IN 1985, AN effeminate Cabbage Patch doll with the name Whitney Todd Vincent showed up under the Kozlowski Christmas tree with a tag to Patty from Santa Claus.
The recipient of this gift did not want it or put it on her Christmas list and tried to give it to her younger sister in a tag switcheroo. The ploy did not work - my mom Carmella hit me in the back of the head with a wooden spoon for being so ungrateful, and I heard once again how she fought the other moms in the neighborhood at 5 a.m. while waiting in line at Lionel Kiddie City for this coveted toy. Mom did not care that she blew the Santa Claus cover for me, and from then on, all I got was socks, underwear and, on one glorious Christmas in 1991, a beige three-drawer filing cabinet. (Yes, I am the middle child, in case you missed it.)
Thirty years later, I don't have that Cabbage Patch Kid. He ran away to Key West to become a pool boy. In fact, I don't have many of the Christmas gifts that Santa or my parents brought me to our Clark W. Griswold-decorated Port Richmond row house every Dec. 25, but I do have the sauerkraut recipe.
Created from a Polish/Irish father and an Italian/Pennsylvania Dutch mother, we were the definition of mongrels. My mom made meatballs and lasagna, but she also cooked sauerkraut that us kids ate like cold cereal - out of soup bowls while watching Saturday morning cartoons.
This past year was not a good one for my mom. She had bypass surgery in both legs as her arteries weren't delivering the blood to where it needed to go. The matriarch who threw slippers, salt and pepper shakers and anything else she could grab at our heads while Perry Como sang "There's No Place Like Home For the Holidays" from the under-the-kitchen-counter radio was now confined to the couch with over 100 staples up and down her legs and a TV table of 12 medications. There would be no slaving over the stove for her this year, and the sauerkraut would be my job.
Years ago, the best Christmas present my mom ever gave me was teaching me how to make her sauerkraut. She didn't write it down; I learned stove side by watching and tasting, and for years to come, I made this recipe for holidays. (I knew I made it big when our parish, St. George R.C. Church, tapped me to make 20 pounds of it for their Pope Francis Tailgate Party when Papa Francesco came to Philly last year.)
So, I hope to share this recipe with you and tell you to show your kids how to cook. Not to just boil pasta or microwave or have the local pizza joint on speed dial. Show them how to cook a favorite meal or pot of meatballs or chili. Roast a chicken with them. Spend the time with them because they aren't going to save a Christmas present from 1985, but they'll always remember how to make sauerkraut worthy of a pope.
A pork and sauerkraut meal on New Year's Day is a tradition that is believed to bring good luck and good health during the upcoming months. It is common in the Pennsylvania Dutch region, but German, Polish and Lithuanian homes will have this cooking on Jan. 1. (Hell, we Italians love it, too.)
My mom always makes pork because of the belief that the pig pushes forward with its snout. (Never serve turkey or chicken on New Year's Day because they scratch backward.)
Patty-Pat Kozlowski lives and writes in the Philly riverwards and will serve this sauerkraut on New Year's Day. Have a family recipe that has a great story?
Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org