Ahhh, the Soup!

Ahhh, the Soup!

It’s traditional in my family to eat Christmas Eve Wigilia “Vuh-LEE-uh” dinner. Wigilia means Vigil. It’s a Polish tradition, though we’re Slovak (Slovak, Belgian, German, and someone said Grandma has some Russian and Irish), therefore, we’ve adapted the tradition a bit. Our dinner consists of flat wafers, sauerkraut soup, mashed potatoes, creamed peas, and salad. You’re supposed to eat the wafer first. (Topping it with honey adds flavor to the styrofoam-like wafer, which more or less melts on your tongue.) You fill a bowl with mashed potatoes, pour the sauerkraut soup over them, and then top it with sour cream. You can eat the creamed peas on the side, with the salad, or you can refill your soup bowl with more potatoes and the peas after you’ve eaten the soup. The soup itself is made from pig neck bones (for flavor only), sauerkraut, and roux. You have to be sure to really brown the roux.

When I was little, my mom told me we eat this for luck. I told her we eat this because our ancestors thought the stench would ward off evil spirits. (We also eat sauerkraut for luck at New Year’s, but normal sauerkraut with kielbasa, not the soup.)

We never had a recipe for Sauerkraut Soup written down until my sister got married just a few years ago. My great Aunt Irene would make the soup from memory and we’d all gather at her house and eat in shifts. As a wedding present to my sister (the Home Ec teacher), I gathered family recipes from both sides and put together a cookbook for her. A year after my sister got married, Aunt Irene passed away. The tradition however, lives on. Now my mom borrows the cookbook and makes the soup, and we travel with the giant, hot, sloshing sauerkraut pot the 20 minute ride to Grandma’s where it’s served. (That makes it sound like a wild cartoon sleigh ride through woodsy Pennsylvania roads with a hot pot of tipsy soup, and really, It Is.)

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Jody Brown, author of Upside Down Kingdom and writer at FineLineBooks

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