I posted a picture last week of the Germania society sauerkraut ball prep room. I have never seen so many sauerkraut balls in one sitting, but I am sure the region goes through hundreds of thousands in one Oktoberfest season. Germania Society’s Oktoberfest kicks off the Greater Cincinnati Oktoberfest season. It’s held in a northwestern suburb called Pleasant Run at a German American society that’s been there since the 1960s. It would not be an Oktoberfest without the deep fried sauerkraut ball. They go great with a nice lager and a side of spicy Dusseldorf mustard dipping sauce.
One of my friends who is a native of Frankfurt, Germany, said, “I’ve not seen these anywhere in Germany!” This confirmed their American origin, most probably within the kraut eating German immigrant community. As far back as I can remember, and that would be into the mid 1970s, these dainty little appetizers have been a staple of any Oktoberfest I’ve gone to.
But, I then hear from my food idol, Lynn Rosetta Kasper’s show on NPR, The Splendid Table, that they were actually born in Akron, Ohio, amongst the German Mennonite community. Travelling food writers Jane and Michael Stern told Kasper on her show:
“Sauerkraut balls were invented in Akron, Ohio, and in many restaurants around Akron a favorite hors d’oeuvre is a sauerkraut ball. It’s a small sphere of sauerkraut and ground up meat that is breaded and deep fried … a wonderful kind of tangy, tart savory hors d’oeuvre.”
Yeah, well that surely describes them, but I was about to give Cincinnati and our ‘World’s Largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich’ status, the moniker of ‘born here.’ As it turns out there’s a company in Akron, Or Derv, that has been commercially manufacturing sauerkraut balls since 1964, when the brand was called Bunny B. Their CEO, Keith Kropp, says they’re to Akron what buffalo wings are to Buffalo and what Philly cheese steaks are to Philadelphia. Kropp bought the company eight years ago and doesn’t know how the sauerkraut ball came to Akron. Some people say it was the Polish, others say it was the German immigrants who brought them, but Kropp has never been able to get the true story.
Although they make a variety like smoked, beef, and habanero, the ham stuffed sauerkraut balls are the most popular at Or Derv. During peak production times during the holidays, their plant cranks out 350,000 balls per hour.
I was still not willing to give up the ‘born here’ status to our city’s beloved deep fried balls. Our neighbor to the north, Waynesville, Ohio, has been having its sauerkraut festival, with its requisite balls, since 1970. Every year Germania, Donauschwaben, Newport, Mainstrasse, Downtown, Kolping, and other local Oktoberfests serve these balls every weekend from mid August to the end of October. Restaurants like Mecklenburg Gardens in Clifton, Wunderbar and Hofbrauhaus in Newport, Lazslo’s Iron Skillet in Newtown, and Rascal’s New York Deli in Blue Ash serve the balls. And our legacy Germanic restaurants, the Black Forest and Lenhardt’s restaurants served them back into the 1960s.
But maybe it’s not whose balls were the first, but who’s balls taste better. Most Cincinnati sauerkraut balls have cream cheese in the mix, while the Akron balls do not. The cream cheese gives a tangy, gooey, goodness that just can’t be achieved from the northern Ohio balls. There’s no doubt both cities have a passionate and avid culture of sauerkraut balls, and consume more per capita than any other city in the Unites States. So, maybe it has to come down to a Sauerkraut ball challenge between the two cities that bookend the state. Ok Akron, bring out your balls, it’s time for a reckoning!