As a child I was an extremely picky eater. Now, I know this is not uncommon, but I was one of those kids. Food couldn’t touch other food or it would become “tainted.” There could be no sauces, dressings or condiments on anything or it would be ruined and inedible. Salad was always naked. Pasta was plain or served lightly buttered. Pizza was disgusting. Soda was icky. Even chocolate ice cream didn’t appeal to me (although vanilla was a different story). Luckily I’ve expanded my palette and repertoire, although there are still things I shy away from (spicy food) and many things I hesitate to taste.
Lately I’ve been slowly tasting and trying some new things. This seems to have happened rather inadvertently, but it’s opened me up to some new flavors, techniques, and ideas. Take fermenting. There seems to be a slowly growing fermentation movement. Or at least, I’ve become more aware of it in recent years. I love when friends bring over a homebrew. I’ve dabbled with sourdough and bread starters for a good crispy loaf. Yet pickles and fermented vegetables just didn’t appeal to me.
Sauerkraut has always brought visions of the monochromatic bag of floating kraut that seems to appear everywhere shortly before St. Patrick’s day. It gives me the willies and seems a far cry from a vegetable. Recently I’ve been enlightened.
My good friend, potter and fermentation guru Jeremy Ogusky, has helped me to see the brighter side of ferments. After tasting some unusual combinations at his house, my interest was piqued. A few weeks ago, he came over for a tutorial and helped demystify this fermentation process everyone is talking about. He even makes specialized crocks just for fermenting! Although a regular old mason jar will also work.
Fermenting seemed a bit scary and foreign to me. You see, usually I follow a recipe to a T. I’ve always been one to follow directions, and at least the first time I make something is no different. I love that about cooking, and especially baking, if you measure carefully and follow a recipe, you’re ensured delicious consistency every time.
And yet, I also like the free-form nature that can come with other recipes. Throwing together ingredients and spices based on a whim or an idea can yield unexpected and delicious results.
Fermenting falls somewhere between these techniques. Certain ingredients are needed, yet ratios can be adjusted to taste. Seasonings can be adjusted. Every time is a bit of science experiment. You’re not quite sure exactly what will happen, given the unique nature and natural yeasts and bacteria in each environment.
In a short time, I soon had several different kinds of sauerkraut jarred on the counter, ready to bubble away. The results were so enjoyable that I had to see if I could replicate it on my own. Our favorite was a more mild version, enhanced with some apple. It seemed to go well with whatever we paired it with all week: salad, bread, rice, chicken, pasta, snack.
makes 1 mason jar
1 medium-sized cabbage (purple or green)
1 fresh organic apple
1.5 tsp. fennel seed
optional: small amount of sauerkraut or juice from existing ferment
1. Peel off outer layers from cabbage and discard.
2. Quarter cabbage and remove the hard stem/core area. Slice each quarter into thick pieces, around 1/2 – 1 inch.
3. In large bowl break cabbage apart. Add generous handfuls of sea salt (see photo above).
4. Massage salt into cabbage. This is sort of like kneading bread. Put a little muscle into it. The cabbage should start to break down and get softer. Taste and add more salt accordingly. It shouldn’t be overwhelmingly salty, but you should be able to taste it.
5. Loosely dice apple pieces and add to cabbage.
6. Give it another good mix/massage.
7. Add the fennel seed and stir.
8. Start to add to your mason jar. Use a wooden spoon to really press the cabbage mixture into the bottom of the jar. Keep adding more cabbage and pressing it in, slowly filling the jar and releasing juices.
9. When the jar is full, you should have pressed out all of the air pockets.
10. Use a weight like a small glass or water filled jar that just fits inside the opening of your cabbage vessel. Press down and make sure the cabbage is submerged in liquid. Leave the weight on top.
11. Put the entire jar on a plate to catch any overflowing liquids. If there’s too much water flowing over the top by the next day, you may empty some out. Just make sure the cabbage is still submerged.
12. Leave out on counter to ferment.
13. Taste it daily to see how the flavors develop. When it is to your liking, cover and move into the fridge. I found 4 days was perfect.