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Making Sauerkraut, Among Other Things

| 12/10/2009 11:07:02 AM

A photo of Shannon SaiaOn a recent Sunday, armed with my newly purchased copy of Nourishing Traditions and two gigantic heads of cabbage from a local farmer’s market, I set out to make my first ever batch of lacto-fermented sauerkraut.

The recipe I used was for making the sauerkraut in glass quart jars, a good thing, since I didn’t have any kind of crock at the time. I started out trying to shred the cabbage by hand, and then I thought, “What, am I stupid? Use the food processor!” So I dug out my blades, set the thing up, turned it on, and started shoving chunks of cabbage down into it. It became clear really quickly that I wasn’t shredding the cabbage though; I was mincing it. Still, it didn’t seem like a major problem, and I’d already gotten started, so I figured what the heck. It would be sauerkraut relish. When I had enough to fill a large bowl, I added the ground sea salt and the caraway seed. Then I dug in there and mixed it all together. I had ten minutes of pounding ahead of me to get the juices flowing. Then I was supposed to put it in the jar, make sure the juices were all the way to the top, and close the jar tightly so that no air would get in. According to the recipe, after three days at room temperature, this stuff would be edible.

To the casual eye, the ingredients in sauerkraut are simple enough – cabbage, salt and caraway seeds. But sauerkraut is more than the sum of these three things. It is what they combine to become and what, as a result of their combination, comes into being. This is an actual biological fact. But like so many other actual, biological facts, it has metaphysical implications.

Lacto-fermentation – both as a vocabulary word and as a concept – is new to me. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of bad bacteria. The surfaces of vegetables and fruits are covered in lactic acid-producing bacteria, and lacto-fermentation is the process by which we can encourage these bacteria to convert the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits into lactic acid. The presence of large amounts of lactic acid in fruits and vegetables makes them more digestible and makes the vitamins in them easier to absorb. Also, eating lacto-fermented vegetables as a condiment makes it easier for our bodies to extract nutrients from and to digest other foods, most notably, meat. [See “Sauerkraut: What Makes It Sour?” for more on lacto-fermentation and sauerkraut. – Ed.] Lacto-fermentation is a very old process that has been used by Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian and American Indian cultures for many centuries. The Greeks called the process of lacto-fermentation “alchemy,” and as I was pounding my minced cabbage with the end of an old wooden rolling pin that used to belong to my paternal grandmother, alchemy was very much on my mind.

In a previous post I approached the issue of the relationship between our inner and outer lives, and I’m not sure what, if anything, that I accomplished. But the question is nagging at me again today, because the sauerkraut strikes me as a kind of metaphor for something that I’m still struggling to understand. If the cabbage and the salt and the caraway seeds are the regular old things that I see around me every day as I go about my business, and the sauerkraut is a finished product – an end, a commodity, a success – then what occurs in between, inside that sealed jar, invisible to the naked eye, is the mystery of creativity.

And when do we ever “see” creativity?

4/17/2010 9:13:04 AM

I just tried making sauerkraut from The Nourishing Traditions book and I didn't do it right. I thought there was something wrong with my jars too because they were leaking and I feared they'd explode as well! So after the second day I slightly twisted open the jar to let some pressure out and all this liquid bubbled over. I believe that was the instant that things began to go wrong because after three days, it definitely didn't smell the way you described. Darn! But how do we keep it from not leaking...or worse.... would it really explode? I so want to try again as I'm suffering with candida and really need the good bacteria in my system. Any pointers? Do you find your jars leak each time? Maybe just fill them less? Plus, it took ALOT for me to get the cabbage to have enough liquid to cover itself up....did you have that problem?

2/5/2010 11:49:41 AM

Great post! Your blog title should be called the philosophical homesteader, not mine! I totaly agree with what you've written, and loved reading your version. and this weekend i'm making sauerkraut!

2/5/2010 11:25:35 AM

Do you have amounts that you used for the cabbage, salt & caraway? Thanks, I can't wait to try this!

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