by David Cecelski
One of the really exciting things I saw at the Statesville Rotary Farmer’s Market the other day was Floyd and Rita Hager’s homemade sauerkraut. That fermented cabbage dish was once a staple across rural America, especially in places that had a lot of settlers fromGermany, Russia, Poland, or other sauerkraut-loving countries.IredellCounty, where Statesville is, is one of those places. A big crowd of German Lutherans left Pennsylvania in the 1750s and settled in that part of the YadkinRiverValley.
The Hagers still make their sauerkraut the old-fashioned way. They shred homegrown cabbage, add salt and tuck it away in an airtight, earthenware crock on their back porch. When I asked Mr. Hager how long their latest batch was fermenting out there, he said it was about 9 months. His wife thought that it might have been out there a year.
“The old people used to make sauerkraut all the time, but the young ones just don’t do it anymore,” Mr. Hager told me.
I’ve always been partial to the stuff. I grew up among my mother’s people, great Southern cooks all, but my dad’s parents came from Poland and he brought that country’s affection for sauerkraut to my mother’s home here in North Carolina.
Saturday night was my dad’s Polish night. The rest of the week we ate like our neighbors, but not on Saturday. Supper was usually kielbasa, sauerkraut and brown beans. And that was just the beginning. After supper, my dad would watch the Lawrence Welk Show on TV. We kids cringed and ran for cover, but Dad loved the great Polish-American band leader. He often got out his violin and played along with Lawrence.
Then, at eight o’clock, my dad listened to “Make-Believe Ballroom,” a wonderful radio show produced out of WTEB-FM in New Bern. The show featured Big Band orchestra leaders like Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, and Kay Kaiser, and the DJ, Jim Kelso, always played at least a polka or two. Well past his 80th birthday, my father and mother danced to “Make Believe Ballroom” in their kitchen.
Those Saturday nights of my youth didn’t exactly instill a lifelong fondness for Lawrence Welk in me, but they did leave me highly partial to sauerkraut. I bought a quart jar of the Hagers’ when I was inStatesville. My son says it looks like mashed up frogs, but I am not deterred. Some day soon, when I’m missing my father especially much, I’m going to pull that jar out of my pantry and get me some kielbasa and brown beans.
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The Statesville Rotary Club has been sponsoring a wonderful downtown farmers market for more than 30 years. The market not only supports local agriculture, but also donates its profits to local charities.
There were only eight vendors there last week, but there were already some good-looking bedding plants, some delicious baked goods and a good assortment of spring vegetables, preserves and honey.
According to Dusty Rhodes, the market’s manager, he’ll have as many as 40 vendors by mid-summer. Some of the local favorites include Eileen Stillman, a farmer from WilkesCounty, and a pair of young farmers, Eric and Melissa Brown from YadkinCounty. They bring all kinds of garden produce to the market.
According to Dusty, everybody also looks forward to Moffitt Knox’s arrival—he sells blueberries—and nobody’s appearance is more anticipated than Dixie St. Clair’s. Most people just know her as the “Peach Lady.” She and her husband Len have a peach orchard inTaylorsville and raise a dozen different varieties, all of them apparently to-die-for. Two Vietnamese gentlemen, Da Xiong and Sing Yang, are also renowned for their beautiful cut flowers.
The Statesville Rotary Farmer’s Market is held at the corner of West Front and Meeting Street in downtown Statesville. It’s open from 7 AM to noon on Saturdays, 4 to 7 PM on Mondays, and 7 AM to noon on Wednesdays.