My first college roommate was a kooky vegetarian save the world hippy-type who is now a kooky vegetarian save the world hippy Ph.D. head of something important-type. I love her and always have, which means I would tease her mercilessly. We would monitor her activities and giggle at the horror of it all. Of all the fascinating things she did, cooking was absolutely the best. On Saturdays, she would bike down to the farmer’s market and buy glorious vegetables and fruits, then cook them up with no salt or sugar or fats and try to share them with us. Oishiku-nai… our Japanese friend would whisper to me when she left the room, it is not delicious!
One of the funniest things she ever said was “if life gives you apples, make applesauce!” I absolutely love the irony of having a life full of luscious, red, crunchy, wisdom-bearing fruit that you would then smash to a pulp and cook until brown and goopy. Ah, but I’m sick like that.
So life gave me cabbage and I thought of my roommate’s lesson. Sweet, pure, pale green cabbage, heavy and bright. I saw no reason not to slice it to ribbons, torture it with salt, and then leave it to stew in its juices. For life had also given me a totally kickass five-liter Gärtopf pickling crock. OK, it was actually my second college roommate, my ex-boyfriend, dear friend, and cook extraordinaire in his own right. He mailed me one last year for my birthday. I helped him make sauerkraut in his crock last fall, and had a chance to sample the wares on my way back to Oregon last winter.
Wow. We made choucroute garni with the jar he gave us, and I thought I could sit there and eat the wine-baked sauerkraut for the rest of my life. I liked it even better than the smoked meats that are the raison d’être of that dish.
So I decided I needed my own 5-8 lbs. of sauerkraut. I posted my mother’s least favorite post a couple of weeks ago — the one where I remember the crock pot and smelly sauerkraut-and-kielbasa growing up. (Sorry, Mom. But remember, I do owe everything I know about cooking to you, and I *still* love you.) She was duly surprised that I was going to make sauerkraut. Then I called my grandma, who was also surprised that I was going to make sauerkraut, not because I had pooh-poohed the crockpot sauerkraut on a regular basis while growing up, but because her own father made sauerkraut when she was growing up. Apparently, homemade sauerkraut was a staple in their house. So I’m kind of excited that it’s a multi-generation tradition for me, even with the Times of Trouble in the middle.
So it’s made, and so we wait. I added juniper berries and caraway, in honor of my great-grandfather. If the sauerkraut turns out well, I’ll post the recipe, which is a bit tricky with the measurements and particular to the Gärtopf crock, so I’m not sure if anyone will find it useful but a few weirdo picklers like me. If it’s oishiku-nai, I’ll just try to shove it off on my friends.
And p.s. homemade sauerkraut, like all naturally fermented foods, is good for you. I’m obligated to say this as a modern-day food blogger, especially after I’ve dissed healthful cooking in my sordid past. Yum yum.
Use 3 T. of canning salt per 5 lbs. of cabbage. If you add spices like juniper or caraway, be sparing, since it’s a pain to pick out the former and the latter really packs a flavor punch.
After you slice the cabbage thinly, be sure to press it/pound it down until there is a good layer of liquid over the cabbage to cover it completely in the crock or jar.
***Remove all bits of stray cabbage you can find on the crock, because they will mold.***
To keep the cabbage submerged:
If you’re using a crock like mine above, follow the instructions that came with the crock to insert the weights.
If you’re using a jar or crock without weights, place a ziploc bag filled with brine (1.5 Tbsp. canning calt per quart water) atop the cabbage as a weight, cover jar with a clean towel, then put it in a large brown paper bag (to preserve color and vitamins).
Store in a relatively cool place (65-68 degrees is ideal, and avoid fluctuations in temperature in a place like your shed) until done to your liking. I usually wait about 3 weeks in cooler weather. Hot weather will make it process faster. Check after a week or so and then every few days, skimming off scum from top, if necessary.