It’s February and we have
twenty-nine gallons of sauerkraut remaining in the root cellar. Red and green
are the dominant colors, but flavors run the gamut: some straight up ‘kraut,
some savory with caraway and dill, some hot on the tongue with our own peppers,
even some innovative kim chi of our own creation.
And yet spices aside, we’re
ultimately talking twenty-nine gallons of fermented cabbage. But really, it
tastes, well…awesome. It’s good right out of the bucket, also cooked down in a
skillet, or mixed with our winter staples of pork, potatoes, and squash. It
shows up for breakfast (please, it’s great with eggs), lunch, and dinner. It’s so good that we’re offering sauerkraut
as part of our multi-farm winter CSA, and rationing ourselves the rest at a
rate of one gallon per week.
In the words of one farm
resident, “I just can’t get enough lacto-bacilli!” Certainly not the average
conversation starter, but there you have a sampling of our sentiments for
sauerkraut. It’s good and good for you.
A celebration of sauerkraut is
also a celebration of seasonality. As I write this, temperatures for the night
are descending below zero. Not the habitat for fresh greens and vegetables. Yet
thanks to the root cellar – our natural refrigerator dug below ground, with a
dirt floor – w have maintained a supply of storage crops: potatoes, carrots,
beets, and turnips top the list. Fresh cabbage, our closest approximate to
fresh greens, lasted in fine form until the end of December. We have successfully
stored cabbage until February in prior years, though a portion is lost due to
an ungraceful aging curve in this hearty brassica.
This is where the story returns
to sauerkraut. Cabbage is given a longer shelf life in the form of sauerkraut.
Shredded and mixed with salt, cabbage will produce a brine of its own. Packed
in a jar and stored in a cool locale, cabbage will then safely and successfully
ferment itself into sauerkraut. Healthy and advantageous bacteria will easily
preserve cabbage-turned-sauerkraut for many months. In this manner, our
hundreds of cabbage heads (Mammoth Red Rock, Melissa Savoy, Frigga Savoy, Fun
Jen to name a handful of varieties) are living their second life sliced, diced,
spiced, and tightly packed in five gallon buckets about the cellar.
Thus we are left to enjoy the
proverbial fruits of our summer labor. Sauerkraut is a winter delicacy, a food
prized in this time when fresh greens are out of season. It is another flavor
to treat the palate and add variety to the winter diet. It is a celebration of
simple food storage techniques and preservation methods, and a delicious ode to
the rich reality of eating with the seasons.