When you walk into Morse’s Sauerkraut don't be surprised if you feel transported back in time to an old world Bavarian marketplace. The folks are friendly; more than willing to slice a sample off of the dozens of hams, sausages and cheeses in the well stocked cases. The shop is at once intimate and adventurous. On a busy day as many as 500 people might stop by to stock their pantry or browse the shelves for a delectable new treat.
A fixture in the community since 1918, Morse’s owners Jacquelyn Sawyer and David Swetnam have nurtured the business since 2000. “The business has a life of it’s own. We just nudge it along.” Said Swetnam. “When we first started here we tried to add our own touch while maintaining the integrity of the business.” said Sawyer, ”Our customers have been so loyal. The community support has been fabulous”
Located on Route 220 in Waldoboro about seven miles off Route One the shop is a leisurely ride from Camden, Damariscotta or Augusta. You’re at their doorstep in less than half an hour. “We know our customers are making an effort”, Sawyer said. “We know they have to come a long way out here and we want to give them a special experience.”
This fall brings new additions to the Morse’s shop. Sawyer and Swetnam purchased a new production facility this year and plan to expand their retail space into the former manufacturing room. “Our focus will remain on the kraut,” Sawyer explained, “We will be dishing it out from the original wooden barrel but there will be more space here to meander and explore.”
Sauerkraut has always been known for its curative properties. (see sidebar) Many cultures have their own versions of this fermented cabbage dish. Sauerkraut is its German name; in Korea it’s kimchi, and France calls it choucroute. Unlike grocery store varieties, Morse’s sauerkraut is non-pasteurized. In its raw form the compounds found in both the sauerkraut and its juice, also called liquor, are at once nutritionally beneficial and delicious. Morse’s sauerkraut does not need to be rinsed, but the liquor should be reserved and used in cooking or to drink in small quantities for good health.
In addition to Sauerkraut, Morse’s has expanded to include a Euro Deli. Their cheeses and meats come in a wide array of flavors. There is a Black Forest Schinken ham from Germany and rare aged gouda from Holland. The Stilton with mango and ginger mingles the flavors of sweet and savory. Roaring Forties Blue is hearty, rich and creamy. “People have really taken an interest in our cheese line,” Swetnam said “If we don’t have it we can order most anything. If we get more than three requests we’ll start to carry a product. Our customers let us know what they want.” Said Sawyer. This fall’s expansion will include the addition of a “Cheese Cave”. Swetnam describes the Cheese cave as a cheese ageing room where you can step into another world. It will be filled with sausages and cheeses. He hopes to share the “wonderment of cheese.”
Both Sawyer and Swetnam show a special passion for their patrons. “We want to preserve the history, the product and the people. There is a new generation of foodies who are finding us. There is the slow food movement and the raw food movement, both appreciate the unique properties of our sauerkraut. People in Hollywood are even following a sauerkraut diet. There are so many health benefits to this food” Sawyer said. (see sidebar 2)
As you look around the well-stocked shelves, you might find cloudberries from Sweden, treacle syrup from England, fresh Torrone from Italy and Knackebrote a Scandinavian crisp bread. Swetnam and Sawyer both believe in presenting the absolute best foods from around the world. They have taken the best sauerkraut in the world (according to this writer), made right here in Maine and hand picked the crème de la crème of ingredients to create an international pantry of gastronomic delight.
One customer from Spruce Head had returned after only 10 days between visits. “We just decide that today’s the day and we go.” When asked what her favorite thing was to purchase she answered, ”Rugelach… And then there’s the sausage… And Mac and Cheese…And what all else is in my basket. It’s all wonderful!” Swetnam quickly attended to questions as we toured the shop. His knowledge of their product lines makes it easy for folks to learn about the food items and find exactly what they want.
Customers here are dedicated folks. Some have been coming to pick up their kraut for over 60 years. Sawyer started taking pictures of people who had been coming for decades. She thought there would be a few but was surprised to have the number of photos quickly overwhelm the wall space. She plans to frame a mural of these photos to hang in a place of honor in their restaurant.
Morse’s cozy four-booth cafe is equipped to serve delectable Bavarian fare to hungry patrons. Bratwurst, Reubens, Schnitzel, Perogies and Borscht join Babka, Blintzes and Swedish Pancakes with Lingonberry jam to make your mouth water and your stomach oh-so-satisfied. No matter what choice you make- it’s a good one. I tried the Kraut Balls. They were crisp on the outside and tangy on the inside, served alongside a horseradish sauce atop a purple cabbage leaf. I just couldn’t believe how delicious they were!
“We love people to make the pilgrimage to Morse’s” Swetnam said. This is a surprisingly lovely task. Come for the selection and stay for a little lunch. I would recommend Morse’s Sauerkraut without reservation. Whether or not you see the sign: Kraut’s Ready- It’s worth the trip to Morse’s.
This article first appeared in The Lincoln County Magazine.
Sauerkraut Statistics A Passion for Sauerkraut, Samuel Hofer c2001
1/2 cup kraut
1.4g raw fiber
46 mg calcium
490 mg potassium
trace vitamin A
20 mg B1
18 mg C
730 mg sodium
31 mg phosphorus
0.5 mg iron
A Passion for Sauerkraut, Samuel Hofer c2001
Contains superior lactic acid
Is a food that balances your system
May help treat asthma
Improves blood circulation
Supports resistance to infection
Can help increase longevity
Can help sufferers of anemia, arteriosclerosis, bronchial colic, diabetes, gout, hardening of the arteries, headaches, rheumatism and reestablishes intestinal flora
A great way to combine the tangy flavor of kraut with the spice of salsa.
Makes about 5 cups
3 large ripe tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped
1 c Morse’s Sauerkraut, drained (reserving all liquor) and finely chopped
1/2 c finely chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 c fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 c finely chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/4 c finely chopped scallions
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 c adzuki beans
1/2 t cayenne pepper (optional)
Place all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and stir to combine. Chill until ready to serve. This is great on burgers or nachos or scooped up with tortilla chips.
Sweet-and-Sour German Potato Salad
Excerpted from Fresh Maine Salads, Down East Books c.2006
My mom used to make this warm and tangy salad, always delicious with grilled bratwurst or any kind of barbecue. Both sweet and salty, it holds its own alongside other flavorful foods, with plenty of delicious potato to soak up the wonderful dressing.
6 large Maine potatoes
1 large Vidalia onion
1 cup Morse’s Sauerkraut, roughly chopped
1 lb bacon, diced
3⁄4 c yellow onion, finely chopped
3 T flour
1⁄2 c white vinegar or sauerkraut liquor
3⁄4 c water
1 T celery seeds
3 T sugar
11⁄2 t salt
1 t fresh ground black pepper
Wash and trim the potatoes and Vidalia onion, peeling the potatoes if you like. Cut the potatoes and onion into quarters.
In a large saucepan, boil the potatoes and onion until the potatoes are fork-tender, but not mushy. When the potatoes and onion are cool enough to handle, chop them into bite-size pieces.
In a large pan, fry bacon till crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel; crumble and set aside.
Add the 3⁄4 c yellow onion to bacon fat in pan and cook 5 to 8 minutes, till onion is soft. With a slotted spoon, remove onion and set aside with the bacon.
Whisk flour into bacon fat. Add the vinegar or sauerkraut liquor, water, celery seeds, sugar, salt, and pepper. Heat to a boil; then, set pan on medium heat and cook till thickened.
Add potatoes, Morse’s sauerkraut, cooked Vidalia onion, bacon, and sautéed yellow onion. Gently stir to coat the potatoes.
Serve while warm.
Kraut Veggie Pick Me Up
A delicious drink for a sleepy morning or whenever you need a little zip in your day.
1 c Spicy V8 juice
2 T Morse’s sauerkraut liquor
3 twists fresh cracked black pepper
dash celery salt
1 c crushed ice
Combine ingredients in a tall glass. Stir well to combine.
Garnish your glass with a stalk of celery and a slice of fresh lime
Cynthia Finnemore Simonds is the author of two cookbooks- Fresh Maine Salads and Superb Maine Soups. She can be reached through her food blog: www.savorlingerenjoy.blogspot.com.