What are your feelings about sauerkraut?
Hold on! Bear with me.
I have a good reason for bringing up that old-fashioned, rather pungent condiment. And it actually ties in with my newest release, The Moonlight School.
While researching The Moonlight School, I studied all kinds of historical information about Appalachia, including food traditions. Popular dishes reveal much about a region’s heritage, and Appalachia is particularly fascinating because it’s a melting pot of immigrants from Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland. Independent minded, these hardy souls came to the New World and sought land where they could be left alone and undisturbed, ignored by governments they didn’t trust.
But the isolation came with a price—most of Appalachia is heavily timbered or rocky, full of hills and hollows, painfully hard to farm. What resulted was a “cuisine of making do.” Making do with what you could grow or find or trap. A cuisine of necessity and self-reliance. And a cuisine of poverty.
And that brings me to sauerkraut.
A little briny, a little peppery, a little salty. But oh so very, very good for you.
The word comes from the Germans: kraut means cabbage, sauer means sour. Long, long ago, someone stumbled upon the magic of fermentation to keep cabbage from spoiling. That clever someone sprinkled salt on chopped cabbage, allowed a brine to form, poured it into a barrel or jar, then tucked it away in a dark cellar.
Today, that same clever someone would be shocked to discover that he (or she) had created a Superfood with astonishing nutritional benefits. One tablespoon a day of sauerkraut is recommended to aid digestion, boost the immune system, help reduce stress, maintain brain function, reduce the risk of certain cancers, improve the heart’s function, and build stronger bones.* One tablespoon a day! That’s all you need. Now, that’s a Superfood.
Amazing to think that the purpose of fermenting the humble, easy-to-grow cabbage was just to find a way to keep it from spoiling. No one had any way of knowing that it was also a remarkable means of nutritional support. Sometimes I wonder if God looks down on us, grinning, whenever science announces a breakthrough. He built so many benefits into nature…and He’s just been waiting for someone to discover it.
If you’re still wrinkling your nose at the thought of sauerkraut, give this recipe a try. It’s the best one I’ve found (has a pickle-ish flavor), and I have a hunch it will make you a sauerkraut convert. Your tummy will thank you.
Garlic-Dill Sauerkraut (recipe from Zero Waste Chef)
1 large head cabbage (I like Napa cabbage for this recipe but I have made it with standard cabbage also)
1 bunch dill
6 cloves of garlic or to taste (Is it actually possible to have too much garlic? I haven’t discovered the threshold myself…)
2 teaspoons salt
- Peel off a leaf of cabbage and set aside. Chop the cabbage roughly into smallish pieces. Mince the dill and garlic.
- Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Squeeze them with your hands. Place a plate on top of them and a weight on top of that. The salt, the crushing and the weight all help draw out liquid from the vegetables. Taste the mixture. If you want it saltier, add more salt.
- Pack the vegetables into clean glass jars. Place the conserved cabbage leaf over the vegetables to stuff them down in the jar. If you have a small jar, place it within the larger jar to force down the vegetables to submerge them completely in liquid. The vegetables WILL NOT FERMENT if you don’t submerge them in liquid. Put the lids on the jars. Place the jars on a plate. They will bubble, gurgle and ooze over the next several days and you don’t want that liquid all over the place.
- Burp the jars daily (i.e., open the lids to let built-up carbon dioxide escape) during active fermentation (several days, depending on your kitchen environment).
- Taste the kraut on day three. If you like the flavor, you’re done. If you want it tangier, wait longer. I usually ferment my kraut for a couple of months. Move your jars to the refrigerator when you like the flavor unless you have eaten it all…
*Recipe source: https://zerowastechef.com/2016/06/02/garlic-dill-sauerkraut/
*Photo credit: irenemacri.com
Suzanne Woods Fisher is a bestselling, award winning author, with over 1.2 million books sold. Her most recent novel, The Moonlight School, is based on the true story of Cora Wilson Stewart and her efforts to eradicate adult illiteracy in eastern Kentucky during the early part of the 20th century. Cora was an ordinary woman who led an extraordinary life. And she loved sauerkraut.