Monday, June 28, 2010

Recipe: Sauerkraut

Today, we made Sauerkraut. The 1st thing I did was to get out Great Aunt Della Emma Brenz's Cookbook. Mother gave me this some years ago. I was deeply honored and have found it a treasure.

The Cookbook dates from the early 1900s. The content is very much on the same style as Grandmother Lottie Hart Brenz's Scrapbook of Clippings. Unlike Grandma Lottie's Scrapbook, Aunt Della (who was Grandmother's sister-in-law) has hand-written many of the Recipes. Plus, the Cookbook has a handmade cover, very carefully stitched. How many would go to so much effort today?

Unfortunately, the Cookbook went through our 1997 Flood in Grand Forks. It was under water for probably 3 weeks. For years, it had that "Flood Smell" which I could hardly stand. It was Chemical, which was typical of basement flooding where Chemicals were released and was mixed with that smell of Biodegrading. Fortunately, the Cookbook no longer smells. However, it is very very frail.

But in that Cookbook, Aunt Della has noted her Sauerkraut recipe in bold pencil strokes. The Recipe is for 50 pounds. We made 20 pounds today. That page upon which the Recipe is posted, also holds printed instructions, which I tried to follow as well. While making it, I could easily imagine the rhythm and flow of 2 Women (Great Aunt Della and her Mother, my Great Grandmother, with whom she lived) who were accustomed to such things. We are not quite there, but on our way. I next headed into my current Cookbook Stash for the Sauerkraut description and recipe of Sandor Katz in Wild Fermentation (2003). His description of the process is excellent. He calls for 3 Tablespoons of Sea Salt per 5 Pounds of Cabbage. I followed his suggestions for Salt, which were less than Aunt Della's.

While I was cruising through Recipes, Richard was assembling Tools: Chairs to sit on, the Outdoor Sink (which you will see later), Kraut Cutter which Gerald and Connie got for me a few years back and which had been long awaiting this auspicious day, a serious Knife, and a Pounder (although we actually used a "stick" Richard had made earlier). I later brought out Salt, measuring Utensils and the Camera.

From there, I met Richard at the Cabbage Patch and we began harvesting Cabbages. Right away, 10 caught my Eye. We seem to be entering a stage where they may well begin to split, so it was time for harvest. One has already split.Cabbages were cut in half and cored. The Cores were set aside for other uses. Then the Halves were weighed and their weights were recorded. Each Half weighed from 1 to 1 1/2 pounds. We made the Kraut in 2 sets of 10 pounds each. (And that magical scale belonged to Great Grandma Matilda Waibel Brenz who lived with Great Aunt Della.)
Richard carefully ran the Cabbage Halves through the Kraut Cutter, being careful not to cut his hands. Aunt Della's printed recipe suggested the wearing of Cotton Gloves to protect Hands; Mittens will not do.I added Salt.Melanie and I mixed the Salt into the Cabbage, at which point the Juice begins to flow.We placed Cabbage Leaves at the Bottom. Then we put in the shredded Cabbage. Melanie tamps down the shredded Cabbage until the Juice (or Brine) covers the shredded Cabbage. What you see in the 5 Gallon Crock is 10 pounds of shredded Cabbage. We added 10 more beyond this.
Aunt Della's Recipe calls for placing a strong Cloth over the Kraut, tucking it under. Then placing Cabbage Leaves down. The printed instructions call for another strong Cloth, again tucked under. Next we found a plate which would fit over the whole affair. On top of that we placed a Quart Jar filled with water to hold the whole thing down. And on top of that was another Tea Towel to keep up away any Creatures (Bugs) who might want to inspect.

We put the Crock down in the Basement. 70 degrees was the suggested temperature. I shall check it periodically and skim off foam. We should have Sauerkraut about July 28.

I can make no Guaruntees on this recipe. We shall have to see how it works. While we have made Kraut before and this seems right, we won't know for a little while as to whether this Batch will ring true. We are excited about the prospect and are keeping our fingers crossed. Stay tuned.

I am reminded of a little Church up in North Dakota which annually produces a batch of Sauerkraut from a pickup load of Cabbages. Their Kraut accompanies Homemade Traditional Sausages and it is a very big deal. One of my students shared this story. Only the 1 or 2 Elderly Ladies actually knew the Recipe and would instruct others of their parts. Some of the younger Folks were getting nervous, because some day they would need to take over the Helm, yet they weren't quite ready, apparently, to receive the Recipe.

Gardening and making traditional Fare is somehow an act of Faith. We never know the results, yet we keep on, with liberal splashes of Hope and Gratitudes lifted up from our Hearts.

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