Pork, sauerkraut and some good luck for the new year

Of The Morning Call

With temperatures in the teens Monday afternoon, a popular New Year’s Day tradition — a hot and hefty serving of pork and sauerkraut — proved especially satisfying for guests of Emmanuel United Church of Christ in Allentown.

Dozens of hungry people seeking good luck and good fortune in 2018 bundled up and braved the cold to enjoy pork — roasted for six hours with ginger ale and onions, homemade sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, applesauce, bread and desserts.

The Pennsylvania Dutch custom has been enjoyed by generations of Lehigh Valley residents, but the church at 16th and Chew streets only began offering the meal about 20 years ago, church member Kathy Heckman said.


After taking a hiatus in the 2000s, the church revived the tradition three years ago in celebration of its 100th anniversary, Heckman said.

“My family’s been eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day for as long as I can remember,” said Heckman, who was joined by her husband, two daughters and granddaughter in helping host the event. “My parents always made it and their parents always made it, too. I never eat the sauerkraut though, so I only get half the luck.”

Executing the celebrated meal, $10 for adults and $5 for children, was a team effort with more than a dozen church members volunteering their time.

Dan Heffelfinger, who dished out more than 70 pounds of pork, Les Bartholomew, who scooped about 30 pounds of sauerkraut and June McCracken, who served about 60 pounds of mashed potatoes, manned the kitchen.


Last year, the church attracted more than 100 hungry pork-and-sauerkraut seekers and Heckman anticipated this year’s turnout would be the same. About 30 people had already filled their bellies in the first hour.

Volunteer Vicki Butz of Breinigsville serves Pat Jenkins of Allentown a traditional platter of pork and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes during fund raising dinner at Emmanuel United Church of Christ of Allentown on New Year’s Day,

“The cold won’t deter people,” Heckman said. “It’s a beloved tradition and just yesterday, our pastor was reminding everyone to come out for good luck.”

The Rev. Cliff Herring, United Emmanuel’s interim pastor for the past three years, couldn’t recall a New Year’s Day that he didn’t enjoy pork and sauerkraut.


He remembers his grandmother also had other New Year’s traditions, including placing food and money outside on New Year’s Eve and bringing it inside the next morning in hopes that it would bring food and money the rest of the year.

“She also believed a sign of good luck was having the first person to enter the house on New Year’s Day be a dark-haired male,” Herring said.

For those wondering why pork and sauerkraut is a popular dish on New Year’s Day, it is because pigs root forward — the same direction most people hope to go in the new year. Conversely, serving chicken on New Year’s Day is unwise because chickens scratch backward.

Cabbage, the star of sauerkraut, is green and said to represent paper money. Many hope to gain wealth by eating it.


“I call this area — from Lancaster to Easton — the potato belt,” joked church member Barry Weibel, who helped deliver meals. “If you live in the potato belt, you’re almost definitely going to be eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day.”

United Emmanuel’s all-you-can-eat meal, held 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the church’s social hall, is one of many food events the church hosts throughout the year.

In 2017, the church began offering a free community meal — from spaghetti and meatballs to tuna casserole — on the last Wednesday of each month. All are welcome.

“The key is having people willing to help and we have awesome people who volunteer their time to make each and every event a wonderful experience,” Weibel said.


Emmanuel United’s pork and sauerkraut dinner was one of many offered throughout the area.