OF SAUERKRAUT AND SUN DOGS (July 12/96)

When I was walking down the meat aisle of a grocery store yesterday, the clerk mentioned reading my column on old-time weather forecasting. “You left out one of the best weather signs,” the clerk said. “My grandfather always said you could tell the weather from the way the brine worked in a batch of sauerkraut.”

Sauerkraut brine predicting the weather? It sounds bizarre and you may certainly scoff and snicker. However, the clerk’s mention of the connection between ‘kraut and stormy weather kindled long-forgotten memories. I recalled that when I was a boy, it was a tradition to store wooden buckets of sauerkraut in our basement. I also remembered my father saying on more than one occasion that brine rose to the top of the ‘kraut bucket when storms were approaching.

This is all folklore foolishness, of course, but not that long ago people believed there was a sauerkraut and white magic connection. For example, in Folklore of Lunenburg County (published 1950 by the Museum of Canada), sauerkraut is mentioned in more than one strange context. From the chapter on foods, toasts and crops: “Kraut is best without any green leaves on and should be made in the growing moon, as brine rises then and falls when the moon is emptying.”

“To make kraut, cut the growing cabbage in the growing moon and you will always have broth on the cabbage.”

And; “Brine rises in the growing moon. When it is done I draw the brine off and add ice water and I always have good kraut.”

As a sauerkraut lover, I recall sneaking into the basement, lifting the stone that kept the barrel cover in place and dipping into the ‘kraut. At times the brine was over the cover and at times the cover was dry. Maybe brine does mysteriously rise and fall in the ‘kraut barrel according to moon phases or highs and lows in barometric pressure – thus indicating weather changes. Generations of old-time weather prognosticators couldn’t be wrong, could they?

Now if someone told me ‘kraut brine had curative powers, I’d be less inclined to be sceptical. This is another old, old bit of folklore, but there appears to be some truth to it. Sauerkraut juice is believed to be good medicine and recent investigations indicate that maybe it is. Health experts tell us vegetables of the cruciferous family are cancer fighters and it’s possible their fermented juices are also effective.

Besides ‘kraut brine, it seems I also neglected to mention another natural sign that forecasts the weather. “Sun dogs are supposed to forecast weather changes,” a family member said after reading the column on old-time weather forecasting.

I chastised myself over that omission. How could anyone forget sun dogs, not to mention moon dogs? There was a Gypsy in our household when I was growing up and she always “told the weather” by sun dogs and moon dogs.

“Sun dogs in the evening, a storm is coming,” she’d say. A moon dog in winter, according to the Gypsy, meant the weather would remain cold and snowy for days. A moon dog in summer, on the other hand, indicated a spell of high humidity. Then there was the Gypsy’s favourite line about the moon holding water (a quarter-moon tipped on its side) which indicated heavy rains in the immediate future. Strangely, I can’t recall how accurate the Gypsy’s forecasts were.

 

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