embracing my inner Kraut

January 10, 2011 § 3 Comments

I mentioned in the last post that sauerkraut has been a New Year’s day tradition from my Mom’s side of the family.

I’m going to learn how to make the real stuff and hopefully keep the tradition going, maybe even improving upon it with fresh ingredients.

Sauerkraut, German for “sour herb” or “sour cabbage” is actually a pretty nutritional food as a result of the fermentation it undergoes.  It’s considered to be a great boost to the immune system and was once used by German sailors to prevent scurvy.  British sailors often used lime, hence the origin of the nicknames “Limey” and “Kraut” to distinguish the two. It is thought by many that it is also has cancer fighting properties, is good for digestion and even fights off the avian flu!

During World War I in the US, American sauerkraut makers feared the American public would reject a German name, so many labeled their product as “Liberty Cabbage” (even lamer than “Freedom Fries”).  Kraut became a derogatory word. That environment probably had a lot to do with the fact my grandmother never knew German beyond the nursery rhymes she’d sing to us.  My Mom can even recall being teased as a kid in Pennsylvania for having a German last name.  I’m glad at least some of the food traditions survived.

I wish I had a family recipe that my great grandparents might have made at one point, but I’m going to try a recipe from The Joy of Pickling.  I also invested in a Gartopf fermenting crock pot, since I hope to keep this tradition going in my family.

Sauerkraut with juniper berries
5 lbs. trimmed and cored white head cabbage
3 T. pickling salt (using kosher salt)
1 T. whole juniper berries

1) quarter the cabbage heads and shred thinly (thickness of quarter) with a chef’s knife.
2) Add 3 T salt and 1 T juniper berries and mix thoroughly with your hands.  You can do this in the crock or in a bowl.  Then pack the cabbage in the crock or in gallon jars.  It’s important to use the right materials, so check online for proper containers. After it’s released some of the liquid, tamp it down firmly with your hands.
3) Weight it down so that it is contained in its own brine.  The crock has it’s own weights, or you can use a food grade plastic bag filled with brine to cover it.  You can also cover it with a plate weighted down. Some cover with cabbage leaves, so if the brine gets scummy you can replace them easily. Cover with towel or other cloth and store in cool place (~60 degrees F).
4) Check to see if it is covered in brine after 24 hours. If not, dissolve 1 1/2 T pickling salt in 1 quart water and pour as much as needed to cover.  Check every few days to see if any scum has formed and remove if it has.
5) Start tasting after 2 weeks until it reaches your taste. Will have a pale golden color and tart, full flavor
6) Once it’s ready you can store it in the fridge, freeze it or can it depending on what you want to do with it.

I won’t be able to taste it this week, but hopefully it will turn out well!

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