Sauerkraut? It’s a crock!
Published: Thursday, September 27th, 2012
Gladys Reed is the undisputed cabbage patch queen of Custer County, and while she has relinquished her role as such, she hasn’t relinquished the title.
Nevertheless, 12 or 15 years ago (who's counting?) Marty and Colleen Mahrt took over that role when Gladys moved to town.
It’s a decades-old tradition — a tradition started by Gladys and her husband, the late Don Reed, when they lived near Wind Cave and were involved with a square dancing group.
Gladys and Don grew about 200 cabbages so the group could make sauerkraut together and hosted a big picnic afterwards.
When Gladys moved to town, Marty and Colleen Mahrt thought it was so much fun, they decided to continue the tradition.
Because they were friends and Marty was interested in gardening, Gladys gladly taught him what she knew.
Marty starts about 100 seedlings in paper cups in April and plants them in his garden — along with the broccoli and tomatoes he’s also started from seed — at the end of May. The seedlings bask undisturbed in the warmth of the upstairs (although this year Marty kept them on the dining room table — not Colleen’s favorite place for seedlings).
The cabbage is harvested sometime in September and the fun begins.
Friends and neighbors bring their crocks to the Mahrts’ and set about washing, quartering and shredding the cabbages.
Gladys still oversees adding the salt to the cabbage (1/4 cup to each panful of cabbage at regular intervals) while it is compressed (not too hard) with wooden stompers until the juice rises to the top of the cabbage.
The compressed cabbage is then covered with the cabbages’ outside leaves.
When the work is done, lunch is served to the hungry crew and the crocks are loaded in cars to be taken home where they will sit in a cool place with a weight over the cabbage to ferment for four to six weeks.
Although it requires a lot of work for the Mahrts, “It’s companionship,” Marty says. It’s a time for friends and neighbors to share their lives, the work load and their bounty.
Besides, it’s tradition.
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