Keeping it simple,
Cabbage is one of those vegetables that pops up in various cultures and their cuisines, notably, as it is so versatile and can be incorporated in so many dishes. It is also a hardy vegetable that can handle lengthy storage. Added to that, cabbage has a list of beneficial nutrients, so our global ancestors living in the northern climates, in their efforts to extend the storage and consumption of this fine vegetable, came up with a smart and simple way to preserve it. Fermentation. In regional areas across Europe cabbage was preserved as well as in parts of China and Korea. These days the two more common names are sauerkraut and kimchi. The traditional way was quite simple….using fresh cabbage and a bit of salt, along with a herb or spices. A brine is created with the finely sliced cabbage and the salt, leading to the natural fermentation phase during storage in crocks for a specified amount of time.
Now for the personal connection. I was born and grew up in Canada. My heritage is German, and so, for the first half of my life, it’s the German cuisine I was mostly familiar with and learned to cook. And yes, I grew up with an appreciation for sauerkraut. Both my grandmother and my mother did their share of preserving foods, but generally that was with fruits, so any sauerkraut dishes we ate was made with the store-bought kind. They were always delicious! Happily, I managed to pass along that sauerkraut enjoyment to my husband and kids.
So….are you still wondering about the photo (above) with the jars of sauerkraut in them?
Well, in mid-November of last year – it doesn’t feel all that long since it’s only been two months! haha! – I received an e-mail from one of our local health food stores in town, highlighting one of their periodical workshops. This one, you guessed it, was intending to tackle the fun in preparing one’s own batch of sauerkraut, using the natural fermentation process. No doubt you can imagine how eagerly I grabbed my phone and called to find out if there was still room for me at the workshop! Every participant was only asked to bring in two clean 500 ml jars (with lids) and a cutting board and sharp knife. The cabbage, salt, caraway seeds, and juniper berries (for the featured recipe) would be provided for us there; covered in the workshop fee.
We were approximately 20 participants. After a brief introduction on the benefits and process of natural fermentation of foods, specifically cabbage, then we all got busy working together in groups of four……slicing our cabbages up fine, then placing all that into big mixing bowls, adding in the required amounts of salt…..and just having a fun time together. Everyone was handed some light plastic gloves for the “scrunching” part of the task, and we all took turns again and again….scooping and squeezing and pushing down, until the cabbage in the bowls visibly started breaking down and getting softer and, well, juicier ie. the brine was being created. The final touches of the caraway seeds and juniper berries was added once the “scrunched” cabbage had achieved the desired consistency. Then everyone’s jars were filled. With an accompanying sheet of instructions on the daily minor “scrunching” procedure to be done with our jars, all of us piled out of the store and headed for our homes with our much-anticipated future sauerkraut.
During a little break at the workshop, before the heavy “physical” work was about to commence, the organizers put out some sample foods for us to nibble on….to see for ourselves what this type of sauerkraut would taste like; there were also samples of kimchi for us to try. Along with a selection of natural crackers and some other finger foods, everyone had a little plateful of tasty food!
I am pleased and happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed those 7-10 days of daily “scrunching” in my two jars and seeing the development of the fermented sauerkraut. Since then, one of my sons and I added “my” sauerkraut to sandwiches mostly, so it wouldn’t run out too soon! But now my supply is gone, and I need to make a new batch.
It’ll be a bigger batch this time!