We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Fermenting Vegetables—How to Make Sauerkraut at Home

by Linda

“The problem with killing 99.9 percent of bacteria is that most of them protect us from the few that can make us sick.” —Sandor Ellix Katz, The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

      The truth is that I have been going a little stir crazy the last couple of weeks. "Miss Graceful" tripped and fell at work over a cart made of steel bars that is used for hauling heavy loads of boxes (aka a six-wheeler) and nearly broke her right leg. I have been at home with my leg elevated for the last 20 days. According to the urgent care doctors and one orthopedic specialist, I did not break any bones, but it sure feels and looks like I did. The goose egg-sized hematoma on my shin has stubbornly decided to take up residence it seems.
   Yesterday morning, when it appeared that I actually had the semblance of an ankle, I tested the leg out by taking a short walk to downtown Petaluma and back. That went well enough, and being that we are having the most beautiful fall weather that you can imagine, I decided I should take a drive to nearby Green String Farm to buy some winter squash and veggies. Michelle and I paid a visit this past September, when she was able to spend a weekend with me before she attended a trade show in Sacramento.
Michelle, Mark and I enjoyed a day of wine tasting in Sonoma County and then stopped by
Green String Farm on the way home to pick up some veggies for dinner.
   During our stop at the farm at the end of the summer when we had finished wine tasting for the day, we picked through last of the season's heirloom tomatoes, peppers at their prime, lustrous eggplants and I just couldn't resist scooping up a small watermelon for dessert. Michelle and Mark were both there to be the voices of reason and to help keep my purchases in check on that afternoon. However, yesterday, a very cabin-fevered me was out on my own without anyone else along to try and control my tendency to over buy produce.

   No one should ever let me go to a farmer's market or farm stand by myself. Not only did I purchase my intended winter squash, but the cabbages that were piled up on a large table were simply amazing specimens. I impulsively decided right then and there that leg be damned—it was time to make a batch of sauerkraut. So I bought a few very large heads of cabbage along with some bright red pomegranates, deep orange carrots and some golden quinces. Fortunately they had a small cart that I could use to transport my vegetable and fruit bonanza to my car. When Mark got home from work and saw the enormous heap of produce on the table outside—he simply smiled and shook his head.

   When I first moved to Sonoma County, I decided to purchase a special crock for fermentation. When I began working in a small natural foods store more than 20 years ago now, one of the first things that I learned is how "gut health" is the foundation of the entire overall health and immune function of our bodies. Not only does fermenting vegetables preserve them and predigest them, but the probiotics that grow during the fermentation process feed our digestive tract with beneficial bacteria.
   While one does not necessarily need a special crock in which to ferment one's vegetables, if you are going to making batches often (and why not because it is inexpensive and so good for you)—the fermentation crock makes it really easy to do. Not only does it come with the stones that fit perfectly inside to weight down the vegetable matter, but there is a channel that holds water at the top which forms an airtight seal that keeps bacteria out that might cause mold.

   As much as I love to cook, my house has a very small kitchen, so often, I take food prep and cooking outside. I have a sturdy wooden table on my patio that is great for prepping, and I can spread out and keep the mess out of the house. So this morning I rose at seven, once again the ankle was cooperating, so I immediately went to work on my batch of sauerkraut. I used to get all caught up in thinking there were certain quantities and recipes to follow exactly in order to make sauerkraut, but I have discovered that just about anything goes. Depending on the time of year, and what you have on hand, just throw together whatever is available and is appealing to you. Be careful about adding garlic though. A little goes a long way, just like we found when making hummus. The garlic flavor intensifies over time.
   I began chopping cabbage, and it wasn't long before I was joined by a flock of rowdy finches and other tiny birds who began chirping noisily while they ate their breakfast with gusto. After breakfast they all took drinks and had a bath. By the time the sun actually rose over the roof lines of the neighboring houses—I was nearly done.
My cheerful chirping companions provided a joyful cacophony while I chopped cabbage.
   For this batch of kraut, I decided to use the green cabbage, Italian peppers, carrot, thyme and caraway seeds. I also make sure that I use a good quality Celtic sea salt. Cheap kiln-dried salt is toxic. I also used to worry that I wouldn't be able to eat that huge batch of sauerkraut or kimchi, but that concern turned out not to be true. Not only is it great with eggs for breakfast, but it is a perfect condiment for many dishes. It is a healthy go-to for my lunches that I pack for work, and it makes great gifts. No, I am not kidding. My friends do a happy dance when I bring a jar of homemade sauerkraut for them.

"I want death to find me planting my cabbages…" ~ Michel de Montaigne

Linda's Homemade Sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is really easy to make at home, and it is very expensive to buy at the market. The raw refrigerated kind that is— not the canned stuff that survives in a jar on the shelf of your supermarket without being kept cold. You know, the kind we had as kids with our hotdogs back in the day. That kind of sauerkraut has no beneficial bacteria and has had the life cooked right out of it. The only thing to be careful of when making your own is this—make sure that your veggies are weighted and covered with brine, or you could have a moldy mess on your hands. 

5 Liter Fermentation Crock or a large vessel that can be fitted with weights at the top to keep the vegetables submerged below the brine
3 large bowls— two for the vegetable mix and one to collect compost
A sharp knife

2-3 (4-5 pounds) large heads of green cabbage
4 carrots
6-8 chiles or peppers (I used 3 jalapeños and 6 sweet Italian peppers)
2 tsps dried thyme
2 tsps caraway seeds
3-4 Tbsps of good quality Celtic sea salt—adjust to your personal taste
the juice of two fresh oranges (optional)

1. Cut the cabbages into quarters and then cut away the core. Then slice according to your personal preference. I make a mix of coarser and finer chop, so that the texture varies.
2. Divide the cut cabbage into two large bowls. I use stainless steel bowls. They work well because  you will need to mash and bruise the cabbage with your hands while you press down with force.
3. Toss the cabbage with the Celtic sea salt divided between the two bowls. Begin mashing each of the bowls with your hands. Working the salt into the cut cabbage and applying force. The purpose of this is to bring out the liquid out of your vegetables to make a brine.
4. Remove seeds from the peppers and chiles and chop into thin strips. You can use any combination. Fermentation takes a lot of the heat out of chiles, so you can use a heavy hand with the spicy ingredients if you like a hotter mix. 

5. Shred the carrots ( I shred mine in my Cuisnart with the shredding disc). Divide the quantity and any juice created between the two mixing bowls containing the cabbage and peppers.
6. Add thyme and caraway seeds (any spice combo that you like will do)
7. Mix both bowls well with your hands,  continuing to mash and press with your hands. Add the juice of one orange to each bowl if desired. Taste both mixtures for seasoning. If more salt is needed, add a little more.

8. Add both bowls of veggies to your fermentation crock or vessel. Press down firmly and add weights to the top. I like to let the crock sit for a least an hour before adding filtered water to cover the stones. Some times you will need to add additional water. Depending on the vegetables they may produce enough liquid on their own. 
9. After and hour, make sure that the vegetable are completed submerged below the brining liquid. I like my brine to just cover the crock stones. Place the top on and fill the top channel with water, creating a natural barrier for unwanted bacteria, and still allowing gas to escape that will be created by the fermenting process. Your sauerkraut will be ready in 4 to 8 weeks depending the the ambient room temperature and other factors. Taste as you go along, keeping the channel filled with filtered water. When the kraut starts "burping" you will know that fermentation has begun. My batch from today starting outgassing within just a few hours.
10. When your batch is fermented to your taste, place the fermented mixture in impeccably clean jars that you fill to the top to decrease the amount of oxygen remaining in the jar. I use glass canning jars that I buy at my local hardware store. Keep refrigerated. The sauerkraut will last for months.

This batch of sauerkraut is ready for the stones to be placed on top of the vegetables and brine to weight them down below the liquid. Brine should cover vegetables by at least one inch.

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