Last season left an indelible mark on me. I came to appreciate a few sips of beer with dinner, and vanilla ice cream between meals (or on two occasions, for breakfast). My mantra now, when I’m tempted to complain about the cold, is “At least it’s not Wisconsin.” I also became absolutely smitten with sage, and as infatuated with pizza as the rest of the U.S. populace. I never did catch the enthusiasm for sauerkraut, however, despite a few valiant attempts to develop a taste for the ubiquitous and much exalted condiment.
I’ve finally been converted. At Spreadwing, jars of fermented vegetables fill half the fridge, and at least two types of kraut form the centerpiece at each meal. I’ve become a fervent believer in the nutritional vitality and intense flavor of live cultured foods. While I still don’t care for traditional sauerkraut (plain cabbage and salt) or brined pickles, I’ve learned that all it takes is the addition of a few spices for kraut to be entirely transformed! I find myself reaching for the jar “Mexi-kraut” at least once a day. It’s especially wonderful on top of beans and homemade tortillas. While I was home for Christmas this year, I found the craving for kraut to mix into my scrambled eggs almost unbearable. Be forewarned — it can quickly become habit-forming.
Since kraut is such an essential staple of our diet here at Spreadwing, and there are often 6 to 10 of us around the table, we make huge batches (16 gallons) at a time, packed into large ceramic crocks. The exhilarating and exhausting process of shredding and pounding giant tubs of cabbage with a large wooden stomper remains one of the most memorable highlights of my time thus far. Highly recommended if you ever have the chance — it’s especially fun as a team. However, my amazing farming mentor/resident cheese and kraut making guru here at Spreadwing, was kind enough to share a scaled-down recipe that requires only basic kitchen implements and a modest amount of time, effort, and ingredients. Glad I can continue to feed the addiction wherever I end up next!
Makes 1 quart
1 1/2 pounds green cabbage
4 leaves of kale or collards (optional)
1 green onion or leek (optional)
1 green garlic, or a clove or two of garlic (optional)
1 carrot (optional)
1 small turnip or radish (optional)
1 tablespoon salt (non-iodized, this is important!)
1 teaspoon oregano (fresh if possible)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
1-2 1/2 teaspoons ground cayenne, to taste
Remove outer leaves and any “brown spots” in the cabbage, and cut in half or quarters. Grate or slice finely (a food processor makes quick work of it), and combine with salt in a pot, bucket, or large bowl. Chop or thinly slice the remaining vegetables, and mix into the cabbage, along with the seasonings. Work the vegetables with your hands, a potato masher, or a wooden pounder to begin drawing out the liquid in the cabbage. Continue pounding until liquid pools when you press down on the mixture. If you’re not in a hurry, let the mixture rest, covered with a damp cloth, for an hour and let the salt do some of the work. The more liquid you can elicit, the better… it can be quite a workout!
Pack kraut tightly into a quart jar and pour liquid over it, making sure the vegetables are well covered and there is about an inch of headroom at the top of the jar. Place in a small bowl out of the way, with a smaller jar of water as a weight to keep the kraut below the liquid. Alternately, you can screw a lid loosely onto the jar. If possible, allow to ferment for the first 2-3 days at around 70°F, checking once or twice a day to ensure kraut remain below the level of the brine, then move to a cooler place, around 50°F, to continue fermenting more slowly. In hot weather, the ferment can be moved to the fridge after a few days to finish ripening. Taste it from time to time and enjoy it whenever it is to your liking (generally 2-6 weeks).