Sunday, October 3, 2021

Sauerkraut and Frankfurter Pie: or, The dieting days of yore

 This is what happens when I have the house to myself.

I don't know if everyone has a stack of recipes they've been meaning to make but never got around to, but I sure as heck do. And one of them comes from 1972: The Retro Weight Watchers Experiment. In this experiment, Mimi tried the infamous original Weight Watchers recipes that probably gave "diet food" the reputation it still carries today. Weight Watchers used to permit a lot more frankfurters than anyone on a diet would eat these days, likely because they are so cheap. Anyway, I've been wanting to try this ever since I first saw it:

Frankfurter Pie
4 slices enriched white bread*
4 c sauerkraut, drained
1 chopped dill pickle (or 2 to 4 tbsp dill relish)
¼ c chopped green bell pepper
¼ c yellow mustard
1 pound frankfurters

Broil the hot dogs turning as needed, then slice them. I had better luck doing it on the Low setting- they didn't burn so easily. Then get the oven to 350°.
Roll the bread slices flat, then cut in half. Lay them in a pie pan to make the crust.
Mix else everything together. Put into your pie crust and bake 20 minutes.
This makes four servings.

*All the Weight Watchers recipes from this time specify "enriched white" bread. No idea why they disliked whole-wheat bread so much. But I used brown bread anyway.

NOTE: Some further reading shows us that if you want to scrupulously recreate the original, you will also add 2 tbsp chopped pimento.

Source: 1974 Weight Watchers recipe cards via 1972: The Retro Weight Watchers Project

I don't care about this as a diet recipe. I just really love sauerkraut (along with garlic, onions, and all else that is pungent in life). I'm sure my nearest and dearest curse the person who first introduced me to Reuben sandwiches because I then discovered you could just buy sauerkraut without all that meddlesome sandwich in the way. Ordinarily I couldn't make a recipe like this because of complaints about the smell. But as I said earlier, no one else is home. And so, it was finally time to happily get the ingredients for a gastronomic delight!

I haven't eaten a hot dog in a long time, and I forgot how straight-sided they are when you first rip open the package and accidentally drip that meat-scented brine on your clothes. Anyway, we put them under the broiler and then attended to our other ingredients. First, the one occurrence of fresh vegetables in this recipe. We cut a whole bell pepper, but we're only using what's in that tiny little cup.

I know I said I'm not going to comment on how this recipe would help people on a diet, or go on about how weird and punitively wacky dieting was in the 1970s. I didn't pick this recipe to slim down, but because I really like sauerkraut-laden things. The sour-salty pan of hot dogs and kraut seemed tantalizingly perfect. 

However, I must note my bewilderment that this recipe uses such a parsimonious allotment of fresh vegetables. The only non-canned produce in this entire recipe is a quarter cup of green bell peppers in a pie that serves four. If you remember to follow their serving sizes, that means you only get a tablespoon of chopped fresh greens in your serving of pie. It's quite the shift from the "vegetables contain evil carbs" rules of the 1970s to dieting today where you are encouraged to eat an entire salad bar every night (but only with fat free dressing). 

 Anyway, having put the rest of the bell pepper in the refrigerator for future delights (I like bell pepper a lot, so it absolutely would not go to waste), it is time to move on to our pie crust! I'm using brown sandwich bread instead of the enriched white specified in the recipe because that's what I have on hand. Whole-wheat substitutions like this may be why I've had to set aside some of my pre-pandemic clothes until I can fit into them again, but I wasn't about to spend some grocery money on white bread at mid-pandemic prices when no one in the house eats it.

I thought the bread would get a lot bigger after having at it with a rolling pin, but it stayed nearly the same size.

This has got to be the easiest pie crust I have made since I just unrolled one out of a box. And those bread triangles in a pie pan look so lovely in an orderly way.

But we didn't come here for bread and bell peppers. One can find one or both of them in some form on almost any restaurant menu. Also, just about everyone in the United States has eaten hot dogs at least ten times in their lives, even if they swore off meat later in life. Let's get to the really fun, polarizing, send-everyone-who-has-a-nose-out-of-the-room ingredient that had me maniacally chortling as I came home from the grocery store:

All of this in one pie.

That jar of pungent shreds shrinks a lot after you've drained all the kraut juice out of it.

And so, to this limp beige confetti, we just dump in everything else. In case you don't think sauerkraut punches you right in the olfactory nerve hard enough, we've also added a massive splat of mustard. I think it's because mustard is nearly calorie-free, and Weight Watchers steered their clients toward condiments that had less sugar and grease than ketchup and mayonnaise. And after carefully counting individual lentils to make sure you didn't over-ration yourself on legumes for the day, it feels nice to just take a big bottle of something (doesn't matter what) and squirt with abandon.

The last thing to go into this pie (for now) is of course our one chopped dill pickle-- or its factory-chopped neighbor on the pickle shelf. Dill relish was cheaper and already cut up a lot finer than I would have bothered, which makes me wonder why the recipe doesn't just tell people to use it instead (or at least suggest it as an alternative).

I don't know if the mustard makes the sauerkraut taste any better, but it certainly makes it a very happy-looking yellow. It almost looks like I splurged on saffron, doesn't it?

And now, let us get to the frankfurters! This is the first time I've eaten a hot dog in many years. I think the recipe has us cut them up after broiling them to hide how bulbous and deformed they look out of the oven.

I wasn't sure how long I was supposed to cook them since they're fully-cooked right out of the package, so I just guessed. I hope the blackened skin didn't ruin the recipe. It appears we're only cooking these to make them a little crispier on the outside and perhaps to make any excess brine evaporate. The inside of these looked stubbornly unchanged-- or maybe I didn't broil them long enough.

I know we're supposed to bake this, but I think the oven time is just to heat things up. I doubt anything is going to change after baking, so it looks like this bowl of sliced weiners in sunshine-yellow Easter basket confetti is our pie.

I didn't know why the recipe tells us to bake it aside from making it feel a bit more like making a (non-diet) pie. But there's nothing to make this pile of ingredients set as a cohesive pie, no raw ingredients that need cooking, no reason I can discern to fire up the oven for this pan of yellow kraut. It did brown the exposed hot dog cores a bit, though.

But you should know that it didn't smell a bit tart in the oven. In fact, this pie did not smell sour at all. The oven fumes scoured my nostrils so hard that I couldn't smell anything.

I know I usually get irked about pies that you scoop out of the pan rather than cut and lift by the slice, but in this pie I didn't mind. Aside from putting it in a pie pan, I didn't think of it as a pie to begin with. It was just a cute way to get more sauerkraut into your kraut dog than a hot dog bun would contain. But I do love how you can scoop out a big slice's worth of kraut pie and barely make a dent into what remains in the pan.

I'm not going to lie, I absolutely loved this. If you like a good kraut dog, this recipe is for you. The salty nuggets of it-might-be-meat were a wonderful contrast against the massive sea of sauerkraut in which they floated. It's the same intense salty-sour combination that leads me to really love vinegar on French fries ever since I went to Canada. The bread got crisp and just a little bit toasted on the bottom of the pan, which just added to the perfection. Even if you don't want to pretend this is a pie with a sandwich bread pie crust, that layer of toast on the bottom is so perfect with the pungent bliss piled on top. Though I had to get out a knife to cut the bread up because you just can't do that with the side of a fork like you normally might with a non-Weight Watchers pie crust. You might consider cutting the flattened bread into bite-size squares and laying them on the bottom of the pan instead.

As delicious as it was, we have to discuss the dieting origin of the recipe. Clearly the sauerkraut is meant to be a flavorful way to fill yourself up on zero-calorie comestible substances. But after I ate my delicious fill of this pie, it was like my body was telling me "That was good, now where is the real food?" You can try to fill yourself up on kraut and other near-nothing diet foods, but you won't feel sated until you eat something with actual sustenance. So, I don't recommend making this pie as your entire dinner. 

But while this would not be a satisfying one-pan dinner, it would be a really good side dish. If you're considering grilling now that it's not too hot to cook outside without risking heat stroke, I would definitely suggest you also cook an entire one-pound package (some of the cheaper ones are only three-quarters pound, beware!) of hot dogs to make this. Whether you grill or oven-broil your frankfurters, it would be a really good side dish for any gathering of your vaccinated friends. Just forget the whole pie presentation and make it in a square pan with a layer bite-size pieces of flattened bread instead of diagonal halves on the bottom. Also, consider plugging a toaster oven into an outdoor socket to bake it.


  1. Flashbacks to my dad cooking sauerkraut in the oven on New years day for good luck. He was the only person in the house who liked it. The rest of us contemplated going outside even if there was a raging blizzard and the threat of frostbite. I was thinking that you were going to suggest cooking the entire recipe in the grill to cut down on the smell indoors.
    This is also a timely post considering that the local German community is celebrating Octoberfest. I could see them serving something like this. Not sure if they would use the mustard, and they would use brats instead of hotdogs. Now I'm thinking that I need to dig out their community cookbook and see if they have something similar. Oh, and they would either use homemade kraut or Frank's kraut. They're very particular.

    1. Yeah, I just edited in a suggestion to put it in a toaster oven outside. It definitely degreases the entire house's air with vinegar vapors.
      You know, I've never been to an Octoberfest. But if you do find any interesting uses of sauerkraut, I'd love the recipe. We are about to get the kitchen vent fixed, and it will need a good breaking-in (on a day the wind outside is blowing toward the cranky neighbors instead of the good ones).

    2. I'm checking out "Creative Colony Favorites, our first 25 years". Oddly enough, I'm not seeing things overtly sauerkraut related.
      Pink salad caught my eye because there is nothing salad about it, they don't even serve it on a lettuce leaf! Mix 1 can eagle brand milk, 1 c. crushed pineapple with juice, 1 can cherry pie filling, 9 oz container of cool whip and refrigerate (from Donita Hageman). I'm seeing your next cheap pie filling, cool whip mixed with drained, crushed pineapple (or drained tidbits).
      Then I found a sauerkraut salad from Linda Blackwell, mix 1 qt sauerkraut with 1 c celery, 1/2 medium onion chopped, 1 c sugar, 1/2 salad oil, 1/4 c red and green peppers chopped fine. Refrigerate overnight.
      Slow cooker roast from Pam Bock: 3-4 lb pork roast, 3 cans of sauerkraut (undrained), 2 - 14 oz cans stewed tomatoes (undrained), 1 chopped onion. Cook all day in a slow cooker and serve with mashed potatoes.
      As an added bonus, I also found LouAnn Dirks' "Granny's Pink Salad" to go with your previous pink salad. Boil 1 large can of crushed pineapple, add 1 small package of raspberry jello and cool to room temperature. Add 1 small carton of cottage cheese, and 1 large container of cool whip and refrigerate. This also reminds me of a cheesecake my sister made when we were kids. It involved lemon jello, lemon juice, crushed pineapple, and cottage cheese in a blender. I think there was some sugar in there, too, but that could be another cheap pie filling for you to try now that I think of it.
      Have fun!

  2. Kraut, mustard and a sausage-like meat product... Sounds pretty good to me! But I have had a wicked craving for ribs and sauerkraut lately, so I might be easily swayed right now.

    1. I cannot think of any reason not to make it. Unless your kitchen doesn't have a good vent.