CLEVELAND - Chances are pork -- in some form or fashion -- will be on the menu New Year's Day at many homes in northeast Ohio.
It is a tradition deeply rooted in the region's immigrant history. Eating pork on New Year's Day is considered good luck in many Eastern European cultures. People of German descent have similar traditions, too. Pork is a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Eating it to start the new year is considered a way to ensure both in the year ahead.
There are any number of ways northeast Ohioans like their pork. How it is cooked sometimes depends on the ethnicity of the person doing the cooking. Sausage, especially kielbasa, is almost universal, served at many homes. Sausage is also the staple in the New Year's menus of people of Slovak, Ruthenian, Serbian, Ukrainian, Polish and Hungarian heritage. Many of southern Slavic descent might roast their pork. Loins, ribs, and crown roasts are popular.
Another constant with that pork is sauerkraut. Cabbage is green and symbolizes money. Since most cabbage had to be preserved in the "old country" it was turned into sauerkraut. So, pork and sauerkraut are a natural combination in Slavic and Germanic New Year's Day traditions. You might also find pork cooked with lentils, which is another symbol of good luck.
You can count on the days before New Year's Eve to be a busy time for northeast Ohio sausage makers and butchers, especially those who cater to the eastern European population.
Denny Gray, who owns Al's Quality Market in Barberton, said his sales of pork and sausage boom in December, with much of it coming at the end of the month as people prepare for the holiday. Al's makes its own sausages, Polish, Serbian, Slovak and Hungarian are among the varieties the varieties you will find in the case.
"Our sales triple in December. New Year's Day is number one for us, and Christmas is second in terms of business," said Gray.
Gray said the sales are split about evenly between sausage and other cuts of pork.
Putting pork on the New Year's table is relatively easy, too. All it takes is baking dish, a pound of sauerkraut, and sausages, a pork roast, or some ribs. It is pretty basic. Put the sauerkraut in the dish, put the pork on top, maybe add a little onion, paprika or caraway, and then let it bake. A few hours later, depending on the type of pork you are cooking, you've got a tasty eastern European tradition ready to serve.
What's your family's New Year's Day food tradition? Chime in via the comment box below.