Choucroute Garni and Picky Eaters

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My mother had zero tolerance for picky eaters. 

Hers was a simple philosophy: She made it; we ate it.   Food was not wasted.  I'm sure it stems from the Depression, but we didn't waste.  (Funny, how so many people are learning that again….)

There were no alternative meals offered; no peanut butter sandwiches for the kids; no mac & cheese.

To be fair she rarely made anything unusual, and, if it was something new, there were normally familiar foods in the same meal.  We only had to try a small amount to satisfy her.

But we had to eat it. 

That is how my older brother became my hero.

We didn't have a dog, you see.

On two occasions, as a child, I was left sitting at the table well into the evening.  The rest of the family was in the living room, watching T.V.  I was in the dining room at the table.

My mother was stubborn.

So was I.

The first time the uneaten food was a buckwheat pancake.  If I didn't like it hot with melted butter and warm maple syrup you can imagine how it was tasting 4 hours later: a cold, soggy mass in the middle of my plate.

My big brother took pity on me. When our mother went outside for a minute he came over and ate it.

She was suspicious, but she couldn't prove anything so I was allowed to leave the table. 

The second time it was sauerkraut

It was on a Friday night. My father was popping popcorn for a treat.  My mother was watching my brother and I was sitting at the table with ONE forkful of cold sauerkraut on my plate.

Did I mention that I was stubborn?

Did I mention my big brother is a hero?

He laid on the floor to watch T.V.  Slowly, over the course of, say, 30 minutes, he edged into the dining room, close to my chair.  Finally the moment came: he ducked under the table and I lowered the fork with the kraut. 

Mission accomplished. 

Unfortunately my mother saw us.  I was allowed to leave the table but I didn't get any popcorn.  Neither did my brother.

She never made the buckwheat pancakes again. 

The next time she made sauerkraut I ate it, hot, and loved it.

When I started cooking on my own I had an epiphany the first time I tried to make sauerkraut:  One has to do more than just open a can and heat if one wants edible sauerkraut.

I learned another thing after moving here: In France, sauerkraut doesn't come in a can, or a bag.  It's made at the shop and you buy it either raw or cooked.

Either way, when prepared properly, with herbs and spices, a bit of meat or not, it's delicious. And incredibly good for us. 

Packed with vitamins and minerals, Sauerkraut, and it's relatives, such as Kim chi, have been eaten for centuries as a food to help stave off illness, particularly in winter and on long sea voyages.  Some recent studies have shown that  fermented cabbage actually provides more benefits than either raw or cooked cabbage.  According to this Sauerkraut site "A recent study by the American Center for Cancer Research has found that sauerkraut has a profound effect in preventing and healing breast cancer."  They also say that sauerkraut is one of a very few foods that contains a particular healthy bacterium that the gut uses to fight off the bad guys like E.coli.

Sounds like the perfect candidate for Weekend Herb Blogging, this week being hosted by Rinku of Cooking in Westchester.   Weekend Herb Blogging is the very successful brainchild of Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen.

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage.

That doesn't mean that the finished dish has to be overly salty or sour.  If you are using sauerkraut from a bag or a can (like Frank's) rinse it with cold water before using. Then taste it. It should have a light fermented taste to it.  If it's still too salty/sour, rinse it again.

Raw sauerkraut may even have to be soaked in cool water for 5 minutes if it is quite salty.

My mother always used pork ribs in her sauerkraut.  I like to use sausage.  A traditional Alsatian Choucroute Garni would have both, plus some bacon.  Use what you like.  Serve with potatoes, or dumplings, or, my preference, Pasta with Browned Butter Sauce. on Monday for the recap of all the recipes!

37 thoughts on “Choucroute Garni and Picky Eaters”

  1. Katie: I love your stories! I think I’d like your brother too but isn’t this the same brother that plays ‘tricks’ on you too.
    I’ve always liked sauerkraut but the best I ever has was when Angelika (theflyingapple) took Sue & I to a restaurant in the Austrian country side. That was the most heavenly stuff ever!

  2. That looks yummy I have never cooked sauerkraut but when we get home I’ll give it a go.
    The chicken liver pasta sounds wonderful unfortunately for me my dear man won’t eat them so I have to have girls around for lunch. I’ll eat all offal except just not quite so keen on sweetbreads. Hot lambs tongue with mustard sauce!!!to die for
    I come from the same background as you-re waste etc…in fact I have become a real leftover queen.
    Re eating food one detests…This worked once, when my Mum insisted on me eating sago pudding…I hated it. I vomited it up…awful but mission accomplished

  3. Oh my. I just posted a note about my picky eaters. I think I might have to show them your post 🙂
    Thanks for the recipes. Did I tell you that I tried out your ricotta risotto to *rave* reviews?! Awesome.

  4. Hi, just discovered your blog and really enjoyed your story, wishing my siblings had been heroes too…hehe. Yet instead they would pile what they didn’t want to eat onto my plate, (soggy grey brussle sprouts!) when Mum wasn’t looking – I quite liked sauerkraut!

  5. Oh, you brought back memories of the food stand-offs. My particular one was cooked carrots with dill. At 10:00 pm I finally ate one so I could go to bed. But I still hate dill on anything except pickles.

  6. My mom would serve up several meals to try and please the picky eaters, the vegetarians and the adventurers. I think that is why she didn’t enjoy cooking at all. I do remember her trying to disguise things like cauliflower by mashing them into the potatoes. I was the pickiest eater of them all and now the most adventurous. Go figure! What a great brother you have and I do love sauerkraut!!

  7. Wonderful Katie. I always simmer mine with olive oil, garlic, fried makes all the difference. I like your mother 🙂

  8. Katie, I love this story! You had me giggling and remembering all of the times my brother and I BOTH had to sit at the table and finish what was on our plate (lucky for us we learned to use the milk cup as a hiding place for bad foods – until mom started making us drink that too – ew). Your brother truly was a hero! BTW – do you think that your mom making you try so many things when you were really young made you a less picky eater as you got older? I always wonder about this for when I (someday, maybe) have kids…

  9. I love sauerkraut and I love the dish made from it. My wife likes sauerkraut raw in a salad along with grated carrot, it’s like a really sharp tasting coleslaw.
    My sister used to hide her food dislikes under her seat cushion…until it started to smell a bit!!! With my kids, when they go “Ewww, I don’t like it.” I ask them if they have tried it. when they admit they haven’t, I say that they can’t tell me they don’t like it, this logic slays them everytime and they usually try whatever it is they have turned their noses up at, even chicken’s feet.

  10. Sauerkraut and sausages is an excellent dish. I don’t get around to eating sauerkraut nearly enough. That reminds me, I still have a half full jar of kimchi in the fridge.

  11. No special food in my family for picky eaters either. You could eat what we were having or just have a piece of bread. Those were the only two options. I was never picky but some of my siblings were!
    I like sauerkraut, but I admit I don’t think about eating it that often. Sauerkraut with sausage sounds great.

  12. Talking about picky, I must be one of those. But in Vietnam, we have shared table with seveal dishes for a meal so I can always choose a few for myself. Otherwise, I just eat rice with veg and some crushed peanut-sesame mixture (very similar to dukkah). Nice if u ask me 🙂

  13. Oh how I wish I had a wonderful big brother who would have helped me through some of my mother’s more bizarre culinary experiments, and a dog to eat the overcooked liver that was supposed to be so good for me. To this day, I can’t eat liver — and I’m not crazy about sauerkraut, though your recipe does look delicious.

  14. so many fun facts about sauerkraut… and your childhood 🙂 I love any fermented/preserved veggie, but if I could get one making at shop, I’d be thrilled!

  15. Great story! Your brother was a hero, and I got such a kick out of reading it. I was brought up the same way–but I didn’t have an older brother to rescue me. I don’t understand how some kids get to dictate what they can eat now. I have friends who serve each of their kids a different dish at dinner.

  16. I think our mothers must have been sisters under the skin – the scene you described could just as easily have happened in my family. It’s funny looking back, but at the time, not so great. Your brother sounds like a great guy. When I talked to my mom today she was making choucroute garni and it made me really want some, and now you made me want it even more! Have to wait until February when I can shop again, but this is definitely on my menu very soon. Thanks for a highly entertaining post!

  17. Very informative–I suppose I should be good and give sauerkraut a second chance since this recipe somehow makes it looks appealing… *close eyes, holds nose shut, mouth open*

  18. Tanna, yeah, same brother – I’m just glad he doesn’t read this…
    Peter, I actually used ‘Johnsonville Brats’! But I think it’s a French version as they were made with white wine and garlic!
    Gilli, I can see how that would have been effective….ahem…. I don’t think I could do lambs tongue… to small…and, uh, tongue-like…
    Heidi, I’m so glad you liked the Risotto!
    Picky eaters, eh….
    Bron, I love it now…Mean siblings! Thanks for commenting!
    Lynn, glad to know I wasn’t the only one. I never lasted part 10:00 either..
    BelliniValli, you’re mother must have been a saint!
    Maryann, you are so right – it has to be ‘cooked’ just like any other vegetable.
    Sue, I love buckwheat pancakes now, too. In our area the savory crepes are made with buckwheat.
    Michelle, the milk wouldn’t have worked for us – that had to be finished as well. And, yes, I think making kids at least try the food from very early on can have a big difference in how they eat later. And they should be grateful to have an expanded palate!
    Neil, you are truly the master of logic if you got them to try chicken’s feet! I sit in awe!
    Kevin, it’s a close cousin, right? All healthy!
    Kalyn, I love it but rarely think about it. One of the winter dishes for gray days. But I use to it in in summer salads like Neil and it was great.
    Anh, what a deal for the kids to be able to pick and choose the food. My mother served us….
    Lydia, my mother was not at all adventurous – I should probably be grateful. The buckwheat pancakes probably put her off…
    A dog would have been appreciated!
    Thanks, Cakespy…it was good!
    Gattina, I was thrilled when I discovered it. And it was much better than any I’ve ever had before!
    Sher, I just think that those poor kids are not going to learn how to appreciate the diversity that’s available…besides thinking that life is always going to cater to their whims….HA!
    Laurie, I don’t remeber thinking it was at all pleasant at the time. I seem to remember crying…which got me nowhere at all! Thanks for the kind words!
    Mike, you could always douse it with hot sauce…add some bird’s eye chilis…
    Amanda, Almost makes up for it….Almost….

  19. My mother’s take on picky eaters was that if I did not want to eat what was on my plate it meant I was not hungry. In time I have come to understand her point and I have also come to love foods I hated to eat as a kid. On the other hand, I have also developed life-long hostile feelings towards some other foods.

  20. Ah, childhood memories! The only thing that was never touched on my plate, being the piggy of the family, was chicken livers. And since we just touched on that subject a few days ago, I will move on!
    My favorite way to use sauerkraut is the same as yours, with sausage! I serve mine with mashed potatoes because, for some crazy reason, I like to take a fork full of potatoes, swing on over to my portion of kraut and do a dip thing. The combination in my mouth is heavenly! Best served on a cold winters night!

  21. Katie – great post. Thanks for the sauerkraut link. Last year I bought some earthenware stock pots at the brocantes because I wanted to have a go at sauerkraut. I never got round to it.
    You’ve renewed my enthusiasm.
    Yesterday I bought 3 litres of cidre and rinsed out the vinagrier. Kept a small piece of the mother to restart. Vinegar will be ready in a week or 2.
    When I redo my big vinaigrier I’ll take pics and blog it. The sauerkraut too.

  22. I’m still a bit of a picky eater when it comes to sauerkraut, much to my husband’s dismay. He would be thrilled if I made it! Maybe one of these days…

  23. Heh. The only time I remember being stuck at the dinner table well after dinner was over… there was liver on my plate. 😉

  24. Simona, my mother was the same. Most of the foods I now love…and I didn’t starve! She was a firm believer in the ‘If you took it you eat it’ rule.
    Deb. my other favorite way is with buttered potatoes – actually ON buttered potatoes!
    Stew, I want a vinagrier! I think that is going to be me next purchase…someday….
    (You’re also on the blog roll)
    Jennifer, try the fresh, uncooked stuff – you may become a convert!
    Michelle, my liver was not a big hit…;-))

  25. I have always loved sauerkraut and I like it with smoked sausages and boiled potatoes. I have tried making it but failed, maybe I should try making it again.
    I remember once having what was called sweetkraut at a pot luck that was good they said that it was sauerkraut with sugar added or some strange thing like that.
    Anyway I love the stuff and your recipe (like always) looks great.

  26. Oh rats. I was hoping you were going to give a recipe for sauerkraut! I have only recently discovered that I quite like sauerkraut. I love it in Reuben sandwiches!
    P.S. Your mother MUST be my aunt! I can’t tell you the number of times I was sent out of the dining room to sit alone in the kitchen staring at a plate with a teaspoon or so of congealed vegetable until I had eaten it so that I could join the rest of the family for dessert. And no big brothers to eat it for me. I drank glass after glass of milk in my attempts to swallow what became less and less appetizing as it got colder and colder, dreading each instance of my mother’s “Have you finished yet?” coming from the dining room.
    I cannot believe now that I had so much trouble! I love almost every vegetable now. (Although I still draw the line at canned peas and well-cooked carrots….)

  27. Katie, your story is hilarious! It made me laught… I could see you and your brother! Great story! The dish sounds wonderful and so healthy too, I’ll have to check that I’ve got some butifarras in my fridge and just having them a la brasa is no fun!

  28. Ulrike, I think it’s my German mother!
    Elizabeth, I can quite picture you sitting in the kitchen, squirming on the chair, trying to get rid of the mess… But commercial kraut and try this – maybe you’ll like it. It really doesn’t taste at all the same once it’s ‘cooked’
    Nurai, a la brasa in the summer, kraut in the winter!

  29. Yes, indeed, I can picture dishes of choucroute in my future….
    We have a good source of sauerkraut at a local deli but what happens if they leave? Initially when I searched the linked sauerkraut site, I didn’t see any recipes for making the sauerkraut itself. But using their search engine with “cabbage”, I am relieved to see that there are a several recipes for making homemade sauerkraut, including this one using red cabbage:


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