Sauerkraut: It’s Thanksgiving in Maryland

Don’t knock it: sauerkraut is great on the Thanksgiving table. And it’s a tradition that falls almost exclusively within Maryland’s borders.

When I moved away for my first job in Boston, I was surprised that Thanksgiving sauerkraut horrified my colleagues and housemates. Sauerkraut certainly horrifies a fair amount of people on an everyday basis. I’ve asked a number of Marylanders whether they also have sauerkraut at Thanksgiving, and the answer is almost always yes, even if the response is “yes, but I don’t eat it.”

Sauerkraut fermentation crocks of all sizes at Lehman's in Dalton, Ohio. RL Fifield 2012.

Sauerkraut fermentation crocks of all sizes at Lehman’s in Dalton, Ohio. RL Fifield 2012.

Certainly, preserved fermented cabbage is a worldwide tradition, including 18th-century sailors that took it on board so that its vitamin C could help ward off scurvy. My great-grandmother made her own in a crock that now stores magazines. We prefer just to grab a can of Silver Floss this day and doctor it with caraway and brown sugar for the table. Like cranberry sauce, sauerkraut is another source of tang and sour to cut through some of the otherwise more bland and rich dishes on the Thanksgiving table.

Read more about Maryland’s Thanksgiving sauerkraut tradition in this Bon Appetit article. I might not care so much if the turkey didn’t turn up at Thanksgiving. But I would miss the sauerkraut.



Crossing Wright’s Ferry on the Susquehanna, 1787

The Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge over the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, in the vicinity of Wright’s Ferry. U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, “Built in America” Collection. Public Domain.

If this post already sounds familiar, see my post on the 1811-13 watercolor by Secretary to the Russian Consul-General Pavel Petrovich Svinin (MMA 42.95.37) of crossing Wright’s Ferry, near Columbia, Pennsylvania.

While at Winterthur this summer for a research fellowship, I came across a travel journal by Samuel R. Fisher (Mic. 296.1 See the Finding Aid here. The original is in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). The series of journals include trips to England, South Carolina, and a “Horseback Trip in ‘Back Parts’ of Pennsylvania, with John Townsend. Also – South to Winchester, Va. Journal 4 Month 12th, 1787 to 6 Month 3rd, 1787.” I was looking for descriptions of women’s dress in the back country communities he visited, but Fisher is most descriptive about the topography and Quaker meeting houses on his way through the piedmont and mountains. He travels by Fort Necessity, noting George Washington “had a battle with the French & Indians & near this place” and the Youghiogheny River.

Today, there are myriad ways to cross the Susquehanna whenever you wish. Wright’s Ferry was established early in the 18th century and operated until 1901. In 1787, Anderson’s Ferry opened and lessened traffic at Wright’s Ferry. In previous years, it could take several days for your turn to cross the ferry. Fisher, crossing in 1787, had only to wait for a few hours for the wait for the various canoes and flatboats that made up the crossing.

4 mo: 14 Rose early, sat out & reach Lancaster 18 ½ Miles by 9 O’Clk where breakfasted, calld on Charles Hamilton, Mathias Slough & Myers Solomon on some business, abt 11 O Clk sat out in Co. with Daniel McPherson, his Daughter & Son Isaac – reached Wright’s Ferry abt 1 OClk here dined. I calld to see John Townsend at the Widow Barber’s a friend close at hand, where had just been a Meeting &  found him with J Scattergood & sundry other friends. D Mc Pherson Son & Daughter proceeded over the ferry. I waited for Jn Townsend parted with J R Elam who returnd to Lancaster & crossed Susquehanna in Co. with J Townsend , J Scattergood, P Yarnall T or J Speakman reached Yorktown 10 Miles about SunSet. J Townsend & J Scattergood lodged at Elisha Kirks, D Speakman & self at Peter Yarnall’s where were kindly entertained.

A Ferry Scene on the Susquehanna at Wright’s Ferry, near Havre de Grace. Pavel Petrovich Svinin (1787/88–1839), 1811-13. MMA 42.95.37.

Photo: Hunting Dog Redux, c. 1923.

My Harford County, Maryland family could never be described as prominent. They are not historical figures. Certainly, the family names are ones the people know, interwoven through local people’s memories (read about how interwoven my family is here). They, like so many others, were farmers, soldiers, and later, civilian employees of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Fortunately, the arrival of inexpensive cameras appealed to my family and they started snapping images of their everyday lives. Cars, dogs, and family members standing on the lawn after dinner were the general subjects of many photos from the early twentieth century. I posted this previous 1920s hunting dog image a few weeks ago from a different branch of family in Delta, Pennsylvania, just a short way up the Susquehanna from my Harford County family. Here, my grandfather, Sappington Lee Bowman, and great uncle, Robert Bayless Bowman, are captured with their hunting dog. I’d like to imagine that my great-grandfather took this photograph while hunting with the boys. He died of colon cancer in 1934.

This image is likely in the environs around Aberdeen, Maryland, as they grew up on a small farm in the general vicinity of the now heavily developed area around Target and Beards Hill Plaza. The scraggly trees and heavy clothes on the kids denote the fall or winter setting. Interestingly, the breed of this dog is very similar to that in the other image I posted, an English Pointer with maybe a little Beagle mixed in. He’s very interested in the the pile of rabbits accumulated with who knows how much help by the adult holding the camera. My grandfather kept a hunting dog most of his life, the last a beagle named Scholtzie, who would help find ducks and geese after they were shot out of the sky.

RB and SL Bowman 1923

George Frideric Handel and The London Foundling Hospital

George Fredrich Handel. Public Domain.

The Messiah, written by George Frideric Handel in 1741 and first performed in Dublin before its launch in London, was originally meant for Easter. Many of us have attended the oratorio’s performance at Yuletide, a practice that gained popularity in the United States in the early nineteenth century. My first and fondest memories of The Messiah are not of it in performance, but listening to my Dad play a record of it on the hefty hi-fi as we opened presents and ate dinner (and let me tell you, that Sylvania hunk of metal really went up to 11!). When our family lived in Wisconsin and drove in a huge van back to the east coast for visits, one memorable family sing of “O We Like Sheep” occurred as we wended our way through the pastures off the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Read more about Handel and The Messiah in Jonathan Kandell’s Smithsonian magazine article.

With John Styles’s book The Dress of the People and the exhibition Threads of Feeling, I became familiar with The London Foundling Hospital. The Foundling was established in 1739 by sea captain Thomas Coram. In this era before reliable birth control, widespread and devastating infectious disease, and few options for many poor parents, Coram sought a way to protect those abandoned babies he saw left in the streets of London. The Foundling ran as an institution until the 1950s, and still continues as the foundation Coram today. Both Handel and painter William Hogarth became early patrons of The Foundling. Handel quickly launched The Messiah in London after its test run in Dublin. Handel never married, and whether he ever had any children is unknown (Coram and Hogarth, though married, never had any children). In 1750, Handel began an annual benefit concert of The Messiah in the Chapel of The Foundling Hospital. These annual concerts continued through Handel’s death in 1759, and the piece was performed each year through 1777. It is estimated that Handel’s charitable giving to The Foundling is approximately £500,000 in today’s money. The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury holds the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, including an original copy of The Messiah, manuscripts, libretti, and other works.

While not written specifically for The Foundling, Handel’s later involvement gives new meaning to “For unto us a child is born.”

London Foundling Hospital. CC BY 4.0.

A Philadelphia Servant, 1787


The Accident in Lombard Street. Charles Wilson Peale. Winterthur Museum. 1962.88.

The Accident in Lombard Street. Charles Wilson Peale. Winterthur Museum. 1962.88.

A pie lays broken in the street, a distraught servant teased by the chimney sweeps who caused her to drop it. She’s likely on her way back from the bakery to which her mistress sent the pie to be baked.

While the British had an extensive print culture in the late 18th century, Americans did not. Depictions of 18th century American laboring classes are exceedingly rare. While the Jersey Nanny has been studied as a depiction of an American servant, its artist, John Greenwood, was mostly a copyist of British works. A few years after the publishing of the Jersey Nanny, he left the colonies to train in England, and never returned. It’s not that American colonists would find her appearance largely different from working women in their community, but it is probably not truly an American image. Charles Wilson Peale, on the other hand, was an accomplished painter (much more so than his limited printmaking efforts),  depicting a truly American scene.

Detail, 1962.88. Winterthur Museum.

Detail, 1962.88. Winterthur Museum.

The servant depicted in The Accident in Lombard Street wears no stays, a short gown pinned askance, and a petticoat (the fullness probably assisted by another underneath). Patterning of her clothing may depict striped fabrics commonly worn by servants. She’s very crudely rendered, so that details regarding her headdress and footwear (if any) are hard to read.

The servant in this image is a perfect analogy for what we’ve lost in our understanding of working dress of the 18th century: the details. Learn more about my study of working women’s dress through newspaper runaway advertisements here.

Photo: Huntin’ Dog, c. 1920

I don’t hunt, and what little I do know of hunting is bound into my Susquehanna River DNA. I figure the man reposing by the tree with his trusty companion has been hunting ducks or geese or other small game, like many of my family members. He’s likely my great great grandfather, William Ross Stephens. He was a stonemason from Lower Chanceford, PA, and likely worked the local Peach Bottom Slate, formerly famous for many slate roofs in the region. The trees behind him are scraggly and bare, pointing towards fall or winter. By his side is his partner, perhaps some mix of English Pointer and Beagle. My only acquaintance with hunting dogs comes from my memory of my grandfather’s beagle Sholtzie. I more remember her being fed leftover pancakes and sausage streaked with King Syrup and some Gravy Train added to the mix.

What grabs me is the thought that his human hunting partner, whomever it was, thought to bring a camera and capture him and his dog in repose.

WR Stephens possibly

Wanderlust Wednesday: Some Food in France

More often than not, even the cheapest little roadside offering in France blows the socks off of much of what you can get in the United States. After my summer blogging hiatus, I have a few things to catch up on. Some funny juxtapositions on fooding from Paris to L’Indre et Loire. And be sure to check my post on the sumptuous Loches market.

Fish mousse. A devine meal at Terroir Parisien. 20 rue St. Victor, Paris. We went for lunch, very relaxed.

Fish mousse. A divine meal at Terroir Parisien. 20 rue St. Victor, Paris. We went for lunch, very relaxed.

Spring vegetables and veal. The green drink is mint syrup and sparkling Lorinon lemonade called a Diabolo. At Terroir Parisien, 20 rue St. Victor, Paris.

Spring vegetables and veal. The green drink is mint syrup and sparkling Lorinon lemonade called a Diabolo. Saw lots of folks drinking these, at cafes, interestingly. At Terroir Parisien, 20 rue St. Victor, Paris.

It's just a Paul baker by the side of the highway, but do you think you could get a scrummy vegetable tart like this on an American interstate?

It’s just a Paul bakery by the side of the highway, but do you think you could get a scrummy vegetable tart like this on an American interstate?

Foie gras with cranberry (?) gelee. At Le Moulin de Chaude, Chemille sur Indrois. Friendly. No English, but really willing to work with you.

Foie gras with cranberry (?) gelee. At Le Moulin de Chaude, Chemille sur Indrois. Friendly. No English, but really willing to work with you. There is an open grill in the dining room where a sear is put on your meat!


Beautiful towering cheese. At the Saturday market in Loches.

Beautiful towering cheese. At the Saturday market in Loches.

Bye Bye Schrafft’s: Losing More Unique Buildings on the UES

Schrafft’s at 155 E. 79th Street as it appeared in 1944.

A “Rat Poison” sign appeared on the front door of 155 East 79th street. Generally, that’s the sign that indicates death is close at hand. Obviously the rats are going to kick it. But it’s the building that is coming down next. Certainly, we were in a historic preservation district, next to Lexington Ave, right? And this building, a former Schrafft’s Restaurant with a marble facade, was iconic enough to spare replacement by the glass and fiberboard dreck going in further down the block, right? (charmless 200 E. 79th Street, apartments starting at $2.8M).


The building disappeared under the hands of coffee-sipping, cig-smoking, and hard-hat wearing demolition crew. Read this Streetscapes feature from the New York Times on disappearing Schrafft’s buildings from 2008. Now we await the arrival of yet another glass box, with a bank in the bottom. I don’t know about you, but I can’t eat money, especially in this electronic age.

A page from the 1917 Schrafft's Menu. New York Public Library What's on the Menu? Project.

A page from the 1917 Schrafft’s Menu. New York Public Library What’s on the Menu? Project.

Wanderlust Wednesday: Taking The Back Way – Old Roads from Point A to Point B

There were two ways to get to Mom Mom and Pop Pop’s house in Havre de Grace. You could either take the interstates skirting Baltimore, which, until the late 1980s, had not all been built and required cutting through Reisterstown’s Main Street or Worthington Valley in Baltimore County.

Or you could take the “back way.” Usually this let up a series of quiet groans from the kids.

The back way meant a half hour longer in the car. It meant queasiness as Dad drove over hills. It meant….. green pants territory!! (a deeply wooded and wondrous section outside Hereford, Maryland, where my mother would have me look for Dr. Seuss’s Green Pants). But to think of those drives now, it’s the back way that has the memories.

We would drive up through Hampstead, past an old school. Through Hereford. Through a few very old buildings in Monkton, before it was thronged with bicyclists on the Northern Central Railroad bicycle trail to Harrisburg (could still use a rail line there, folks). Past an outrageously lavish Arabian stud farm with a gate at the road (nobody had gates then in rural Maryland, it seemed silly, at least to a 7 year old). The hulking brick Black Horse Tavern outside Madonna (a town I found to have a very funny name in the 1980s). We remember getting detoured due to a house on fire. And driving by orchards. There are photos of Mom walking a tummy-sick me by the side of the road.

Interstates are devoid of these memories. I think they’ve contributed to our deteriorating lack of imagination and ingenuity as a culture. The systematic exits and entries, the gray concrete, the dotted lines, all mashing into a bland pap of the time in between living, time lost where we gain no substance.

Take the back way. Just take it easy on the accelerator on the hills.

A Baltimore Sun image for the Black Horse tavern in upper Harford County, yet another place George Washington slept.

A Baltimore Sun image for the Black Horse tavern in upper Harford County, yet another place George Washington slept.