A Short History of Sauerkraut

The History of Sauerkraut
Contemporary Chinese sour cabbage

Although sauerkraut – German for “sour cabbage” – is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building the Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare. Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine.

Most likely it was brought to Europe 1000 years later by Gengis Kahn after plundering China.

The History of Sauerkraut
Gengis Kahn

Although in Germany instead of using the wine they dry cured it by sprinkling salt on the shredded cabbage. The water is then drawn out of the cabbage to make the juice that you see that accompanies the kraut.

The History of Sauerkraut
Typical German dish with sauerkraut

The History of SauerkrautThe Dutch, who were great sea-fearing traders used sauerkraut on their ships as it did not need refrigeration and helped prevent scurvy.

Today’s sauerkraut is made by combining shredded cabbage, salt and sometimes spices, and allowing the mixture to ferment. It can be purchased in jars and cans in supermarkets. Fresh sauerkraut is sold in delicatessens and in plastic bags in a supermarket’s refrigerated section. The History of SauerkrautIt should be rinsed before being used in casseroles, as a side dish and even on sandwiches like the famous Reuben Sandwich. Sauerkraut is an excellent source of vitamin C as well as of some of the B vitamins.

There is a theory that the Tartars introduced the acid cabbage from the Orient into eastern Europe, and from there kraut went to Germany, Alsace-Lorraine, and France.

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New York Reuben / New York Reuben Sandwich

A sandwich recipe found in “2012 Australian Grand Dairy Awards Best of the Best Cookbook” published by Dairy Australia
New York Reuben_post000_england_recipe_marker_nytraditional badge snack_flat000_norway_recipe_marker_ny

The Reuben sandwich is an American hot sandwich composed of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing, grilled between slices of rye bread. Several variants exist.

Possible origins

Reuben Kulakofsky, Blackstone Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska

The most widely accepted origin holds that Reuben Kulakofsky (his first name sometimes spelled Reubin; his last name sometimes shortened to Kay), a Jewish Lithuanian-born grocer residing in Omaha, Blackstone HotelNebraska, was the inventor, perhaps as part of a group effort by members of Kulakofsky’s weekly poker game held in the Blackstone Hotel from around 1920 through 1935.

The participants, who nicknamed themselves “the committee”, included the hotel’s owner, Charles Schimmel. The sandwich first gained local fame when Schimmel put it on the Blackstone’s lunch menu, and its fame spread when a former employee of the hotel won a national contest with the recipe. In Omaha, March 14 was proclaimed as Reuben Sandwich Day.

Reuben’s Delicatessen: New York City

Reuben's DelicatessenAnother account holds that the Reuben’s creator was Arnold Reuben, the German-Jewish owner of the famed Reuben’s Delicatessen (1908 – 2001) in New York City. According to an interview with Craig Claiborne, Arnold Reuben invented the “Reuben Special” around 1914. The earliest references in print to the sandwich are New York–based, but that is not conclusive evidence, though the fact that the earliest, in a 1926 issue of Theatre Magazine, references a “Reuben Special”, does seem to take its cue from Arnold Reuben’s menu.

Marjorie RambeauA variation of the above account is related by Bernard Sobel in his 1953 book, Broadway Heartbeat: Memoirs of a Press Agent. Sobel states that the sandwich was an extemporaneous creation for Marjorie Rambeau inaugurated when the famed Broadway actress visited the Reuben’s Delicatessen one night when the cupboards were particularly bare.

Some sources name the actress in the above account as Annette Seelos, not Marjorie Rambeau, while also noting that the original “Reuben Special” sandwich of 1926 did not contain corned beef or sauerkraut and was not grilled.

Still other versions give credit to Alfred Scheuing, a chef at Reuben’s Delicatessen, and say he created the sandwich for Reuben’s son, Arnold Jr., in the 1930s.