Sauerkraut without tears

Sometimes I am far too confident for my own good. Like last summer when one Saturday I attempted to can three things. Yes, that’s right. I basically lost my mind and decided I would make jam, green tomato relish, and sauerkraut.

sauerkraut ingredients

The green tomato relish was a success, but it nearly killed me. I’ve been doing small-batch canning and this recipe was like the canning I remember from my childhood: unbelievable amounts of food and massive yields–I used the largest bowls and pots I had and they were too small.

The sauerkraut came out beautifully, but the brine was watered with my own tears. It was such a miserable experience that I vowed never again.

But like women who swear they are never going through childbirth after the agonies of labor, only to find themselves doing it two or three more times, tonight I decided to make another batch of sauerkraut.

It’s deceptively simple. This is all you need (see the Food in Jars blog for specifics):

  • a 2.5 – 3 lb green cabbage
  • 1 tbsp of kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1-3 tbsp of distilled water

Have you ever chopped up an entire head of cabbage? Or seen someone do it? This is what it looks like. See that jar? All of that has to go in there.

how will this work

This is where annotating a recipe comes in handy.

So first thing I noted from last time was “need a block of time.” The second was “use big stock pot.” This is key, because basically you’re going to sprinkle the salt and caraway seeds into that mass of cabbage and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes and then you’re going to mash the hell out of it. Or you’re going to do the third thing I wrote which was, “use your hands.” For about five minutes you’re going to work that salt and caraway in there.

Then the fun begins.

You start taking spoonfuls of the cabbage mixture and using a one-quart, wide-mouthed jar (this is important), you begin packing it in. It’s kind of like trying to pack a zillion people into a Ford Escort. This is what takes time. For every spoonful, you send a lot of time with the handle of wooden spoon trying to jab it in as far as possible and then you repeat. And eventually, somehow you get all that cabbage into the jar.


You cover it with a couple of tablespoons of the distilled water and you put it in a cool, dark place to ferment for about a month, opening the jar periodically and skimming off the top foam that forms. And then you have sauerkraut!

Vintage Cocktail!

Recently, I was gifted a bottle of Crème de Violette and instantly returned to an occasion on a hot summer day when a friend decided he would mix everyone Aviation cocktails, which were all the rage back in the 1930s. Unfortunately our hostess lacked some of the basic ingredients, namely lemons and Maraschino liqueur so he made the substitution of orange juice from the carton for the freshly squeezed lemon juice. He was also a bit heavy handed with the Crème de Violette. The result: Dimetapp with OJ.

I had three things going for me. My own Maraschino cherries (and consequently a bottle of Maraschino liqueur), the patience to use a recipe, and all the ingredients.

aviation ingredients

The end result is quite different, but it worked for me. It kind of has a light, spring-like taste to it. Far better than the Dimetapp w/OJ experience. Here’s what it looks like (ignore my tumbler, I lack actual martini glasses):

aviation cocktail

Things I have learned (from doing family history)

These are some of my rules for doing genealogy:

  • You double check your source material.
  • You do not jump to conclusions
  • You do not add a whole list of people to your tree unless you are very sure.

But it’s very hard not to get excited when you are on the brink of solving a huge mystery. I mean, I have been working at this stuff for nearly twenty years and you need to understand–I don’t have the most exciting family to be researching. I have friends who can go back centuries and connect themselves to royalty.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my family, but they were poor people. In some cases poor and hardworking and in other cases poor and somewhat dishonest (some day I’ll post all the many many news articles about my paternal grandfather’s gin-running past that I turned up).

The point is that when I can find information–any information–I tend to get very excited about it.

Well, I went back on Ancestry and consulted the trees of the people I had contacted and saw a whole bunch of things that made me very hopeful:

mom's notes on bennett and abe schwartzIgnore the stuff about Celia and her children. Right now she’s a brick wall person. I have no clue what her married name was and I may never know.

The important part is this Albert guy (elsewhere in other places in the aforementioned notes as “Abraham” — Grandma Jennie was up there in years when Mom was asking all these questions).

So I found a bunch of stuff. researcher #1 – sent me back a thank you on the Nathan Schwartz info and then promptly went offline and has never contacted me again had this information (stuff in bold matches with my info):

Bennett Schwartz (aka as Barny Schwartz and with a possible name change from Schwartzbodd to Schwartz) married Rose Feldman and with her had:

Ethel, David, Nathan, Goldie, Dorothy, Samuel, and Herman.

With an unnamed second wife, he had Dora.

I consulted with my mom who said “Well, your grandmother would get very confused and then your father and your aunt would start arguing and it was very hard to understand what they were saying. But you know, I think I have in those notes that his real name may have been ‘Barney.’ Your father always called him Uncle Bonnet.” Researcher #2 – was much more satisfactory. He got very excited by the possibility of there being a connection.

This researcher listed Bennett as being married to a Pearl Essrow and having the following children:

Ethel, David, Nathan, Goldie, Dorothy, Samuel, and Herman

But he also had Bennett having a brother named Abe (the researcher’s ancestor):  with children named David, Dora, Hattie, and Harry. Hattie married a man named Benjamin Rosenblum.

And they lived in North Tonawanda.

Armed with all of this I began my own research. While Bennett Schwartz never worked for City Hall as my mom had in her notes, he did, in fact, live in Black Rock. Pearl Essrow was his second wife. Researcher #2 looked over my photos and identified the location and also the people in the photo as Goldie and Hattie Schwartz.

We both did a lot of research–and then I found two last pieces of information that I considered to be the clinchers.

1. I found Bennett and Pearl Schwartz’s tombstones and had the Hebrew translated. His father is listed as being Moses or Moshe. Same as on  Ida Schwartz’s tombstone.

2. a clue 2A cousin from another branch of my family with access to one of the newspaper sites was able to help me out and sent me this article about the out-of-town attendees for Meyer Zafron’s funeral. Meyer being Grandma Jennie’s husband (the one with the somewhat dodgy past from Prohibition).

Given that Meyer Zafron died in Salamanca, NY and was buried in Olean, NY, both a haul in those days from Buffalo/North Tonawanda. I am inclined to believe that Bennett and Pearl Schwartz making it all the way there for the funeral was significant.

And that, dear reader, is how I cleared up a whole mess of brick wall ancestors.

Random acts of genealogical kindness

I had been taking a break from genealogy. After a while you hit walls. Names begin to swim together. Dates become confused. Or at least this is how it works for me. But now I pulled my notes out and started looking into it again. A couple of things had improved for me.

The Old Fulton NY site had started indexing Buffalo newspapers for one. It’s got a horrible search interface, but I slogged through and began to clear up some mysteries.

On my mom’s side, I was even able to clear away a whole mess of people who it turned out we had no connection to.

And on my dad’s I began to strike pay dirt. His grandfather had a sister named Celia and I’d been working on and off with a couple of her descendants. We found obits and marriage announcements and began to figure out what was accurate and what the census takers had gotten wrong. In order to answer a few more questions, at a certain point, not that long ago, I ended up becoming a member of this large park-like cemetery in the center of my city so that I could look up their records online.

There were still a few large puzzles. I tried once again to figure out what had become of the elusive Uncle Bonnet and his daughters, Goldie, Ethel, and Dora. And I focused on my Grandma Jennie’s brothers. There were three: Abraham (Abbie), Nathan, and Lewis Schwartz. The only one I really knew anything about was Lewis and what little I had was sparse.

Most importantly I started looking at my source material with a fresh eye again (I am still doing this). Transcription mistakes were corrected and I began taking trips out to local cemeteries to take photos of graves. In addition to using the dates, I put them up on Find a Grave.

Mother’s day this year. It was rainy and windy, but I trooped out to the big cemetery again to look for the graves of some first cousins. It was nasty and miserable—you really start to rethink things when you’re on an exposed hill when there is lightning in the distance—but I finally found my people. I got what I came for and began heading for the car.

And then opposite to where I had been, I saw a tombstone for Nathan Schwartz.

SCHWARTZ Nathan and Hannah Resman schwartz tombstoneNot daring to get my hopes up, I decided to take a picture. Worst case scenario, I’d put him up on Find A Grave—somewhere, someone would be looking for him. When I got home, I pulled up his burial permit on the cemetery site and sighed. He was not my great uncle. Rather he was the child of a Bennett Schwartz and a Rose Feldman.

I’m a librarian and I had this information so I put it all up on Find a Grave and then because I was feeling generous, I thought, let’s see if anyone has either this Nathan and/or his parents on I would pay it forward.

I found a couple of people and sent it off and didn’t think much more about it for an hour or so. Then after supper, I pulled out my mom’s notes and saw this:

a clue

To be continued . . .

Who was Uncle Bonnet?

When I was a kid, we’d go visit my father’s mother. I don’t remember a lot of these visits—flashes stick out at me. My Great Aunt Molly made me matzo ball soup once and I seem to recall her breakfront vividly (yeah, I have no idea why that would strike a 3 or 4-year-old as noteworthy either).

Later when my Grandma Jennie and her sister, my Great Aunt Kate, had moved into the same city where we were, I remember going to visit them regularly. They also made matzo ball soup, which tasted radically different from Mom’s. My mom’s matzo balls were lighter than feathers. Grandma’s were what Dad called “sinkers,” but I loved it just the same. Sometimes they gave me things. I still have these tiny little Japanese figurines they presented me with. The Wilardy purse they gifted me with melted in the attic—now that I know they once had a hat shop, I wonder if this was leftover stock.

Mostly, though, I remember the time after Great Aunt Katie had died and Grandma Jennie was in the nursing home. Pretty much every Sunday we would go to visit. At some point prior, my mother had become casually interested in genealogy and would ask them things. She made mistakes and my grandmother’s memory was fading, but this is how I got interested in my family history. The names swam together at the time: Lewis, not to be confused with my cousin Louis, both long dead. Someone named Ruben. Another cousin named Goldie. My grandmother had six siblings, and most of them had married and produced quite a few children—she had eleven nieces and nephews through one now dead sister alone. And once in a while they talked about “Uncle Bonnet.”

Time passed. My grandmother died. But at some point either when I was in college or a few years after, I became interested in taking up where my mom left off. Mom's family tree info

I made a lot of mistakes, many in fact, and other than trying to organize things a bit better, I was largely stumped. I connected at some point with one of my dad’s cousins through his father, who could answer a few questions, but there were big mysteries.

A major one being Uncle Bonnet, who was my great grandmother Ida’s brother. Her maiden name was Schwartz (although Mom had it down with multiple variants), which was the same as her husband’s.

We knew these things: Bonnet Schwartz had lived in Black Rock at one point. His name may or may not have been called Barney. He had married a woman named Rose Feldman and he had at least four kids: an unnamed son and three daughters named: Ethel, Dora, who may have been a nurse, and Goldie. Later they all moved to North Tonawanda.

This is Ethel.

Ethel SchwartzI personally think she looks FAB. The inscription on the back of the postcard reads: “To Aunt Hia [Ida Schwartz] with Best Love, from Ethel.” Feb 1920 “As I was.”

That’s all I had.

And for years, I looked and looked to no avail. Even when I started to know what I was doing, I had never had any luck.

Until a month or so ago.

To be continued . . .

Finding the needle in the haystack

I’m a genealogist. Now don’t back away and you can lose that look of terror in your eyes. I’m not about to tell you about my great great uncle so-and-so.

I think part of what I like about genealogy is the detective aspect of the job. I like combing through documents and putting the puzzle pieces together. But it can be frustrating, mind numbing work sometimes. So if you ever want to do this, here’s one of the things you sometimes have to do:

You have to take trips to cemeteries looking for ancestors.

In theory, what you’re supposed to do is contact whoever manages the cemetery ask if there are records: “Hi! I’m looking for _____________ and I think he was born in 1900 give or take 5 years and I am pretty sure he died in 1932.” And you’ll get an answer like, “Go to section D, row 2, lot 8.”


This is what usually happens to me:

  1. There is no one to call. The group that took care of the cemetery has vanished into the ether. Or
  2. There are no records. Or
  3. They have records, but your ancestor isn’t among them, except that you have obituaries mentioning the cemetery so you know they’re there. Or
  4. Section D is bigger than North Dakota. The rows are rows only in name and were apparently set out by a wanna-be Crazy Quilter.

But I’m desperate so I head out to the cemetery confident I can find _________ and then I get there and my heart sinks.

Cue something that looks like this:

I square my shoulders and I start off, going down row after row, eyes scanning over tombstones, names swimming past my eyes. Wait, I’ll ask myself, is that one of the names I’m researching? No, not it’s not. And I keep going and a gazillion hours later, I’m giving up and heading back and if I am very very lucky, I trip over the desired ancestor’s name. A lot of the time I’m not lucky.

Usually I go home tired, dehydrated, and annoyed. And if the genealogy gods really want a laugh, when I look over my records, I’ll realize that the grave I decided wasn’t a relative, is a relative. (When I go back, I will invariably be unable to locate that grave ever again. I swear it’s like losing a sock).

This week, it happened the way it’s supposed to happen and IT WAS GLORIOUS!

I found the appropriate contact who had my ancestors in her records and she was able to give me specific directions to each tomb. And then to my utter shock, I FOUND THEM ALL.

To top it off, I started looking around after I had all my names and I FOUND EVEN MORE.

Maybe this happens for other genealogists, but it’s never happened to me before.

It will probably never happen again so I figured I had to brag.

Why I don’t go to ALA

A good friend of mine lives in San Francisco and excitedly told me that ALA Annual is going to be there. This may only make sense if you follow Game of Thrones, but I was proud of how I explained the situation.

The conversation paraphrased with her permission:

Me: I don’t go to that one. I go to MLA and that’s going to run me $1500 this year.

Friend: Why don’t you go to ALA?

Me: Well, it’s just really big and there’s not a lot of — okay, you know how you mostly care about the Team Dragonstone characters like Stannis and Davos?

Friend: Yeah

Me: So if ALA was about Game of Thrones, it would mostly be Dany and Tyrion and SanSan people and maybe if I’m really lucky, I might get to one Team Dragonstone thing [Hey, just like trying to shop the HBO Store!]. But if MLA was about Game of Thrones, it would be mostly about Team Dragonstone. Oh, there might be a few things on people I don’t have a lot of interest in like oh, Selyse or Renly, but it would primarily be about Team Dragonstone.

Friend: Got it (instant comprehension)