Happy Friday 13th! What better month to celebrate in than October, the month of Halloween, Samhain, ghosts and pumpkins. In the Frugasaurus household, October marks the time where leaves are coming off in droves and the weather is taking a turn for the wilder and wetter.
Not unsurprisingly, it is also a time of great savings. Autumn is a great time to get local vegetables in season, and for us, that means cabbages, potatoes and root vegetables. As I already mentioned in a previous post, I am really happy to live in a place where we have room to buy cabbage when they are ridiculously cheap, only to store them throughout the year in our pantry.
While I was going to talk about how ridiculously cheap you can get some kinds of food if you just keep an eye out, I actually ended up getting some cabbages even cheaper than expected. A friend of a friend, who is also an acquaintance (and hopefully soon-to-be friend of my own) had two cabbages she wanted to get rid of. Might I be interested?
Free food? D’uh. Of course I was interested. I let her know so, and although I was at work when she stopped by, I made sure Mr. E. sent with her a jar of pre-made sauerkraut with ginger, garlic and carrots (Thanks T!), which I hope her family will enjoy.
This minor even in the larger scale of things left me feeling excited beyond the simple value of two heads of cabbage. I have always wanted to partake more extensively in a sharing economy mindset. Being rather introverted and feeling like I have nothing to share, I was intimidated. But ever since getting back to Norway and my network of close and peripheral friends, we have been sharing and giving freely and occasionally. It has been great, because the friend I lived with in the beginning already had this mindset along with most of her friends, it was easy to get pulled into it.
So here’s this Frugal Friday’s encouragement: Share something! Make extras and share it with friends and/or neighbours. Not unlikely, they might have something in return. Good for community, happiness, frugality and the planet!
Now onto today’s “recipe”. Obviously, I wouldn’t spend a whole post blathering about brassicas and sauerkraut without actually giving you a means of making this wonderfully tart concoction for yourself. Trust me, it couldn’t be easier.
Sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage, was the first ever fermented food I made. Fermenting is an age old way to preserve vegetables over winter and, unlike almost any other kind of preserving, the vegetables retain their crispness. In addition to that, it is dirt cheap, using salt (and air tight glass jars) as the primary preservative.
Prepare your jars by cleaning in hot, soapy water. Rinse well. Unlike when making jams, there is no need to boil and sterilise this time. The good bacteria will work for us, domineering the culture and knocking out bad bacteria, as long as we provide them with an environment in which to thrive (and in which other microbes do not). In the case of fermenting where lactobacteria are our microbe of choice, this means an environment which is saline and anoxic (lacking in oxygen).
How many jars you need will depend on how big your cabbage is. I can generally fit one small cabbage into two 1 litre jars. A big cabbage or medium plus addition of carrot or other things can go up to four jars per cabbage. I have had the best success with clip-top jars like this. I don’t know if it is just because I don’t screw the lids on tight enough, but jars with screw lids and thin rubber rings have all gone bad on me. If anyone successfully ferments in screw-top jars, I’d be curious to hear your experience!
Another advantage of the clip-top jars is that they release gas. And fermentation can create a lot of gas, especially during the first week (carbonation phase). The thick rubber ring on clip-tops allow some air to escape while not letting any air in. Exactly what you’re looking for.
Jars aside, you take your cabbage of choice. We’ve tried red, white and even brussel sprouts, all work the same. You quarter it into sections and slice it thinly. Layer it in a large bowl with salt. If you are short on jars or want to be as space efficient as possible, it is best to leave the salt to draw out liquid for a couple of hours. Meanwhile, you can add any flavourings you might desire. Ginger and carrot is really good. While fresh turmeric, ginger and chilli makes a really explosive, cheerful yellow colour. You can’t really go wrong with plain salt though.
Once the salt has drawn liquid out of the cabbage (you’ll see your cabbage glisten), it is time to show off those kitchen muscles! With freshly washed hands, grab sliced cabbage by the handful and start stuffing your jars. You are encouraged to use force, or my two-four jar rule will go straight out the window. If you stuff really well, you might notice that you are able to stuff so hard that liquid from the cabbage rests above the level of sliced cabbage. This is good.
You want to stop your stuffing about an inch from the top of the jar. As previously mentioned, fermentation creates gas, and that gas will expand. If your jars are full to the brim, you will find yourself with soggy shelves.
If you stuffed your cabbage so much that there is liquid above the cabbage, you are good to go! Simply clip on the lids and leave for about a month in a cool, dark place. If not, the last step is to make a saline mixture of salt and water and to pour that over your sliced cabbage (same one inch rule applies). I know many recipes call for 1 teaspoon of salt per litre of water, but I never managed to get consistent results that way. Half my jars would rot and half would be fine. Not having a blood-pressure issue, I ramp it up to more than double that, where I can really taste the salt.
Now for the hard part. You need to wait. For the first week, I like to store my jars on a tray. That way, if my jars overflow, I have a simple cleanup on my hands. After the first week or so (dependant on temperature), they should be safe. This is the time when your lactobacteria are eating away at the carbohydrates in your food and producing vinegar and carbon dioxide.
When you are ready to open your jars, remember that there is still a fair amount of gas inside. Inspect visually if your jar has gone bad, open carefully and smell. Good sauerkraut should have a pleasant, vinegary and tart smell. Trust me, you’ll know if it doesn’t. It should also be clear, without visible films of yeast or mould on top. As with all homemade goods, use common sense! Cabbage is cheap, your health isn’t.
What do we use sauerkraut for? Our favourite has to be in tortilla wraps with lots of vegetables and fried mushrooms. Another amazing way to have it is again, in a wrap (just because we couldn’t fit it in anything smaller), layered with rocket, sauerkraut, pickles, tomatoes, homemade red pesto, mustard and veggie dogs. Can you tell we love hand held foods?
Have it as a side, on top of a bowl of rice and veggies, next to lentil balls and sauce or just as a crispy topping to a slice of home baked bread with lentil pate and tahini sauce. Let your palate be your guide, or perhaps ferment something completely different? I’d be curious to know what other interesting things people have tried out.