While doing a history project, our family learned that the sailors on their ocean voyages used sauerkraut for a source of vitamin C to stop scurvy. Then we discovered that Tiberius (Roman emperor born 42 BC) was reported to carry a barrel of it on all his long voyages to the Middle East because the Romans believed that the lactic acid it contained protected them from intestinal infections. In ancient Rome, sauerkraut also had a reputation as a food that was easy to digest. I did a bit more research and found that the Chinese fermented cabbage over 6,000 years ago. These historical facts had this Welsh-descent girl a bit more willing to try sauerkraut. My husband, Ukrainian descent, has me making perogies and holubchi but sauerkraut never appealed to me. But how bad could it be if Roman emperors and famous explorers said it was good?
The first recipe I found from a book written by Annelies Schoneck Des Crudités Toute L’Année was daunting. She describes the old-fashioned method as follows.
“Two men seated themselves face to face and, straddling a barrel, held between them a large tool for shredding the cabbage. The little box that the cabbage fell into went back and forth between them to the rhythm of a song they chanted. Then arrived the moment that all of us children were waiting for. When they sang the refrain, one of the men would jump nimbly into the cask, scatter a handful of salt over the grated cabbage, and stamp down with his feet.”
I also found the same references in Hutterite cookbooks so I decided our family would have to modify this method a bit. I have found that one medium cabbage will make about one quart of sauerkraut, which is a very manageable recipe size.
CHIKOUSKY SAUERKRAUT BY THE QUART
1 medium winter cabbage (I found the summer varieties turned to mush)
1 tbsp. Celtic sea salt
Water and salt brine (1 quart water — don’t use fluoridated water — with
1 tbsp. salt dissolved)
Pounder or meat tenderizer hammer
Trim and core cabbage. Shred it thinly. I use the thinnest-slicing blade in my food processor. Sprinkle salt over the cabbage and pound it with either a pounder or a meat tenderizer hammer. The purpose of this is to break down the cellulose and make it juicy, replacing the stomping method in the old recipes. Once it appears wet and shiny, pack the cabbage and salt tightly to the shoulders of a quart sealer. Check it after 24 hours and if the juice isn’t above the cabbage add brine. I place the jar on a towel because it has bubbled over.
After 4 days it is ready to eat. At this point the jar should be kept in cold storage. I put mine in the fridge. If it gets dry, add more brine. The sauerkraut should always be covered with brine.
In my research I found other very popular variations on sauerkraut. It seems that nearly every cultural group has their own variation. A favourite is the Korean variety Kimchi. It can be made very spicy if desired and is served mostly as a condiment.
KIMCHI (FROM NOURISHING TRADITIONS BY SALLY FALLON AND MARY ENIG)
1 head Chinese cabbage (or Savoy type), core and shred
1 bunch green onions, chopped 1 carrot, shredded
1/2 c. daikon radish, grated
1 tbsp. freshly grated ginger root
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp. dried red chili pepper flakes
1 tbsp. Celtic sea salt
Pounder or meat tenderizer hammer Water salt brine (1 quart water — do not use fluoridated water — to 1 tbsp. salt)
Place vegetables, ginger, garlic, red chili flakes and sea salt in a bowl and pound with a wooden pounder or a meat tenderizer hammer. When the juices are released and the vegetables look wet and shiny pack them firmly into quart-size sealers and press firmly till the juices come overtop of the cabbage. Cover tightly. Check in 24 hours and press the vegetables back down under the juice if necessary. If there isn’t enough juice add brine. After three days move the jars to the fridge and add brine as needed to keep the vegetables covered as it is eaten.
Sauerkraut is usually consumed as a condiment or cooked with sausage etc. But we have found different ways of including it in our day. For example, my daughter’s favourite way to eat sauerkraut is in a toasted sourdough mustard and sauerkraut sandwich, I love it on my lunchtime salad and for the adventuress cooks among us there is Sauerkraut Chocolate Cake.
SAUERKRAUT CHOCOLATE CAKE
3/4 c. butter
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. water
2-1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 c. drained sauerkraut (reserve liquid to add back into jar of sauerkraut)
Mix butter and sugar. Add eggs, water and dry ingredients. Stir in the sauerkraut and pour batter into greased pan. Bake at 350F for 30 to 50 minutes. This cake is moist and doesn’t taste a bit like sauerkraut.
Since we started making our own sauerkraut by the jar I cannot keep up with demand. We usually make up five to six cabbages at a time and now my brother is lining up for his jar too. I have been thinking we will have to start making bigger batches but I just don’t think my husband and sons are up to the singing and stomping routine of our ancestors. There must be an easier way!
Debbie Chikousky farms at Narcisse, Manitoba
Email her at [email protected]