By Linda Joyce Jones
Nestled in the rolling hills of southwest Ohio you’ll find the Village of Waynesville, a community known for the eclectic combination of antique and specialty shops lining its historic Main Street. Founded in 1797 by Englishman Samuel Heighway and friends, this bucolic town is a testament to the pioneer’s desire to create a formal English village along the banks of the Little Miami River.
Waynesville is also proud to be home to one of the largest fall festivals in the United States. Each year during the second full weekend in October, hundreds of thousands of people gather together to celebrate one of the healthiest (and funkiest-smelling) foods on the face of the plant – the fermented version of cabbage that is known the world over as – SAUERKRAUT!
The ingredient label on a fresh package of sauerkraut is simple – cabbage and salt. Because the salt also acts as a preservative, it can be stored with no refrigeration, making sauerkraut a centuries-long dietary staple for people of all cultures, from voyaging seamen to laborers on the Great Wall of China.
So how does a festival in honor of sauerkraut get started in a region that isn’t known for its bumper crop of cabbage? It all started in 1970 when a community leader was meeting with other merchants trying to plan an occasion that would attract visitors to the downtown district. Having been served a pork and sauerkraut dinner by his wife prior to the meeting, he suggested a similar dinner be served at their event, and the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival was born.
There are lots of reasons to celebrate sauerkraut. Studies have found that the properties found in the vegetable can aid in digestion, boost the immune system, and may even ward off breast cancer. It’s packed with vitamin K, vitamin C, and iron. Best of all, it is fat free and has only 44 calories per one-cup serving!
The Ohio Sauerkraut Festival is a nationally-ranked juried arts and crafts show, with over 450 artisans showcasing their handcrafted items. However, it’s the sauerkraut that is the main attraction. In addition to what one might consider standard sauerkraut fare such as a kraut dog or Reuben sandwich, vendors serve up over seven tons of sauerkraut in such delicacies as sauerkraut pizza, sauerkraut cookies, sauerkraut eggrolls and sauerkraut donuts!
Believe it or not, sauerkraut is really delicious in a sweet recipe – the trick is to squeeze it almost dry; it takes on the consistency of shredded coconut and provides texture and moistness – try adding a quarter- to half-cup to your favorite cake, pie, or brownie recipe.
Each year during festival week, the Annual Sauerkraut Recipe Contest is held, inviting area cooks to experiment and create a unique sauerkraut dish. Whether they’re starting from scratch, or putting a sauerkraut twist on a favorite recipe, contestants are perfecting their creations for weeks leading up to the event. As the contestants wait for the judges to sample and rank their dishes, they discuss their submissions (“How did you dehydrate your sauerkraut – in the sun, or on paper toweling?; Did you use a cast-iron skillet or non-stick?; I practiced that recipe a dozen times before I finally got it right!”).
Below are a few easy recipes from recent contest winners to get you started on your sauerkraut journey. For more information on planning a visit to the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival or finding more great sauerkraut recipes, visit the festival website at www.sauerkrautfestival.com.
Sauerkraut Pistachio Bark
½ cup sauerkraut, squeezed dry
1 pkg. Bakers semi-sweet chocolate
½ cup pistachios
Melt the chocolate in a microwave safe dish. Stir in sauerkraut, pistachios and mix well. Pour out on wax paper, refrigerate until hardened. Break into pieces and enjoy!
Simple Strawberry Delight Cake
1 box Strawberry Cake Mix
1½ cup milk
¾ cup oil
1 box vanilla pudding
½ cup sauerkraut, drained
Mix all together and pour into two greased and floured 9 inch cake pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
2 tubs strawberry whipped cream
1 8 oz cream cheese softened
1 cup powder sugar
Beat all ingredients until smooth and ice cake. Decorate with fresh strawberries.
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies and onions
3 fresh jalapenos, chopped
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
7 oz. sauerkraut, drained
Mix all ingredients well, chill and serve with your favorite tortilla chips.
Linda Joyce Jones has been planning events in both her personal and professional life for over 25 years, including acting as chairperson for the Ohio Sauerkraut Festival.