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Mountain folklore: Giving thanks for traditions, food and friends

Often when I write this column I immerse myself in thoughts that make me feel as though I’m writing to each of you on a personal, one by one basis, communicating what’s on my mind and looking forward to your responses in person or by email.

I am very thankful for all of the weekly responses I receive from you and for those times when I’m out and about in public and you make a point to tell me what this weekly column means to you. In that way I feel a common bond with you, like we’re a tribe of like-minded people, perhaps living in an imaginary bubble of happiness, friendships and goodwill, as if we’re citizens of Hooterville, Petticoat Junction or Mayberry.

Together here, we are our own community, and thankfulness is what I want to share with you this week in honor of Thanksgiving. Here are the things we most often seem to have in common; love of traditions, love of family, love of food, love of friendships and nice people, and love for a divine Creator who put us all in the universe in the first place.

The old saying “sharing is caring” came to mind as I was setting my preparation table up at Friedens Church, Shartlesville, last week. You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about how Pastor Inge Williams and I paid Yodeling Betty Naftzinger a call to celebrate her birthday, sing together and eat. At that time, and for the first time in my life, I tasted the homemade Romanian-style sauerkraut that Pastor Williams made from her family’s traditional recipe. I loved it! Special ingredients that were new to me included a bouquet garni of savory herbs and sliced horseradish root.

Thankfully, Pastor Williams cared enough about sharing and preserving her family’s traditions that she offered to share her recipe and technique with a group of her flock and her friends in a cooking class at her church.  As always, the drive up to Shartlesville was beautiful and I listened to holiday music as I headed north. That really set the mood for me.

Thirteen of us followed Pastor Williams’ instructions, chopping up gorgeous heads of fresh, non-irradiated cabbage that she brought to us from a local Mennonite farm. We learned that it’s important to use non-irradiated produce for fermenting because the low-level radiation often used by the food industry to extend the shelf life of products kills off the desirable bacteria we want on our food for the fermenting process. It’s this “good bacteria” that makes the entire process possible.

By request, I dug up a bucket full of horseradish root from my own patch and offered it to anyone wishing to make the Romanian style of sauerkraut. I also brought and offered some of my homegrown elephant garlic because the Romanian style encourages the additional use of savory items. Using an old-style wooden mandoline to chop my way through four heads of cabbage. I was able to then use my wooden cabbage pounder to stuff it all down into my 2-gallon crock.

Some of the folks there talked about how they’d use a baseball bat in giant crocks to pound the cabbage. Salting and pounding are used to extract water out of the cabbage, which kick-starts the fermentation process. We were taught to use kosher or sea salt whenever possible because salt with added iodine may not produce the best results.

After creating quite a mess at my work station, I ended up with a heavy crock of what should become Romanian style savory sauerkraut in about eight weeks, just in time to enjoy as the New Year begins.

Tying it all together, Pastor Williams then summed things up by making comparisons between using the unseen miracle of beneficial bacteria to transform one thing into another. Each of us is in a constant state of transformation as we move from cradle to grave. What we cannot see creates miracles that sustained our forebears and now us, if we’re willing to believe in the wisdom handed down from generation to generation and practice the lessons birthed from love.

I posted a few photos of the class on my Mountain Folklore Facebook page, (which you’re welcome to join, if you haven’t already), and within hours had more than 200 comments. People shared photos of their own antique mandolines, chopping knives and recipes. They talked about their parents, grandparents and great grandparents and how their family processed sauerkraut.  I found this all very heartwarming, which in turn filled me with thankfulness and joy.

How fortunate I am to be able to share this time with you. Happy Thanksgiving, and you know what?  Eat as much as you like!

Dave Kline is an award-winning writer, photographer, show host and producer, singer-songwriter, travel guide and community advocate. Reach him at

Source: Berkshire mont

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