Buffalo Island Museum has many antique items used in the early Buffalo Island kitchens. One of these is a kraut cutter. It is a board with two blades in which cabbage is rubbed up and down across the blades, as in grating cheese. This kraut cutter is from the early 1900s.
Although using a food processor is much easier today, the kraut cutter is still used. The shredded cabbage is salted and put in a crock and allowed to ferment for several weeks.
Although sauerkraut (German for sour cabbage) is believed to be a German invention, the Chinese were pickling cabbage in rice wine as early as 200 B.C. Chinese laborers building the Great Wall of China ate sauerkraut as a daily food. This food was brought to Europe a thousand years later by Genghis Khan after he left China. They used salt instead of the wine, and this practice began to be used by the Germans.
The Germans brought this dish to America and it is first mentioned in American English in 1776. Sauerkraut was also a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty. They carried barrels of sauerkraut with them on the ships coming to America. The properties in sauerkraut helped fight diseases that were so common in that time.
Cabbage was a staple food for the pioneers of early America. For many people, cabbages and potatoes were the only vegetables they had regularly. There was no refrigeration, so the cabbage was shredded, packed in barrels or crocks and pickled with salt.
Sauerkraut has played a part in American history. On his way to Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee demanded 25 barrels of kraut for his army and in World War II, United States citizens were encouraged to make their own sauerkraut as a way to help the war effort.
The next time you put sauerkraut on your hot dog or have pork chops and kraut, think about the history of this food and the kraut cutter.
Buffalo Island Museum is closed during the winter months, but we will be open in the coming Spring and hope to see you there. Admission is free.