By Jan Cochenour, The Gumtree Co., Vendor-Contributor
Good Day to All!
Have you ever wondered about the first person who ever braved a wild honey tree and how then did it get to be that super refined product in a plastic bear container that sits on your cupboard shelf? What about that first person who bravely stepped forward and said. “I will eat that fungus growing at the bottom of the Oak Tree!” Russian roulette: Chanterelle or Death Cap? What woman (I can gender~ize this statement being my own gender) spilled a whole crock of salt into her chopped up cabbage and then shoved it all back into the salt crock and hid the mess in the dark part of her cave and discovered sauerkraut? And how did sauerkraut ever become the tinny can flavored stuff they now sell in the supermarket? And finally my favorite discovery of all: YEAST!!! Oh bless the man or woman who first figured out that yeast was a colony and that it did all kinds of fun stuff to the food and drink we so dearly love today (Beer, wine and bread…you know, the staples in life)!
If we are going to change the progressions of man in our kitchens and on our grills because cooking is the answer to what separates the savage beast from civilized man as we discussed in my last article, then we should start right off on a project. This article is going to introduce you to the first thing I ever fermented and I was completely clueless as to what I was actually doing. In my thoughts, I was just following a recipe to get rid of the 15 heads of cabbage my new in-laws dropped off on my door step.
Being 6 months’ pregnant when all of this was happening, cabbage was a blessing in disguise. I was craving sauerkraut. But the slimy salty stuff I was getting at the grocery store just wasn’t what I was looking for. But how was I to make this crisp crunchy delicious stuff that I craved. So, between a Ball Blue Book and my best friend Theresa, who knew all kinds of lost knowledge, I made my first batch of sauerkraut.
Here is the recipe that I followed back then:
15 heads of Cabbage, chopped
Quart Canning Jars with bands and seals
Put it all on a dark shelf.
Real complicated, huh? Actually for today’s non-cook that recipe is a bit daunting because it really tells you nothing. Fortunately for me, I was a kid (23) and invincible and didn’t even know what botulism was.
Here is today’s recipe:
Approximately 1 small head of cabbage per quart of sauerkraut desired
Good quality sea salt
Caraway Seed, garlic and fresh hot cayenne pepper to taste and this is optional
Sterilized hot quart canning jars with bands and seals.
Put it all on a dark shelf and wait 6 weeks before serving.
See the difference? Yeah, not much, but there is ratio in there, a little more details on the type of salt and seasoning and the food safety stuff should make you feel better.
But I will elaborate, for I really, really want you to try this at home. And if you are saying that you don’t like sauerkraut then you have never eaten this kind and you should broaden your food horizons and try it.
Chop the cabbage finely.
Have your jars already sterilized and ready for packing. I sterilize jars in boiling water. Just remember that most dishwashers do not heat water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit which is required for sterilization.
I then pack the hot jars one quarter full and add a teaspoon of sea salt, a quarter teaspoon Caraway seeds and about the same of garlic. Continue in this manner until the jar is full. Please note that you are packing this cabbage in very tightly. I use my pestle from my ‘mortar and pestle’ to pack the cabbage in as tight as I can make it.
When the jar is completely full, finished off with the salt and seasoning on top, I push a hot red cayenne pepper right down into the center of the cabbage and then pour boiling hot water into the jar. I use a chop stick or something non metallic to push the hot water down and release all the bubbles in the jar and then I simple place the seal and a band on the jar. You do NOT process this in any way. No boiling water method, no pressure cooker, and no refrigeration is needed. Place the jar(s) on a dark shelf somewhere in the back of the pantry and basically forget about them for several weeks. Ok, one other thing, I put several layers of newspaper on the shelf and an old towel down before I put the jars on it and I leave just a bit of air space around my jars too.
In several days, you might have a little smell in your pantry. It should smell salty, yeasty, sourdough-ish smelling. It will smell like, well, green sauerkraut, green as in raw and not ready. Sometimes the jars will weep a bit too and that is ok. I wipe them off and don’t disturb the bands and seals. In 6 weeks or so (oh you should label these with the day you made it for a record), your sauerkraut is ready to eat, raw on a hot dog or cooked with pork and dumplings of course!
So there you go, your very first fermentation project. And you are not just following a recipe as I was all those many, many years ago. You are aware that you have taken a step towards independence from the current food system. You are changing the progression of man by cooking. You have made pro-biotics, in your kitchen, for your health! What could be more wonderful than that? We will discuss the wonderful pro-biotic properties of this naturally fermented food in a future article.
I cook; therefore, I am.
The Gumtree Co.