DELAVAN, N.Y. - Every year Steve and Diane Woloszyn invite friends and neighbors over to their house to make sauerkraut for the winter. Their homestead on Weaver Rd. serves as a gathering place for friends from Grand Island to Springville, as well as neighbors from down the road, who bring their crocks to be filled with shredded cabbage. When asked what goes into making the sauerkraut, Steve answers, "A lotta love !"
Along with love, he adds caraway seeds and carrots, according to his taste, and salt to help the cabbage ferment. The caraway seeds his father taught him to add. Adding carrots was something his friend Tony Zawadzki shared with him.
For some who come together, the making of sauerkraut is a continuation of what they learned as children from their grandparents. Tony, who lives in Cheektowaga, makes the 45 minute trek every year to lend the expertise he learned as a boy in Poland. Tony says that he alway looks for easier ways to do things. Some years he used to cut through 50 heads of cabbage for the family in one sitting with a knife. This year he came up with an idea to use a bow saw instead.
"I kiss the saw for making it easy", jokes Tony, to which 10 year-old Eric Ward responds in all seriousness "My dad actually says 'Don't take the easy way out.'"
Eric was joined by his brother younger brother Ryan and little Colton. Colton digs through the huge box full of cabbage looking for leaves that he offers to those working at a long table. There Eric and Ryan's mom Kerry and Tony Zawadzki's wife Lottie do the cutting by hand. Kerry says she never liked sauerkraut until she tried the homemade she learned to make from Diane and Steve. Asked what she likes in her sauerkraut, she points to Diane and says "Whatever she makes."
When the sauerkraut is done, Diane will bake it together with meats and spices to make a stew called "bigos".
"My parents always made sauerkraut, but I'm the youngest of 14, grew up on a dairy farm and this is the way we were raised. We grew what we ate and we had 14 kids in the family...it's so good, you can't beat the taste, so that makes it all worth it," said Diane.
Russ Walter, who's daughter married into the Woloszyn family, remembers his aunt and uncle making sauerkraut when he was younger. "They had a cool dark basement, and they used to keep it in a crock all winter long". He traveled from Springville with a crock he admits to using only for decoration around the house. He also brought a round cover he made of cherry wood. He'll use it to press down the cabbage in order to squeeze out the juice and help ferment it. Sophie Hodorowicz-Knab oohs and aahs over the cover.
Sophie is an authority on Polish cooking, having authored a number of books on the topic. For her, the process of making sauerkraut is partly spiritual. "When you do things with a bunch of other people and you're talking and laughing, and reminiscing about our parents, who we all miss ... I think we feel really good that we're carrying on the things that they used to do. We love honoring their memory when we do this, and we talk about them. Sometimes we pray for them, we sing and we have a great time."
Just as their grandparents and parents taught them the art of making their own food, the middle-aged sauerkraut makers gathered at the Woloszyn household passed on their secrets to the next generation. Eric and Ryan helped mix ingredients into the crocks while little Colton inspected halves of cabbage halved for shredding on a 50 year old cutter passed down the Woloszyn line of sauerkraut makers.
Story and Video by WGRZ-TV Photojournalist Andy Golebiowski