Sunday, September 13, 2009

Cabbage, and lots of it!

This year, I find myself drawn to cabbage at the farmer's market. A few weeks ago, I came across a head of cabbage that was easily 18" in diameter, so I had to buy it! The other day, a favorite farmer at the Dexter Farmer's Market was selling some of his cabbage and I thought I would make coleslaw for a picnic, so I got another head. Then the picnic was rained out. What to do with all the cabbage? That's a tough one, since no one in my family likes cabbage but me! For the first giant head, I decided to make sauerkraut, which has to be the easiest pickle ever to make. All you need is cabbage and pickling salt, and it's a great first pickling venture for the pickling neophyte.


5 lbs. cabbage
3 T. pickling salt

That's it! My giant head of cabbage weighed 5 lbs, (weigh it after you've cored it and removed any tough or damaged leaves). If you have a 3 gallon crock, you could fit 15 lbs of cabbage in there. That would be more than I need for my family for sure. No crock? No problem! Five lbs. of cabbage (probably about 2 normal sized heads) would fit in a gallon gar. Or, do what my blogging friend Emily suggests in her interesting blog Eat Close to Home, and use the ceramic liner of your crock pot. If you live in Ann Arbor, Kilwin's ice cream shop will sell you a food grade plastic ice cream bucket 3 for $1, and that will work, too. That's what my friend Patti at A Good Life did when she made pickles earlier this year.

You'll need to shred your cabbage. I used a mandoline, but a knife will work just fine. The Germans have a special tool called a krauthobel made of hardwood and big enough to hold an entire head of cabbage. (note to self: Krauthobel would make a great name for a punk band) Anyway, since no one in my household will eat kraut, I best stick with the mandoline. I'll never be making enough kraut to justify a krauthobel. Once the cabbage is shredded, put it in a large bowl and add the salt and mix it with your hands. Put it in your pickling vessel. P.S....on the day you make kraut, you should make some extra shredded cabbage for cabbage onion salad. which Even cabbage haters love it!

It's important to weigh down your kraut with something. In recent years, while pickling, I had started to use a large plastic bag filled with brine, But I've stopped doing it. However, it is a good choice if you are pickling in a jar. To make your own brine, mix 1 1/2 T. pickling salt for each quart of water to fill your plastic bag. That way, if it springs a leak, it won't mess up your fermentation like regular water would. Instead of a bag, I use a dinner plate with a couple quart jars filled with water sitting on top in my 3 gallon crock. You can cover the top with some muslin or an old pillow case. (note to self: Start doing this! I keep my pickles in the laundry room and have almost dropped dirty sweat socks and lint balls in the brine).

The next day, check on your kraut,. It should have emitted enough juice to submerge itself. If not, add some brine (see the recipe above for brine). Every day, check for scum. If there is some, be not afraid. Check my post about kosher dill pickles to see what scum looks like. Take your weights and plate (or bags of brine) off and skim the scum off the top with a ladle or spoon, and wash off the plate and weights and replace them. I find it's easier to wash a plate and quart jars, so that's why I've gone back to using them instead of bags of brine.

In my laundry room, the temperature is around 65 takes about 4 weeks for the kraut to be done in that environment. A warmer spot ferments faster (2-4 weeks for 70 - 75 F) cooler slower (5-6 weeks for 60F). Start tasting your kraut at around 2 weeks. It should be a pale, slightly golden color and taste sour. Tap the side of your container and look for bubbles. If it is still bubbling, it is still fermenting. When it stops, you'll need to either can it, freeze it or refrigerate it. I read Sandor Katz' Wild Fermentation, and he has had AIDS for 20 years and considers fermented foods and important part of his healing. The food industry certainly has noted the health benefits of what they call "probiotics" and keep adding them into all sorts of factory food. So, I decided not to can or freeze my kraut, because it would kill the "probiotics". I stored it in the fridge and then made kapusta, a traditional Polish dish that is so tasty that my non Polish carpool partner Alison makes it too! I've got a small jar left in there for sandwich and bratwurst topping. It will keep well in the fridge for months.

Here's something else I learned about kraut and pickle brine. In eastern Europe, women use on their hands and faces to make them soft and smooth. It supposedly eliminates wrinkles. I haven't tried it on my face, but whenever I take my pickles out of the brine with my hands, it does make them soft and smooth for days afterwards. When my next batch of pickles are done, I am going to save a jar of brine to rub on my face for a while! I think there might be something to this old country practice.


bushidoka said...

We had a big pickle party last weekend where I showed a bunch of people how to make dill pickles and sauerkraut. You can read about it here and see some photos (videos not yet up)

I learned to stomp my kraut with a stomper, but thinking about it, the salt should cause the water to come out naturally overnight as you suggest. I think I'll try that!

Also, in rural Nova Scotia where I learned to make it, those krauthobel are very common, and called a "kraut knife". I have one on my side porch that my wife's great uncle picked up for me at a yard sale. It does need refurbishing though, before it can be used.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

How long will the kraut keep in the fridge? I didn't realize this was so simple! Such a cool recipe.

bushidoka said...

There is no need to refrigerate properly-made kraut. It stems from the days before fridges. I've had my bucket of kraut keep at least 13 months in my cool basement. Just be sure the cabbage is always below the liquid, and it is kept covered. I use a tight-sealing food grade white bucket.