RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
We're exploring holiday food traditions this season. And reporter Julie Rose of member station WFAE in Charlotte tells us about a dish that family newcomers take a while to appreciate.
JULIE ROSE, BYLINE: Dusek is my mother's maiden name. Her great grandma Mary kept alive the Czech heritage of her parents and immigrant husband through food. In the one photo I've seen of her, she's wearing a crisp white apron. Our signature holiday dish comes from Mary's kitchen.
DEE DEE DUSEK: Sauerkraut has been with us forever, whenever there was a turkey, which was always Thanksgiving and Christmas.
ROSE: That's my mom, Dee Dee, the keeper of the Dusek kraut tradition. But this is not the stuff you pile on a Polish dog at the ballpark. It starts that way, but Mom rinses off the brine and then it simmers for hours in chicken broth and spices. I'd sneak into the kitchen as a kid and peek under the lid to get a sauna blast of tangy steam in my face.
When I called my Mom on Skype to get the recipe, she said no one had ever written it down.
DUSEK: It was just handed down. I watched my mom make it for years and years and...
ROSE: What is the secret ingredient?
DUSEK: It's the caraway and the dill. If you don't have those two, you have just sauerkraut-sauerkraut. Not so good.
ROSE: Oh, but it is divine, dribbled with gravy and piled high between the turkey and dressing so you get a bit of kraut in every bite.
When new spouses marry into the family - like my brother's wife Aleisha - they're always skeptical.
ALEISHA: I just remember looking in the pot and looking at it looked all slimy and nasty. And I thought, mmm, I think I'll pass. I think I was like that for the first couple years. And now it's like my favorite thing to eat.
ROSE: Aleisha has been known to skip the turkey and go straight for the sauerkraut during the holiday meals. To Mom's great satisfaction, we've made converts of nearly every in-law.
DUSEK: The family has really enjoyed it. I hope it goes on further. I'm sure it will.
ROSE: Especially because we're all hooked on an American twist my Mom added to the tradition. After the feast is over and the dishes are done, we savor the leftover sauerkraut in a sweet-and-sour sandwich with turkey, cranberry sauce and a dab of mayo.
I think my great, great grandma Mary would approve.
For NPR News, I'm Julie Rose, craving sauerkraut in Charlotte.