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Pork and sauerkraut: A Pennsylvania thing

Pork and sauerkraut is served every New Year's Day at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tamaqua.
Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Pork and sauerkraut is served every New Year's Day at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tamaqua.

Pennsylvanians commonly eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day. The tradition comes from German culture, and its prevalence in the state can be attributed to the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Folklore says there’s superstition behind the dish. Marge Lux, 92, grew up in Western Pennsylvania.

“You eat the pork because the pig roots forward. Because the chicken or the turkey claws backward,” she said. “And then, the sauerkraut was to cleanse you out, cleanse your body of the last year.”

Cabbage is a good source of fiber, and green cabbage signifies luck and good fortune.

Katrina Marsico, 33, grew up in Hazleton. She makes her own sauerkraut from a family recipe she shared on her blog, The Patchwork Kitchen.

“It’s so much better when you do it at home, it’s like crazy. It’s like night and day.”

She says it's a long strenuous process. She starts by filling a bucket with several heads of shredded cabbage, water, salt, and caraway seeds.

“I'll smash it a little bit, let it sit. And then I'll smash a little bit more until the cabbage is settled at the bottom and there's water on top. And then I put it into jars and let it ferment in a cold dark space,” she said.

At Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tamaqua, they make it in larger batches. Glenn Fritzinger is the culinary director at the church.

“Usually in October we shred the cabbage, and we stomp it and put it in a barrel, and it sits in there for 42 days,” he said.

The church makes it for their annual New Year’s Day dinner.

“We open it to the community, it’s free of charge,” he said. “Pork, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, homemade applesauce, it’s all homemade.”

In Central PA, Lions Clubs make and sell gallons of fermented cabbage for their biggest fundraiser of the year.

“There are three different Lions Clubs in the area that make and sell sauerkraut as their biggest fundraiser, and it’s successful,” said Bill Foresman, secretary of the Picture Rocks Lions Club.

For the Montgomery Lions Club, the tradition started in 1958. Secretary Elmer Buck says they bought 35,000 pounds of cabbage this fall. That made about 25,000 pounds of sauerkraut to be sold at several locations in Lycoming County.

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org