Sauerkraut and About Patience and Process
On this morning’s walk, I see the frost has left its handprint on everything. The piles of fallen leaves sparkle in the streetlight, and the low sound of a scraper on a car windshield echoes in the pre-dawn stillness. The eighty-eight degrees of Valencia, Spain, and its hot sun are memories now. But the first frost happens to coincide with the day marked on my calendar to taste my first batch of homemade sauerkraut.
A few weeks ago, I bought some purple and green cabbages at the market and brought them home to shred and salt. I then packed the mixture into one of my Belgian salt-glazed crocks and a couple of large canning jars, lightly sealed the tops and took them down to the basement, hoping for the magic to happen. Every day, like clockwork, I walked down the steps, and burped the jars. And soon enough, I could see bubbles rising through the cabbage, fermentation at work.
I like things that take time. It’s one of the reasons I became a baker. I mix the ingredients up, the yeast grows the dough and the flavor on its own schedule, and I only cajole it to become good bread. Sauerkraut works the same way. I start the process and then leave it down in the dark and cool basement to take the time it needs to ferment. It’s a process not an instant reward, and it keeps me mindful of what it takes to produce food.
Many moons ago, when we lived on a farm and tried our hand at self sufficient living, we grew cabbage. I decided to make some sauerkraut. I had a large perfect crock, a cool place to keep it, but I did not know the secret of fermenting and time. I forgot all about it and when I found it again, mold was growing all over the top and sides, and what was to be sauerkraut turned into compost…This time around, I know a few things I didn’t know then. Patience is not about forgetting something until I am ready for it. It is being involved intimately with it and allowing it to do its work in its time. It’s giving it the freedom to do what it has to do, and yet continue to be mindful of it. It’s knowing when to step in and when to step out. And it’s trusting in it enough to know it will all work out.
So, tonight is the night. The purple sauerkraut has stopped bubbling. When I open the top, I smell that familiar tang. One taste and I know that patience has paid off. The wood fired oven that I fired up for bread is at the right temperature. In a Dutch oven, I fry some onions, add spices, and three kinds of pork, along with some wine and sauerkraut. It all goes in the oven. A little more patience is needed, but this time measured in hours not weeks. But so worth the wait!
5 salt and pepper sausages, cut in 1 1/2 inch slices
12 slices of bacon, cut in 1 inch slices
1 lb of smoked ham, chopped
4 lbs. of sauerkraut, drained and rinsed
3 small onions, finely chopped
3 1/4 c. riesling
Bouquet garni: 1 bay leaf, 3 sprigs of parsley, 1 sprig of thyme,1 head of garlic, separated and peeled, 3 whole cloves, 6 juniper berries and 5 coriander seeds.
Salt and pepper to taste
12 Carola potatoes
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a dutch oven, pour a little olive oil. Add onions and cook until soft, ten to fifteen minutes. Then add sauerkraut, wine, bouquet garni, ham, sausage and bacon and cook in oven until meats are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. While the sauerkraut is cooking, clean potatoes and cut into large pieces. About 35 minutes before serving, place potatoes in a pot of salted water and cook until tender, 10 to 20 minutes or so.
Serve sauerkraut with potatoes on one large platter. Serves 6.