile sauerkraut mixture evenly into the middle of phyllo, cover with sour cream and fold dough over onto itself, sealing in sauerkraut/sour cream mixture. Brush butter onto the phyllo’s edges. Place pie onto a cookie sheet. Repeat the process until all of the sauerkraut mixture is used.

Bake until pies have flaked and browned. Serve warm with additional sour cream if desired.

While you’re munching on one of the pies, transport yourself to an earlier season:

the drone
of his opinions --
white clover


  1. awesome; hyperlinked from twitter; i've tagged this post at my blog Lunch Break today

    much love...

  2. I woke up this morning feeling as though I needed a Professional Massage Therapist to be on call - then I read this elegantly written message ( which depicts the once child and now women who wrote it - who has always been filled with a natural beauty and elegance).

    I felt the tension melt away in my mind and spirit, my muscles began to relax, I could breath deeper and slower...then sat back in my chair and smiled! Remembering what Life really is....It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful, real part of your life and putting me back into the real world - if only for a moment.

    1. Oh, my! How very nice to know that words have the ability to heal, if only a little :) Please visit again!

  3. Oh, Lord, Susan, do I remember making sauerkraut! There is nothing like the taste of your own. Now I have a question for you: I have heard lately about poke berry greens... (salad or cooked???) I have never heard that you could eat poke berry greens... I understand it's supposed to be a southern dish. If that's true, how do you cook them??? Or if they are a salad, how do you prepare them????

  4. Merrill, I've neither cooked nor eaten poke salad before. Though I've certainly heard of it, I'm sorry to admit I can't provide much guidance on the dish. I do remember, however, that there's a real trick to correct preparation as the greens and berries are both poisonous unless properly prepared. I found this link which might interest you!,1650,150172-232192,00.html

  5. I started to say that you just don't know how lucky you are to still have Papa to argue with......but I know you well enough to know that you do know. Wish that mine was still here so that we could argue about welding machines and tractor clutches and such. Love the recipe. Love you.

  6. Sensei Susan, I'm going to make this recipe *real* soon!

    Thank you for an excellent post and recipe. :)

    1. You won't be disappointed! If you want to try it with a pastry done from scratch, just let me know...but you can't use self-rising flour :)

  7. I somehow missed this one last week. Excellent writing! Recipe sounds delicious, and the last time I worked with phyllo I nearly lost every speck of my southern grace and charm. This recipe may just be enough to nudge me back into ring with phyllo dough.