When publications like the Baltimore Sun run headlines like ‘Seafood, tea, sauerkraut in food spotlight,’ you know that sauerkraut has arrived in the national consciousness and has spiked in popularity. We’ve seen our sales climb pretty rapidly in the fourth quarter of 2005 as people have learned about the health benefits of sauerkraut and continued eating it because of its versatility and flavor. ~Chris Smith
Yes, we do make our own sauerkraut, about once every couple of years. We make a big batch, and then when it’s ready, we freeze it and it lasts a long time. No joke! Great for the crock-pot with kielbasa and hot dogs! Anytime of the year.
It’s funny, as we were getting things prepped and ready on Sunday for the deed, Kyle was super stoked! He was so excited to participate with the family on such a tradition. I even said to him, “Kyle you’ve only done this once before.” He corrected me, and informed me he’s participated a few times with making sauerkraut. My bad! I didn’t realize this meant so much to him, and it really did!
Actually, I’m pretty happy about that, learning to make anything is a good lesson, not to mention keeping up family traditions is the best. My sister didn’t join us this time, but maybe next.
So why would one make sauerkraut? It tastes so much better than store bought out of a can! Way better! Tell me if this makes sense, but growing up with a half Polish mom, you’d think I would have a taste for the aged cabbage sustenance, but alas I never really cared for it. In fact, when mom would cook sauerkraut, I would gag at the smell, literally dry heave. Luckily, over the years I’ve grown accustomed to the potency, and developed a mild craving for sauerkraut, only mom’s. I still don’t care for the canned or store bought. Probably because mom and dad’s sauerkraut simply contains cabbage, salt and water. Whereas, if you read the ingredients on the packages, it contains a lot more than that, which I feel taints the taste. Yep, homemade or nothing.
How does one start to make sauerkraut? It’s really easy actually. Dad always gets about eight large heads of cabbage or so, from the farmers market. Then, we peel off the outside leaves, chop the heads in half to remove the heart, then the real fun begins. We have a professional grade meat slicer we use to slice up the cabbage. Before our lives were made easier, we would use mom’s food processor set to slice, and then before that we would use a hand mandolin or micro-plane, whichever you prefer to call it. Now that uses the arm muscles! No wonder the Polish women are buff!
After each head of cabbage is sliced, then it is placed in a large ceramic crock, ours holds about fifteen gallons. Add about one of dad’s handfuls of course Kosher salt, and begin pounding the sliced cabbage down. This action helps to generate the natural juices from within. Where does one buy a sauerkraut pounder? No clue. Dad made ours. It’s simply a wooden cylinder head attached to a long wooden handle.
This process is repeated after every head of cabbage is shredded, and added to the ceramic crock. While the pounding continues, tons of juices come to the surface till your arms are ready to fall off. Dad and I took turns pounding. Mom was in charge of adding the cabbage to the ceramic crock, while Kyle was on the meat slicer. Yes I know, not a safe job for a munchkin, but he did help with the other jobs and begged us to let him on the meat slice. It does have the safety features and Kyle was instructed on the consequences of what could go wrong. When Kyle is scared, he is always overly cautious. Knowing that, we still meticulously watched him and made sure he was safe. Dad’s only comment was, “Kyle this thing could take off your finger easily and that hurts, trust me!” As dad showed him his finger. Kyle about turned white from hearing and envisioning the reality.
It’s true, a couple of years ago dad was slicing deer meat on the band saw and took off the tip of his finger. It’s still missing, gone! Did he go to the doctors? Nope! He wrapped it up, and washed it out until it healed. It’s still sore for him, but he manages, and uses it now as a learning lesson. That’s taking a negative and turning it into a positive!
Once the sauerkraut was pounded and done, we placed a glass plate facing down on top of the soon to be aged saurerkraut, with a gallon jug of water to weight it all down, allowing the cabbage to soak in all the salty juices. Then, we placed several layers of garbage bags down in to seal it off from contaminants. Yes, the bags are clean and no, I don’t know what they used in the olden days. Probably some sort of burlap, which we don’t have a supply of laying around the house. Then, as a final step, we dumped more water into the garbage bags, which resided on the gallon jug, glass plate and the sauerkraut, to really keep the weight pressed down on the future goodness. That’s it! Let it alone for about eight weeks and enjoy!
Since we make so much at a go, we divide it into freezer bags, label them and send the sauerkraut to our own arctic in the garage, awaiting our next meal, or for New Year’s Eve morning. Yes, that’s another tradition I know most people share, hot dogs, kielbasa and sauerkraut for New Years. I love it!
While we were making the sauerkraut, I do recall the last time. Kyle was giving everyone positive reinforcement. You know, “You’re doing good Aunt Heather, keep it up.” or “Wow, pap pap, good job!” as he gave my dad a thumbs up. He was in that cheering stage, which was way too cute!
Love that kid! I hope he never changes and I hope he is always available to make sauerkraut with us for years to come!
P.S. it’s such a whirl wind when making sauerkraut, I never thought to stop and take pictures. It actually happens so fast and we get into such a rhythm. Maybe next time, I’ll be sure to snap a few pics for my records.