If you had told me a few years ago that making sauerruben (a turnip variant on sauerkraut), would be the highlight of my Christmas, I would have thought you were out of your mind. I couldn’t quite understand all the excitement around kraut making parties in college or the pride and love of bratwurst and sauerkraut in Wisconsin. I’ve always loved vinegar and dill pickles and just about anything sour, but I found the thought of “fermented” foods less than appealing.
It’s amazing how quickly things can change. After a bumper crop of turnips at the Borner Farm prompted a new appreciation for this humble root, my time at Spreadwing got me hooked on Mexi-kraut and kimchi, and I learned how simple and flexible small batch fermentation projects could be while at Ampersand and here at Chrysalis Earth, starting a batch of sauerruben seemed the perfect finale for a quiet Christmas on the farm.
Thanks to Sandor Katz and his book wild fermentation for the inspiration and guidance — not to mention countless wonderful folk along this journey. I could only find wide-mouth pint jars, so I made one jar with only turnip and salt, and another seasoned with lots of mustard seeds (not looking closely and thinking they were coriander seeds) and a little ground coriander and turmeric. Excited to try the results in a few weeks!
Be sure to use salt without iodine, which can kill the microorganisms responsible for fermentation. The amount of salt is flexible. The flavor of the ferment will deepen and become less distinctly salty over time, but the more salt is used, the more sour and salty the final product will taste. More salt also means a slower fermentation and longer keeping ability, which may be preferable in warm weather. I used about 4 teaspoons total, but one jar ended up with more salt than the other. It will be interesting to compare.
UPDATE (2/13/17): I checked the sauerruben a handful of times for the first four weeks, then promptly forgot about it until last week. Wish I had been a bit more systematic in monitoring the progress, but thankfully fermentation is a very forgiving process! Here are my observations as best I remember, bearing in mind that this is in the middle of winter (albeit a mild one, especially this month).
- After three days, it still tasted pretty raw, the seasoned version is quite salty.
- After about two weeks, it started to taste mildly sour, unseasoned is quite sweet and fermenting a little faster, while seasoned still tastes very salty. I felt both would improve with a longer ferment
- After three to four weeks, the unseasoned seemed close to “ready,” and I enjoyed some with a meal. The seasoned was not as far along and still much too salty to use more than a pinch to jazz up mild food.
- After about six weeks, I noticed that the unseasoned had grown a tiny bit of white mold, which prompted me to scrape it off and sample each jar. Both were a bit softer and more fermented than I would prefer, and the unseasoned had the faintest hint of an alcoholic taste to me. The seasoned was still rather salty, but served well enough as a condiment. After a few days chilling in the fridge, however, I found them perked up in crispness and flavor again. We made short work of them… the unseasoned was wonderful on top of tempeh ruben sandwiches!
In short, I will definitely be making sauerruben again, hopefully a larger batch, as soon as an abundance of turnips falls into my life. I particularly enjoyed the simplest preparation, just turnip + salt. If I had evenly distributed the salt, 2 teaspoons for each pint, it would probably have been the perfect proportion, and I’m guessing a 4-5 week fermentation would suit my personal preference, at least in cooler weather.
(Makes 1 quart, can be doubled)
2 to 2 1/2 pounds turnips
1-2 tablespoons salt
Desired seasonings (optional)
Grate turnips by hand or with a food processor. No need to peel them first. Pack tightly into wide mouth jar, alternating with salt and any other desired seasonings, forming a natural brine that covers the turnip. (I made two pint jars, one with only salt and one with turmeric, coriander, and mustard seeds.) Place jar inside a bowl to catch any overflow, then place another slightly smaller jar or glass, partially filled with water inside the jar, so that it presses lightly on the turnips, keeping the brine over them. Place out of the way (and out of direct heat and sunlight), checking every few days. If mold forms on the surface, skim off and rinse the top jar. When the flavor has developed to your liking (as soon as a week or two in warm weather, up to a few months in cooler weather), place a lid on the jar and move to the fridge. Or you can begin to use it as soon as it has a pleasant tang while leaving the rest to continue fermenting.
Yes, it’s that simple and flexible. Oh, and if you end up with extra grated turnip, as I did using 2 1/2 pounds, it makes for a quick and delicious dish sautéed with a little diced onion!