Saturday, August 27, 2011

Overrun with Cabbage

Now I can't recall whether we started our cabbages indoors and a fungal root infection killed them, or whether we planted the small seedlings out and slugs did them in. Either way, let's blame the slugs. After loosing our own seedlings, we were forced to buy cabbage starts from a local greenhouse. They had started them quite early, so by the time we took them home to plant they were already several inches tall. This didn't concern me at the time because I didn't consider the corner that 15 mature cabbages might force us into. I tried to ignore all the large and robust globes forming around me, as if that would solve something. When I finally addressed the situation, many of the cabbages had split open. Water had begun collecting in their new crevices and a fishy smelling rot was encroaching at the edges. I should have acted sooner. Next year. I brought a machete to the garden and whacked the orbs away from their roots.

What does one do with this much cabbage? Lacto-fermentation is the only answer. Luckily it is a good one because, beyond preserving the cabbage, it makes its nutrients more available and offers beneficial bacteria for your intestinal flora. Unfortunately the temperature is still a bit high to make sauerkraut. It would be ideal if it could ferment for 4 weeks between 60 and 65 degrees. We considered burying our imaginary jug of sauerkraut in the stream bed, but the temperature two inches below the water level was 66.9. If this were mid-September, we would likely have perfect conditions, but August is August, and August it is. We proceeded anyway.

There is a lot of chopping to be done. We read that you should sterilize all of your tools before commencing. We didn't go farther than giving them a good wash. I have a number of food grade five gallon buckets. After rearranging all of our stored nuts, one became available.

After weighing and slicing, we added around 3 tablespoons of salt for every 5 pounds of cabbage. You are meant to bash away at all of this cabbage until it releases and becomes submerged by its own juices. We were without a proper utensil, but we made good use of the rolling pin, the potato masher, the metal tongs, and the knife sharpening steel.

Finally it became like soup.
There are fermenting crocks that are designed specifically for this purpose, and I hear they work perfectly. The crock itself has a large rim that holds water that the lid sits down into. The gases that escape during fermentation are able to move through this seal, while it remains impervious to air and pathogens from the outside. Ingenious... and expensive. The smallest one I could find was over $125. So we are winging it, again, like we did last year. Hopefully this experiment will turn out better than last year's. Last year's sauerkraut rotted because we didnt' have a good seal. When the gasses escaped there were air pockets left in their places and deterioration took hold. This year we filled a 2 gallon plastic bag with salted water (in case the bag breaks for some reason) and placed it on top of the cabbage, thereby keeping everything submerged. Garth found a lid for a five gallon bucket from his beer making days with a contraption on the top that lets gasses out without letting air in. The bucket is on the dirt floor of our basement at the bottom of the stairs. If all goes well, we'll be in sauerkraut for months. If it doesn't, we will have wasted a few good hours on a Sunday, and a season's worth of cabbage. I'm not sure where my bets lie, but I know where my hopes do.



  1. That's a tough one... I can't imaging any good outcome. Either you put in all the work and cabbage for nothing or you put it all in and come out with tons of sauerkraut - which for me is an equally distressing result.
    Probably if I were a better person I would chew my way through sauerkraut out of respect for its health and storage benefits, but not right now. (it possible that I would feel differently about nice homemade kraut).

  2. Yeah, we'll see. I do think that sauerkraut is something I learned to like, but the lactofermented kind is also very likable, just naturally. I'm sure we will have enough to ship you some if it works out well.

  3. You guys HAVE to get some whey-fed pigs going. If you ground some of those up into sausages with the homemade sauerkraut it would be AMAZING.