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Kings of Kraut

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By Vince Luecke

Friends and neighbors spin turnips and the occasional tall tale in rite of autumn

Tubs of turnips lie on Kenny Taylor's garage floor, pulled from the soft autumn earth and ready to be cut and brined into turnip kraut. Outside it's cool but the kraut workers inside are already warmed up by the wood stove in a far corner, the effort of hand-turning kraut cutters and cups of homemade wine.

But it's not only blood that's circulating among the group of friends and neighbors west of St. Marks - so are the stories. Lloyd Hauser is halfway through the job of cutting a pile of turnips, using a simple but effective tool that whittles the round roots into thin white ribbons. He chats with Clem Harpenau and Hubert Kleaving about neighborhood news and local happenings.

"I probably like turnip kraut more than I do sauerkraut," he quips while reloading the cutter. The crank he turns by hand spins a wooden shaft. Metal blades at the bottom hold the turnips in place as they rotate over the sharp blade.

Nearby, other volunteers work a second cutter while Lloyd's wife, Betty, and others peel turnips to be cut later in the evening. Taylor, the master of ceremonies in what is an autumn ritual among the group, is packing quart jars with freshly shredded turnips. The recipe isn't complex, a little vinegar and salt, followed by hot water. Left alone, the mixture will pickle over the coming weeks and the resulting turnip kraut can store for months

As the work continues, young men, neighbors living down the road, arrive with friends and girlfriends and offer relief to the weary. They extend by another generation the art of making turnip kraut. A late-night supper is on Taylor's stove, the reward for a job well done. In a few months, when winter has the countryside in its hard and icy grip, several families will be able to grab a quart jar off the shelf and spoon heaping helpings of steaming turnip kraut onto their plates and be warmed by the memories of friendship.