1 – 2 – 3 – Sauerkraut!

Sauerkraut setup

 

I’m still planning on writing more about preserving food by canning, but I’m so excited about my fresh batch of sauerkraut right now, I thought I would highlight that first.  Preserving by lacto-fermentation, it turns out, is extraordinarily easy!  I’m hoping to try cucumber pickles by this method later in the summer.  Maybe kimchi someday.   At the moment, I have just jarred up my 2nd batch of kraut.  (First batch was made at the farm last summer and lasted into the winter.)  2nd batch just finished its two-week fermentation and went into the fridge yesterday.

I am a big fan of kraut… but I have not always been!  I had always avoided store-bought sauerkraut in the past — it seemed absolutely disgusting, vinegary and stinky and gross.   In 2002 when I was visiting Germany I had my first good sauerkraut experience when I ate some street-food sausages and grilled kraut at a Christmas market in Nürnberg.  The combination of sausage, sauerkraut, mustard, and a toasty roll was SO delectable – an absolute peak food experience – that it made me reconsider fermented cabbage as a  possible friend.

Then, a few years later, in Seattle, I met Ross Meyer.   Ross was my fitness coach (personal trainer, but not one of those meathead weightlifting dudes) and is now my friend.  Ross looooooves the sauerkraut.  Give him half a chance and he will bend your ear about the superb nutritional qualities of fermented cabbage.  Invite him to a potluck and he will bring a jar of home-made kraut and present it to you with reverence.  He will tell you about how we actually owe this food to the nomadic tribes of ancient Mongolia and not the Germans as most people assume.  Ross taught me what I know about making kraut, and I owe him big time.  It is easy and fun.  When Ross came over to my house in Wallingford this last time for our 2nd annual cabbage party, my roommates were enthralled by the process and wanted to help.  Ross and I ended up sitting back and letting roomies Noe and Gerry do the shredding, squeezing, and packing.

With that intro, here are the steps to making your own sauerkraut.

1. Prepare it

2. Wait

3. Eat it!


Haha, Ok, I guess step one needs a little more fleshing out.

SAUERKRAUT INSTRUCTIONS.

What you need:

  • Several heads of cabbage (This time I had 4 and it was just a bit too much for my 1-gallon crock)
  • Salt (kosher suggested)
  • Sharp knife and cutting board
  • Food processor (optional but really really really really nice to have)
  • Container(s) — large glass jars or crock
  • Weight and covering for top of crock (see below)
  • Pounding implement (see below)
  • Latex gloves (optional – to protect against getting salt in wounds)

Process:

– Determine your fermentation container(s).  I found a lovely one-gallon crock (see pic at top) for $20  at the Ace Hardware.  It makes things a bit easier.  But you can also use glass mason jars – half gallon or even quart size.

– DO NOT RINSE CABBAGES.  We want as little chlorinated water as possible and as much natural bacteria from the environment as possible.  Trust me.  Peel off and discard any grimy outer leaves.  Cut out and discard the cores of the cabbages.

– Cut cabbages into chunks that will fit down the food processor tube.  Feed them into a thin slicing blade to shred.  Or shred by hand with a knife.  That sounds like an awful lot of work though 🙂 Find someone who has a food processor you can borrow.

– When the food processor is filled with shredded cabbage, dump it into your crock, or into a bowl if you’re using jars.  Pour salt on top.  It’s hard to say how much salt; I read about 3 Tablespoons per 5 lbs of cabbage but it is just kind of a feel-and-taste thing.   It’s quite a bit of salt, so when in doubt add more.

– Mix the cabbage and salt together with your (optionally gloved) hands.  Use a squeezing, wringing motion to work the salt into the cabbage and make it release its juices!  This is the fun, kraut-party bit.  Get your friends to help.  The shredded cabbage will reduce in size A LOT.  You want the level of the cabbage to be BELOW the level of the juices!  It can take a little while working it until it’s ready.

– When the first dump of cabbage has been thoroughly massaged, pound it down FIRMLY with your hands (in a crock) or with any sturdy kitchen tool into the mouth of your jar.  Ross has a super-cool wooden  tamper that he uses; see if you can find something similar.  Tamp it into a flat layer at the bottom of the container.

– Shred some more cabbage. Add another layer of cabbage, more salt, and repeat the squeezing, squeezing, tamping process until all the cabbage is used up.

– When you’re done, THE LEVEL OF THE CABBAGE should be BELOW the level of the brine (salty juices).  If it’s not, you’ll have to add salt water (1 tsp salt dissolved in 1 cup water) until it is.  This is so that the brine protects the cabbage and keeps it anaerobic (without air) so the proper bacteria can go to town and the bad bacteria stay out.

– If you’re using jars, throw a two piece lid on there and you’re done.  HOWEVER, you will have to tamp the kraut down once or ideally twice a day in your jars.  Each day, open the lid (there may be a bit of pressure buildup) and tamp it down firmly.

– If you’re using a crock, put a weight on top.  This can be a plate that just slightly smaller than the diameter of the crock opening, with a glass jar full of water on top.  I used a Pyrex container with lid, filled with water, that was just a bit smaller.  Set the weight on top of the cabbage and the liquids will rise up almost to the top of the crock.  Put a pie plate underneath in case of spillage and a plastic baggie over top to keep dust out.   You can leave your crock alone for 2 weeks and let it ferment.  There’s no harm in tamping it down too; I did rather frequently just to make sure the level of the liquids was good and that things were smelling good in there.  You’ll probably see some bubbling up over the first few days; this is normal and good.  Dump any spillage out of the pie plate and leave it be.

– Leave it in a corner of the kitchen or somewhere relatively cool, to ferment for 2 weeks.  You can go shorter or longer but this seems like the ideal length of time to me.  I read that if you see mold on top you just scrape it off.  I haven’t gotten mold on either of my two batches and I feel like if I did, I would throw it out 🙂  We’ll see.

– You can taste the kraut every day if you want and decide when you like the flavor and want it to stop fermenting.  At 2 weeks or whenever you want to stop, take the weight off the crock and shovel the sauerkraut out into glass mason jars and put them in the fridge.  This stops the fermentation and holds the sauerkraut just as it is, for quite a long time.  I ate my first batch gradually over a period of probably August til January.  It was delicious!!!

My latest batch. Some of it has carrot slices mixed in.

The end!  Give it a try, even if you think you don’t like sauerkraut.  Try a shorter fermentation than two weeks.  This will be mild tasting, crisp, fresh and juicy cabbage goodness.  You can heat it and have it with sausage and potatoes, throw it on top of any sandwich or in a tortilla wrap, mix it with other pickled vegetables on top of a salad, etc etc etc.  I have to admit that I’ve been eating my hot corn-and-oat breakfast cereal for breakfast with a poached egg and sauerkraut on top.  It’s super weird and hippie-ish, but I wake up craving it.  Make some homemade kraut and join the fermentation fun.

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One more post about bikes

I’ll get back to writing about farming soon, I promise!  Just a little update on the biking scene because the Alleycat Acres fundraising ride was last weekend.

Thanks to all your generous donations, I raised $350 to contribute to the cause.  Alleycat Acres was aiming for $6K and I think they beat $10K but I’m still waiting to find out the grand total.  Thank you again for your contributions and for designing my outfit!  It was pretty damn awesome!  Click the pic below to see my set of pictures on Flickr:

Click the pic for the flickr set

I had fun putting the costume together.  The top vote-getters from contributers were pink tutu and “vegetable theme,” so I did those plus handlebar streamers and bright blue arm warmers.   The specific ideas for the vegetable theme both came from friends’ suggestions: one was fleece carrot legwarmers that Sara Covich (pictured above) helped me sew up the week before the ride.  The other was a snackable veggie necklace made out of carrots, radishes, and jalapeño peppers strung on dental floss around my neck!  I took bites out of  the carrots while I was riding, and a couple brave souls nibbled a jalapeño at different points during the day.

It was a gorgeous day for the ride.  It is just starting to really feel like spring around here, and everybody was excited and energized by the weather as we started out in the morning.  The lake loop is a popular ride for all kinds of cyclists, so I got plenty of stares and smiles from riders who were not part of our group as I rolled around in my ridiculous getup.  It was great because when people asked me what the deal was, I was able to explain about the ride and the farm.

There were over 100 riders participating so I got to meet some great new people.  Alleycat Acres really did it right: they had several rest stops organized for us with food and water; they fed us chili and cornbread and beer after the ride; they had support cars with bike racks and tools around the route for those of us who needed mechanical support 🙂  I am excited to see Alleycat run with it this season – they are a dedicated group of organizers and they inspire a lot of volunteer effort.  I think they will be able to make a big positive impact!

The ride itself was a great challenge.  I’m pretty pleased that this winter I’ve been getting into such good biking shape via my commute to work and riding to after-work activities and doing some longer rides on the weekends.  But it turns out that a big event like this is needed to make me really push myself.   In fact I did two big (for me) bike rides 6 days apart.  Sunday Feb 27 was a 33-mile ***hills*** ride on Bainbridge.  Then the 60-mile Lake Washington loop Alleycat ride was on Saturday March 4.  During both of those rides, I hit a point where I felt like I legitimately couldn’t do it.  I really, really, really wanted to stop — I was exhausted and/or in pain and it just wasn’t fun right then.  This feeling generally comes from hills, although on Bainbridge the weather also played a role.  I know that if I had been out for a ride by myself at these times, I wouldn’t have pushed myself this hard.  I would have let myself wimp out before hitting that level of intensity.  But when you’re with a group on an organized ride, an element of peer pressure comes in.  You *have* to put mind over matter and just do it, keep going, finish it.  And then when you do, you feel great.  Like banging your head against a wall, right?  It feels so good when you stop?  You can only get that euphoric sense of accomplishment when you’ve had to overcome something difficult.  If it were easy, it wouldn’t be noteworthy.

I used to have a fortune-cookie fortune that I taped to my computer monitor at work: “Any accomplishment worth achieving at first seems impossible.”   I put it there because I used to routinely get anxious when given a work assignment that I didn’t immediately know how to attack.  I would get down on myself for “not being a real computer nerd” and doubt my ability to even ask questions about the assignment that wouldn’t give away my perceived lack of knowledge.  Of course I could always accomplish these tasks by doing the right research, asking the right questions, and using what I already knew about programming to learn the new pieces required for that specific task.  And then when I finished it, it would feel good!   I held onto the fortune in an attempt to remind myself of the afterward feeling when going into something new, to remind myself to approach it with confidence instead of anxiety.  Eventually it started working a bit.  And it turns out the statement is just as true for physical achievement, which is an arena in which I have always been fairly awful, but am now getting better at due to biking.

Yay bikes!  Yay self-confidence!  That’s the main point.  Next topics I plan to write about include more on canning & preserving, as well as seed-saving and who knows what else will come up as I start at the new farm in a just a few weeks.  Thanks for reading!

~ B