I remember the date: Jan. 1, 2011. And the moment exactly: I was with my husband and it was our first trip to Salt of the Earth in Garfield, a few days after we got the keys to our new place in Pittsburgh, having moved back here from the South.
Salt didn't have its regular menu that day. It offered just one dish: pork and sauerkraut. I almost vetoed the idea.
I grew up in Pittsburgh and for most of my first 18 years — when it was impossible to avoid — I choked back the store-bought versions of sauerkraut that always appeared in a slow-cooker with kielbasa and hot dogs. Full of preservatives that inhibited the bacteria that make sauerkraut sauerkraut, the bagged stuff always tasted off. But I didn't know the reason then, or that what I was tasting wasn't how it was supposed to be. I just knew I hated sauerkraut.
But my husband didn't grow up eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day. And he really, really wanted to try this place out. I decided I could do what I had perfected as a kid and eat around the sauerkraut in the dish.
Instead, as my husband watched in awe, I devoured it. Made from scratch — cabbage and salt, fermented in a barrel — it was an entirely new experience.
"It's a very traditional sauerkraut that we doctor up at the time of the service," says Salt's chef and owner, Kevin Sousa.
He adds the kraut to sautéed onions and then includes caraway seeds, apple-cider vinegar, sugar and dark beer, while letting it cook down a bit further, he says.
Inspired, last week I made my own batch of sauerkraut, with the help of Trevett Hooper, chef and owner of Legume, who offered his followers on Twitter and Facebook a free early-morning class.
Like Sousa's recipe, the ingredient list was simple: cabbage, salt and a mix of chopped root vegetables. We massaged it all, drawing out the water, and sealed it in a canning jar.
It will be ready New Year's Day 2013, and I now have no qualms about enjoying the local tradition. We'll have sauerkraut again. As it should be.