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Featuring Fermentation: A Sauerkraut Primer September 26, 2013

Filed under: Cuisine,Fermentation,German,Homesteading — acgheen @ 12:00 am
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It started with a copy of “Urban Farm” magazine.  Or more precisely, with an offer for “Urban Farm”.  I wouldn’t have considered myself incurably in love with the publication, but every now and then, when I saw it on a news stand, I’d pick up a copy.  Since this happened a couple times each year and the advertisement I had just received offered a full year’s subscription for the price of those two issues, I figured it was worth the investment.

The first issue arrived and it didn’t take me long to recognize that “fermentation” was the running theme.  To be honest, I’d never considered just how many of the foods I enjoyed started with this particular form of decomposition.  And when I read instructions for making my own sauerkraut, I thought I’d give it a try.

I started with the rudimentary instructions provided and forgoing the investment of a fermentation crock, picked up a small crockpot instead.  The ceramic dish would hold a small amount of cabbage and would (according to my best estimations) make enough kraut for a single meal.  After grating a head of cabbage, I layered it into the dish – interspersing each layer with a generous helping of kosher sea salt.  Packing the contents as tightly as I could, I set the dish aside on the counter to let the salt work its magic.  Within several hours, a brine had formed and the fermentation had begun.

Over the next several days, I watched the dish carefully.  Not panicking when pink mold appeared on top, I removed the effected cabbage and continued with my experiment.  About a week in, it was evident that all was not well.  The pink mold had spread from the top and the entire project had to be abandoned.

Not to be deterred, I fell back upon the old adage that if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.  And, in this case, doing it right involved some shopping.  Popping online to www.Amazon.com, I selected a TSM 20 Liter Stone Weight and a 55 liter TSM Fermentation Pot.  (My family consumes a great deal of sauerkraut, but it wasn’t until the pot arrived that I realized just how big a 55 liter pot actually is!)

The day came when the pot appeared on my porch and I was delighted to discover that the online pictures did not do justice to the work of art that sat before me in my living room.  Handmade in Poland, the crock looked elegant enough to sit in the same room with honored guests… and thanks to a water reservoir at the top (a feature missing from my tiny crock pot), could do so without the offensive aroma produced by the latter.

After taking a day or two to admire my new acquisition, I purchased a handful of cabbages (8, to be precise), chunked them up and, once more interspersed them with salt.  This proved more of a challenge than I had anticipated, since 8 heads of cabbage neatly fill a 55 liter pot to the brim and it took a little effort to fit my stone weight inside the container!  I then left the ingredients to do their work.

A day later, a brine had formed and, seeing that it was insufficient to cover the top of the cabbage, I topped it off with some cool tap water (enough to completely cover the cabbage).  I filled the reservoir with water and it wasn’t long before the pot was burping away, venting the excess gas created by the fermentation process.

I waited a few weeks until the contents of the pot had settled down (now filling the crock just half way) and snuck a forkful.  The kraut which greeted me was smooth and buttery, lacking in the stringy texture or vinegary bite of the store-bought stuff.  We gave it a first try in a quick pressure cooker dish which I have enjoyed since childhood and the entire family agreed that the experiment was a victory.  Now, my only problem is finding a way to use 2 gallons of sauerkraut in a hurry!

 

 
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