Other than marmalade in all its various forms January and February don’t offer many opportunities for preserving. It’s also the time when lacto-fermented preserves that have been moved to the fridge are starting either to run out or go off.
This week I ate the last of this year’s batch of Wild Pickles. Seems like a strange thing to be wistful about, I guess, but I was proud of them because not only did I really like how they tasted (strongly sour but backed with lots of garlic, dill, and black pepper) but also because they won the People’s Choice award in the amateur category for the Annual 86′d Monday Pickle Battle. It’s not everyday that you get to call yourself a pickle champ.
Coincidentally, I’ve been poking around a book, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig that my cousin turned me on to. It’s peppered with some pretty strong claims that I want to look into more but there are also some very interesting recipes.
One that intrigued me was for Latin American Sauerkraut or cortido. The original (possibly authentic) recipe calls for pineapple vinegar but allows that this might be hard to find. (Anyone know differently? Where in Toronto can I find pineapple vinegar?) In classic natural-foodways fashion it offers whey as a substitute.
That’s also a no-go seeing as I don’t make cheese very often but I thought: why not use pickle brine? It’s not very likely that any of the lactobacilli are still alive in there but the acid will get the fermentation started and this way some of the great flavour for the pickles will keep going.
When we get to the process the key step is the pummelling of the cabbage. The idea being that brute force will add to salt’s osmotic pull to draw water out of the vegetable cells. This creates a sort of brine that covers the proto-kraut and protects it from the destructive action of air and airborne moulds until lactobacilli have sufficiently acidified the liquid.
The original recipe thinks the cabbage will produce enough water so you’ll have an inch of it above the vegetables. That’s crazy talk. Maybe the recipe writer has some sort of super kraut hammer or are picking the cabbages directly from the field in a particularly wet part of California. I have never been able to get cabbage to give up that much water and I don’t think you will either–especially if you’re anywhere near me (in time and space) and using cabbages either picked a long while ago or shipped a great distance.
Easy solution: Just top your Mason jar up with the required amount of water. Filtered is much better because the chlorine in tap water can overwhelm the micro-organisms needed for natural fermentation. Bottled works (though I’m not sure about distilled) and in a pinch you could leave a dish of tap water out for a few hours and hope the chlorine evaporates.
During the three days when the sauerkraut-to-be is left at room temperature it’s important that it stays below the water. Given the right conditions things you don’t want to eat could grow on anything that floats. I was lucky that mine sat happily as a mass at the bottom of the jar. Until the third day, that is, when it was suddenly floating. I moved mine to the fridge (on schedule) at that point but after belatedly asking for tips on Twitter got the suggestion (from @NNUptown21) to weight the cabbage down with a piece of parchment paper and a clean rock.
Small-batch Spicy Sauerkraut
Adapted from the recipe for Latin American sauerkraut (cortido) in Nourishing Traditions
A small-batch, wild, lacto-fermented sauerkraut that is a little bit spicy and features oregano and fennel flavours.
Prep time: 20 minutes Total time: 3 days
Yield: roughly 750 ml sauerkraut
- 1 kg (about 1/2 a head) cabbage
- 175 g (1 large) carrot
- 175 g (1 small-medium) red onion
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 dry chile, preferrablly small and smoked
- 4 g (1/2 TB of Diamond Crystal) kosher salt
- 2 TB pickle brine, preferably from lacto-fermented pickles
- filtered water
- Set your food processor to slice and turn it on. Feed the onion into the tube. Transfer the sliced onion to your largest mixing bowl. Switch the blade over to grate and process the carrot and the cabbage. Transfer them to the mixing bowl with the onion. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the water.
- For ten minutes you want to use your sturdiest wooden spoon or a metal mallet to absolutely pound the hell out of the vegetables. Set a timer or you’ll be tempted to cheat. You’re going for maximum water extraction here.
- Transfer the vegetables to a one litre/quart Mason jar. Be careful to pack them as tightly as possible and aim to have them covered in about an inch of liquid. Add filtered water to top up if necessary.
- Cut a piece of parchment paper so that it will generously cover the top of the cabbage. Place it in the jar and weight it down with a very clean rock or other similarly heavy object. Cap the jar with a lid so that bugs and dust can’t get in but leave it loose enough so that gas can get out or your jar may explode. Seriously. The last thing you want is a counter covered in sauerkraut and broken glass.
- Leave the jar at room temperature for three days and then move it to the refrigerator. Enjoy as a condiment on pretty much anything or straight out of the jar.