Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Recipe: Tancook Sauerkraut Sausage Bake

Preservation of one's own culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures. – Cesar Chavez 

A Nova Scotia classic.
Here’s a recipe from my childhood. Some days these sort of recipes call to you. They can certainly be a comfort. I guess that why the call it “comfort food”, eh?

Rush hour on Big Tancook Island. Photo: harawitz, Flickr ccl
One of the most commonly preserved vegetables in Nova Scotia is cabbage made into sauerkraut. For some it is an acquired taste, but it's difficult to deny the pleasure of its pickled deliciousness. Sauerkraut is also extremely good for you.

The reason I call this “Tancook” sauerkraut isn’t because it’s a recipe from Tancook, but because the brand name is Tancook Sauerkraut. 

If you asked 100 people in Nova Scotia what sauerkraut they use, at least 95 would say this brand. Probably the only ones who don’t use it make their own. (I do on occasion, see link here.)

Tancook is an actual place in Nova Scotia, or more correctly, places. Big and Little Tancook Islands are about a 20 minute ferry ride out into the Atlantic from Chester on Nova Scotia’s South Shore.

The islands have been inhabited since the mid-1700s and currently boast a year-round population of around 125. They have their own fire department, general store and museum. Being six miles out into the sea, everything has to arrive by ferry, which runs several times a day (two times on the weekends), except in very extreme weather.

Originally the native Mi'kmaq used the islands for a fishery outpost. The current name is an Anglicization of their word for "facing the sea." In the past Tancook's main industry was making sauerkraut, but as the desire for it waned so did their output. The residents initially diversified into fishing, and currently many work on the mainland, commuting via the ferry.

The necessary accompaniment: fluffy masked potatoes
with butter and cream.
I have gone out for the day (ferry leaves Chester at 7am, returns to Chester in the late afternoon) and had a very enjoyable time. If you want a Nova Scotia adventure you should consider a day trip to these charming islands. They’re beautiful and somewhat like stepping back into a previous, simpler time.

But back to the sauerkraut… Big Tancook Island was once the leading sauerkraut producer in Canada. I’m not sure if it is still made on the island, but I do know it is still processed and packaged close by in Lunenburg County.

This recipe screams German heritage, which makes up a large part of the lineage of folks on the South Shore. I have German heritage on both my mother’s and father’s sides of the family: Arenburg, Wile, von Tibert… If you’re a local it’s almost impossible to avoid.

Essentially this recipe is just sauerkraut and onions baked with sausage on top, but if you’ve never had it don’t let the simplicity deceive you. Sometimes other pork, like chops, is added. In South Shore country kitchens, old-timers would sprinkle on salt and pepper and that was pretty much it.

But the devil is in the details. The basic recipe is often modified to include juniper berries or caraway seeds. Sometimes some white wine, or in this case beer, is included to impart more flavour. I like to throw in some whole black peppercorns for spiciness as well.

This recipe stirs memories of my childhood, although my mother would never have used beer or wine. We had a strict no alcohol household. Even without the beer or wine this recipe is a standout – simple, hearty and delicious. Just leave the packing liquid in its place.

I hope you try this one. If you like sauerkraut, you’ll love this. With a side dish of mashed potatoes (an absolute necessity) you have a Nova Scotia classic.

If you can put things in a pot you can make this recipe.
Tancook Sauerkraut Sausage Bake
Prep: 5 min  |  Bake: 1 hour  |  Serves 4
1 large package sauerkraut (900 g)
2 medium onions, sliced
1 tsp whole peppercorns
8 juniper berries, crushed
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 cup brown ale, or other beer
8 German-style sausages (2 per person)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Drain about 3/4 of the liquid from the sauerkraut and place it, and the remaining liquid, in the bottom of a Dutch oven or other ovenproof pot with a lid.

Slice the onions and add to the top.

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the sausages, and stir together well.

Place the sausages on top, cover and bake for 45 minutes. After the 45 minutes, remove the top and bake for a further 15 minutes uncovered.

Serve with fluffy mashed potatoes. It’s required.


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  1. Thank you. Just what I was googling for :-)
    (I may up the juniper berries a bit!)

  2. Soul food recipes have enjoyed a tradition of down-home cooking comfort recipes what we affectionately call comfort food. People in the south, especially African Americans see it as the holy grail of eating and good times.