The Cabbage

 The Cabbage

 The weekend is here.  That means I have my projects lined up.  It’s been a successful year in my garden and for last month or so I spent my weekends ‘putting up’. That means canning.  This weekend’s projects are canning more zucchini pickles, making jam, and to do something with a massive cabbage that was given to me last weekend.  As an active member of our local Slow Food chapter,  I helped man our stand at a food fair in Rotterdam.  The stand was decorated with fresh fruits and vegetables in order to drive home our Fresh-and-Local message. All day long I was admiring this cabbage for its sheer size.  It was massive and I was totally intrigued. At the end of the day I was asked if there was anything I wanted in return for giving up my weekend for the Slow Food cause.   With a wry smile and a sideways glance, I was heading to my car with it like a proud parent, arms barely reaching around it.  Now, after a week of rolling it around on my kitchen table I have to find something to do with it.   Either cabbage rolls or coleslaw for my entire town or a barrel of sauerkraut.  Make my own sauerkraut.  Four to six weeks of fermenting stinking cabbage. Sounds attractive.

  To tell you the truth, I’m not the biggest kraut fan but as I sit staring at this enormous green globe, I just can’t help thinking of our trip to the Alsace region of France this summer.  Choucroute l’Alsacienne or as I call it, the Alsacian Mountain of Meat.   This is a massive platter of 6 or 7 types of meats (mostly smoked pork) served on a bed of super-fine sauerkraut cooked in Riesling.   I’m drooling as I think of it.   Hmmm, Alsace, that’s story I have to write up later.  Yes.  Sauerkraut it is then.

So what does one need to make sauerkraut?  Immediately, I go to my canning bible: an ancient copy of the Ball Blue Book of Canning; it says 25 lbs of cabbage and salt.  That’s it? I asked surprised, “No vinegar?” Apparently through the fermentation phase it makes its own.  Ok, sounds easy enough.  Next problem, what to put it in?  I could buy one of these wicked expensive special sauerkraut barrels with plungers, double walling, and valves to let the fermenting gas escape.  This is interesting, but for this one shot deal, I’m not willing to make the investment and besides it just doesn’t match the décor of my kitchen. (That’s right, I should tell you this, sauerkraut needs to ferment at room temperature, and so putting it in the shed is no option).  I need something I can reuse in case this is a total flop.  I also need something to keep the stink inside, but not airtight. I googled this subject only to find horror stories of exploding sauerkraut vats caused by too much built up gas. If that would happen to me, my ever patient goddess of a house keeper, Betty, would quit for sure.  

 Aimlessly, I wonder around my town going from store to store looking for inspiration.  It has to be plastic, double walled, not transparent (I don’t really want to see this being made), and has to be the perfect shade of blue.  I walk into our local housewares shop, a sort of 5 and dime selling bits of this and that. Storage containers?  No too transparent.   Jars?  Too explosive. Then suddenly…I see it…a COOLER!  OF COURSE!! 

 To your surprise, I will admit that I don’t have a cooler at home.  I know every American has at least 1 cooler in their garage but we don’t here.  This is because we can’t buy ICE anywhere here!  You have a better shot of panning for gold in the middle of the Amstel River than finding a place that sells ice. Sure, I could make it but I don’t have the space in my freezer.  Dutch refrigerators/freezers are less than ½ the size of the ones we take for granted in the US.  But anyway, the Dutch kitchen…that’s for another story.  Back to my sauerkraut.

 I get it home, wash it out, and try to hack my way through this monstrous cabbage.  Inside, this beast is thick and rough. “I was afraid of that”, I think to myself.  But the thinner outer leaves are useable.  I’ll save the rough stuff for something else, coleslaw maybe.  Taking the thinnest leaves, I slice by hand because it’s just too big to fit in my Cuisenart. Besides, our pioneering ancestors didn’t use a machine, did they? They didn’t have a perfect blue cooler either, but hey.  It takes about an hour of hacking and then I have a coolerful of salted silver slivers ready for their 6 week transformation.  Putting the lid on, I tuck them in to peek at in about a week…I’ll keep you informed.

 Yes, I made coleslaw with the rest.  Lots and Lots of coleslaw.  Here’s my recipe, scaled down to normal size.

 American Cole Slaw

 ½ normal sized head of white cabbage, shredded

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

Handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)

1 Cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sugar (or to taste, you try with less and scale up)

2 teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon celery salt

A dash or 2 of tabasco

 In a small bowl mix mayo, salt, sugar, celery salt and tabasco in a bowl.  Mix well and taste.  The sweet and salt taste should be really pronounced.  If it tastes ‘normal’ it will get watered down with the water in the cabbage. Adjust seasonings if needed.  In a large bowl, mix cabbages and carrot.  Add mayo mixture and mix well.  Cover and refrigerate.  It gets better the next day and is good for about a week.

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