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Image by Annie Spratt
  • Writer's pictureEthan Voss

Sauerkraut Cookies

I truly believe I can count on one hand the number of people I know that have tried to consume sauerkraut cookies. Before I explain the background, don't feel like you are missing much. They were quickly discarded as quickly as they were spat out. When I was in elementary and middle school I would take one week each summer and travel to St. Joseph, MO to stay with my grandparents at their quiet three-story house. We spent our afternoons working in the garden, evenings attempting to beat my grandfather in tight games of hand and foot, and mornings creating some type of baked goods in the kitchen. Aside from the terrible gooey buns disaster, my grandmother has historically been known as a legendary baker keeping years of family traditions and recipes intact through her creation of desserts such as her mouth-watering cinnamon rolls, hard peppernuts, and Jello-Cheesecake. These recipes continue to live on through the generations and will continue to last for decades through her Voss family cookbook she published and gifted to each of her descendents for Christmas over a decade ago. When my friends would usually get toys and clothes from their grandparents for Christmas, I would typically receive a truly grander gift of a warm dozen cinnamon rolls, freshly glazed, and wrapped in a white Kohl’s box delivered consistently every time grandma and grandpa came to visit. Sometimes desserts are not just great because of their taste, but because of the memories and laughter shared while creating them.

Once a year I would wake up on the flowery red couch in grandma’s living room to the sound of her voice alerting me that it was time to put the dough in the oven leading up to my favorite part of the process. While she had been up for hours blending the ingredients to get a head start on our day of baking, I wiped the exhaustion from a late night of storytelling from my eyes as I made my way to the kitchen, my blanket still hanging around my neck. The yeast began to rise and grandma would give me permission for my favorite part of the roll-baking process: punching the dough. I would beat it down and start the cycle again as the combination of doughy goodness did its time back in the oven. Eventually, after a few beat downs, the dough was ready for butter, cinnamon, and other random pinches and dabs my grandma would throw on it as we rolled and pinched perfectly to create the iconic swirl pattern of Voss family rolls.

There is something special about food with a story. An experience with food is not simply the taste or the quality but the memories of the experience surrounding its creation and consumption. When my grandparents celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary a few years ago, our family held a competition to see who could best recreate grandma's cinnamon rolls. While my mom easily had the best-tasting rolls out of our entire family, she did not win because other attempts looked more like the original twist of my grandmother's technique. As the bread machine takes over and my grandma’s kitchen has now been replaced with a single room in her assisted living community, it is up to us to keep the family tradition alive. Every Christmas, birthday, and Easter I look forward to opening up a pan of rolls for our celebratory breakfast the same way I did all those years ago when I saw the Kohl’s box on the table. My friends are always eager to have them specially delivered from my mom when they return home as the recipe lives on.

While I truly am awful at cooking and baking, I realize the value of creating something. For me, baking is a way to connect with my family even when they are not there to try the fruit of my labor because of the rich tradition and history in the recipes passed down from generation to generation. I will never forget the time when I helped my grandmother make Sauerkraut cookies to honor our German heritage, or maybe it was just to pull a prank on my parents. I proudly showed them the cookies we created so diligently when they came to pick me up from a week with my grandma and grandpa, and as soon as my mom took the first bite my grandmother began to cackle. While I thought they tasted alright, my parents disagreed and apparently needed to cleanse their palate of the fermented flavor. I believe every family needs to have a cookbook and share the stories of the recipes inside before they are forgotten. It is truly one of my favorite items in my possession, and somehow Sauerkraut cookies didn't make the cut.

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