I discovered the recipe for Vipavska Corba, or Slovenian Sauerkraut Soup, in a witty and erudite blog called The Austerity Kitchen. The blogger is a young cultural historian who promises to "bring you the best simple, savory fare history has to offer." She had found the recipe in A Cookbook for Poor Poets and Others, written in the 1960s.
The recipe looked tempting and unusual. Sauerkraut, white beans, and bacon. How could you go wrong with those ingredients? I even had a bag of sauerkraut left over from the goulash I'd made two weeks earlier.
So far, my cooking project had been pretty heavy on cabbage and sauerkraut, two foods I had always enjoyed. In fact, I had just learned a fascinating bit of family lore that might help explain it.
The previous weekend, we'd had a mini family reunion for my mother's birthday. Four generations together. First time I'd seen my mother's younger brother in seventeen years. When I told my uncle about my cooking project, he started to reminisce. Turns out my grandmother used to make sauerkraut, in a barrel or crock, weighted with a rock on top.
"Mom," I said. "You never told me Grandma made sauerkraut!"
She looked surprised. "Blair, everyone did. You could always tell by the smell who was making sauerkraut."
So maybe sauerkraut was in my blood.
I had just one question. How legitimate was this soup recipe? I couldn't find any references to it in my vintage Slovenian American cookbooks or, for that matter, on the Internet. I didn't want to stray too far from my primary sources.
But when I looked more closely, I realized that it was basically a recipe for jota ("yota"), a traditional thick soup found in Slovenia and in Northern Italy. Vipavska Čorba ("chorba") means "chowder from Vipava," a Slovenian town about fifteen miles from Trieste. There were, in fact, very similar soup recipes in my cookbooks, under a variety of names. So I figured I was on safe ground.
I made a few changes in the original recipe. I used canned beans instead of cooking them from scratch, because I didn't have enough time. I used a thick sliced bacon instead of cubed slab bacon, which I cooked in the microwave rather than boiling and then adding, broth and all, to the soup. I upped the seasonings and decided to add some parsley.
And one more thing: I had a feeling that this dish, like so many others, was meant to include a dark roux. So I browned the flour-oil-vegetable mix before adding the rest of the ingredients, although the original recipe didn't mention this. But I had a higher authority: My mother.
My mother and I had recently been discussing a different soup, something she recalled from her childhood. So far, I hadn't found a recipe that seemed to match her recollections.
"Did it have a roux?" I asked my mother.
She laughed. "Everything had a roux!"
Just like the Cajuns. Who would have guessed?
(For the rest of this post, including the recipe, take a look at my Slovenian Roots Quest blog, here.)
Causes Blair Kilpatrick Supports
Louisiana Folk Roots, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Habitat for Humanity/Musician's Village New Orleans, Doctors Without Borders