Starting the Sauerkraut

The first thing you should understand about cabbage in its finely-chopped state, is that it wants to be on the kitchen floor. It has, in common with Tupperware stored in a cupboard, a peculiarly horizontal relationship with gravity. Being aware of this at the outset will put you at a very great advantage as regards your mindset and your preparedness, as you (should you) approach this task yourself – and you may demonstrate your gratitude towards me in a manner of your own choosing and means.

So. Last Sunday I caught up on some missed programmes, amongst them the one where Rick Stein does Vienna. In it, our hero puts himself outside some typically hearty fare (sorry – side-note: I’ve also caught up on the brilliantly-crafted Ben Elton/David Mitchell Shakespearey comedy, Upstart Crow, and it’s influencing my writing voice quite… lamentably) including some snuffled-at sauerkraut in a market. I resolved to make some of my own. I set about googling the stuff and quickly came across an excellent recipe / how-to from a fabulous blog called Real Food Lover. And so Sunday was to be all about making sauerkraut. Unfortunately our village shop only had savoy cabbages in – and whilst I understand all cabbages are sauerkraut-viable (which is quite satisfying to say out loud), I did want some colour variations in there, and so I postponed the task and returned home with a reasonably-priced Reisling, two courgettes and crisps.

I’ve visited Vienna myself, incidentally. In 1988, I think. In fact, here’s me, half the size I am now; all toast and bones and charity shop clobber except for the Shellys buckle shoes I bought on Oxford Street and loved so very much – which I think is quite obvious in the photo.

IMG_Cabbage ViennaOne week in, I customised the left shoe with an almighty scratch from the edge of a toolbox belonging to a fellow art student who’s now a quite prolific basket weaver. I can’t join those data points up just now, but you’re welcome to file them under How The World Works. The photo is taken outside the Hundertwasserhaus. We also visited the Spanish Riding School, and early one morning I stepped on a Quaker’s spectacles. Obviously he couldn’t get too angry about that.

Monday brought cabbages. Here.

IMG_Cabbage 1I wanted red cabbage to feature in this. The pickled variety has been a big part of my life since childhood. When I was 10 or 11 my mum was quite ill and I went to stay at my grandma’s. Suddenly knowing this woman away from our churchly Sunday visits was a revelation as much for my stomach as for the funny TV she watched. Pies of significant and new-to-me largesse, with unapologetic potatoes like bass-lines brought forward in the mix. Chunks of things, not minced or otherwise reconstructed. Jam tarts the size of 45s, and the cabbage she pickled herself. I’ve crunched on, munched on, and decorated shirt-fronts with the pink stuff for decades ever since. The red cabbage was to be a star in this.

I am too aware that this is supposed to be about fermenting cabbages, not memories (as if self-awareness has ever really stopped me), so I’ll whizz it on a touch.

Here’s the cabbage all chopped and sliced in the large bowl in layers with the salt and a right good knuckling to break up its structure, I’m told. Pretty, aint it? Painterly, even. If zooming in is possible, note the little flecks are caraway seeds. Plenty. There’s fenugreek and cumin in there too. Other than that I’ve kept it all cabbage, which is probably best for my first attempt.

IMG_Cabbage 2

Weighted down and tea-toweled-over (below). The unseen weight on the unseen plate is a bagged (for hygiene) Victorian flat iron. I left this Elephant Man construction to weep and steep overnight. Hey, check out the in-shot Vitamix. Just two thousand more milkshakes and it’s practically paid for itself. I didn’t use this for the cabbage, by the way, as I feared it would pulp it. And the floor needed a good clean anyway.

IMG_Cabbage 3

Tuesday morning and here’s where we’re at. Liquid, pink and claret red, and the cabbage smells amazing. That bowl, it was bought in our courting days: I used it to serve up moules frites, most memorably on our first New Year’s together, which nervously neither of us had really planned anything for. You know, now I think about it, it was in Dusseldorf where I stood on the Quaker’s specs. Not Vienna.

IMG_Cabbage 4I did briefly search online for ‘fermenting crocks’, but who has that kind of money, especially after the Vitamix? Fortunately, Kilner jars seem to be allowed and these were to hand, so in it all went. Much packing in and pressing down hard and just the littlest top-ups with water at the necks. Again, super-big-mention for the blog post as linked to above – it was an invaluable guide throughout.

IMG_Cabbage 5

Then finally crowning with some big leaves I’d set aside to fill the space at the seal as best I could. Lovely looking business at the finish – or the start of it all, I suppose, fermenting-wise. Naturally, I’ll keep you updated, and most likely I’ll be sampling some shop-bought stuff along the way. Lidl and Aldi I hear have good selections – and decent bratwursts too. Which sausagey sentiment seems as good as any to bring this beginning to an end.

IMG_Cabbage 6


About Stevie Mitchell

I come from a long line of cartoons and beer. I was once peed on by a tiger. Hoping the resultant super-powers are yet to come, cos if these are they, then, grrrr....
This entry was posted in Family History, Food and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Starting the Sauerkraut

  1. Talia says:

    Ooh, yum! So glad to find another sauerkraut lover! I actually just wrote about making potato and sauerkraut pierogis last week. Would love to know how your end product turns out!


  2. weebluebirdie says:

    Who knew that so much nostalgia came with cabbage! I do like how you are pointing your foot towards the camera in a “look at my fabulous shoes” kind of way. I’d forgotten about Hundertwasser and his wonderfully vibrant paintings. That was a pleasant five minutes on Google images 🙂

  3. A lovely post from a fellow Fermentationanist. Pickled eggs one day (do they ferment in there? Who knows?), sauerkraut the next. I saw the Stein programme too, and it made me long for that acidy, bittersweet yet soft cabbagey tang – and tafelspitz too, but more than anything it re-opened lovely memories of wood-smoked bratwurst, sauerkraut and senf on my first visit to Germany; chintz-covered pretzel stands bedecked with bunting; the rolling waves of chortling laughter in the beer gardens sloping down to the river. Who needs the ‘Mediterranean diet’? Not me for sure. And save me a pot.

    • Danke! My father-in-law has good access to the foods you mention, so we’ll often stock up on bratties and senf – the latter I routinely call ‘strumpf’, which has now kind of stuck in the family (don’t think about that too hard…). I had to drain off some of the sauerkraut liquid yesterday and for a good few hours the kitchen smelled like the old brewery in Alsace. What a world we live in!

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