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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Off With Their Heads in the Valley…

Heads up

To my knowledge there’s no Teutonic ancestry in my lineage, unless a band of lusty Germanic crusaders en route to the Crusades made a brief stopover in Ireland. When my pre-college aptitude tests were analyzed, the results revealed I had an affinity for Germanic languages (in the adjacent column, “spatial cognition,” where a numerical score should appear, were only the words “Ha! Ha! Ha!”).

Strange, I thought, since I knew no German. (I did know a German, though (two Germans, to be sure): Mr. Bill Gebhardt, our camp mechanic, but what I acquired from him was an affinity for bees and beekeeping; what I learned about his wife Marie was to stay out of the Gebhardts’ small apple orchard on hot days because as rumor had it, she puttered about the place in her bra.) Dad took German in college, but it seemed unlikely a college German class could have wormed its way into his DNA and trickled down into mine. What I’m doing here is trying to understand  my love of making sauerkraut ( G.  sauer: sour; kraut: cabbage): I’m afraid my Irish heritage can lay claim to cabbage only. (Later in my college days, I learned English was a “Germanic” Language. “Well, ok,” I thought, “ I can navigate around fairly reasonably in that medium.”)

I do love sauerkraut—and not just because I learned years ago that a can of sauerkraut juice can purge a balky intestinal tract far more effectively than a quart of Sunkist prune juice. I love the process of sauerkraut, love to grow the cabbage, delight in the beheading of it, relish the hours it takes to shred and pack twenty pounds of cabbage into a three gallon crock. I love both the journey and destination, which begins by tamping a shiny black seed into potting soil and delivers me at last in the land of Reuben sandwiches.

My sauerkraut journey begins in March when I plant my cabbage seed in seedling pots. This year’s seed was a Christmas gift from brother Kevin who has just begun his second year of sauerkraut internship. When their secondary leaves form, I drench theAt the start thirsty seedlings in fish fertilizer and set them out in the  company of the sweet peas. Fast forward beyond the weeding, the pest control, and watering to the day of beheading, which this year was  August 12, last Thursday,.

Armed with a machete, the executioner marches out into the cabbage patch and steels himself for the first swift decapitation. It’s heads up for me and heads off for the cabbage. Cabbage RowYears of experience tell me I need 6-8 heads for twenty pounds of ‘kraut. This year, whether it was the cool spring or variety of cabbage, the heads are denser than in the past. I whack five heads from their stems, trim off the wormhole-riddled outer leaves, and haul the green noggins to the house.                        Twenty Pounds

I wash the cabbages and begin the process. My environmentally-sensitive friend has come through for me again. It’s Nancy L’s kitchen scale I use to weigh out five pounds of cabbage at a time. With a sharp chef’s knife I slice the five pounds as thinly as possible into a stainless steel bowl, add the proper ratio of salt (pickling salt, mind you) to cabbage: 3 Tbsp. per five pounds,  sprinkle the salt evenly on the heap of cabbage, and  mix the contents thoroughly. For fifteen minutes I allow the salt to draw the water from the cabbage, creating the brine essential for the fermenting process.     

Five pounds sliced

Two handfuls at a time I transfer the dripping cabbage from bowl to crock and use my fist to pack the cabbage tightly. sliced and saltedI repeat this procedure three more times until I’ve compressed twenty pounds of wilted cabbage firmly in the 3 gallon crock.To prevent airborne contaminates, I tamp a muslin kitchen towel tightly against the edges of the crock, place a special china plate (a perfect fit for the diameter) on the cloth, and weight it with a two pound granite river cobble. Out in the garage it goes where it will stay until the brine is absorbed, the fermentation complete, and ‘kraut vintage 2010 is ready to bottle.


Twenty pounds crocked


While I await the finished product, I’ll share a recipe with you, one that combines both my aptitude for things Germanic (my muttersprache, English) and my Irish lineage* (paternal grandmother Mary Egan, The Old Sod, County Mayo):

Reuben Chowder

3 cups milk

1  10 3/4 oz. can condensed cream of celery soup

1/2 cup shredded process Swiss cheese (2 oz.)

1  16-oz can of sauerkraut, drained and snipped [“Snipped?” Couldn’t tell you why]

*                       *                    *                *

3 Tbsp. butter or margarine [margarine??], softened

4-6 slices rye bread

1 tsp caraway seed

*                      *                      *                 *

*1 12-oz. can corned beef, chilled and diced

In a sauce pan stir milk into celery soup and shredded cheese. Add sauerkraut and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Meanwhile, spread the butter or margarine over both sides of the rye bread into triangles; place on baking sheet. Toast in 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Add diced corned beef to soup. Heat about 10 minutes or till heated through. Serve toast triangles with soup. Makes 4-6 servings.

Note: If homemade sauerkraut is not used, chowder may have a strong flavor of supermarket shelves.

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  1. Well, I'm sorry to say that your love for sauerkraut did not make it into my DNA. However, it somehow made it to Avi's. He's looking forward to enjoying some of this year's batch...I know. :)

  2. This year's batch will be pumped up some: I'm adding a bit of color to a few jars, the color red, if you know what I mean. Dad