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.