March 15, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
“You can’t fit a whole cabbage in there,” or Lessons from Sauerkraut—Part 1
If you’ve been to my house at any point in the last eighteen months, I’ve probably made you eat sauerkraut—no small task considering its a highly divisive food. There’s certainly been plenty of it for me to push. I started fermenting in August 2015 to indulge my curiosity and kept at it for the fascination, the pride, and the probiotics. Through practice I’ve gotten pretty good at making it (its not that hard), but thats not the point of this post. Instead, here are five things I learned from smelly, fermented cabbage. (Actually, its not that smelly).
TOTAL IMMERSION is key. Whether its learning a language, figuring out how to self-publish a novel, or fermenting cabbage, sometimes total immersion is the only way to understand/acquire a culture. You can learn French in a classroom, but you’ll get farther a lot faster working on a remote farm in Provence where no one speaks English.
The same is true of sauerkraut, which actually requires being submerged in a brine to ferment. The anoxic environment of the brine helps the lactic acid bacteria thrive, while creating an inhospitable environment for the harmful bacteria and mold that require air to grow. So, learning something new? Why not cast off the distractions and dive in!
NOT EVERYONE WILL LIKE YOU and thats okay. No matter how good, wholesome, or helpful we may be, there will always be people who just don’t like us. Each of us has something unique to offer—our own particular flavor—and if we allow ourselves to be open and authentic, our friends will greatly outnumber the haters. Its better to spend our time and energy on those who appreciate what we have to offer. Barring all that, it might just be your smell that puts people off. You’re human. Take a shower. Sauerkraut doesn’t have such a luxury.
TOO MUCH SPICE TURNS PEOPLE OFF. A little dash of seasoning, like a little complaining, can really enhance the flavor of life. I’m a pretty positive person, but humans need contrast—sunshine and rainbows all the time gets pretty old. Once in a while you need a thunderstorm.
We connect to others via emotions, and one of the easiest ways to connect is through shared grievances. “Ugh, can you believe how HOT it is today? I’m melting!” We complain about all sorts of things, and in moderation it brings us together; bad bosses, flaky friends, outrageous cable bills, rude customer service, insensitive romantic partners. Too much though and all of a sudden you’re Negative Nancy and people start to find you unpalatable.
I recently made the mistake of being too liberal with the salt and adding five cloves of garlic to a quart of cabbage. I love garlic. I love salt. I don’t love them this much—this batch went straight to the compost.
ITS BETTER BY HAND. Sorry, it just is. It turns out that pride is a pretty great flavor-enhancer. In general, if I can reasonably create something myself, I’m going to do it. The sense of accomplishment that accompanies handmade foods, arts, crafts, etc. is well worth the time and effort that goes into creation. Plus, when you do things yourself you’re going to learn something along the way and end up with a greater appreciation of the finished product.
YOU CAN’T FIT A WHOLE CABBAGE IN A MASON JAR, even when its finely shredded. I learned this one the hard way. My husband laughed as he watched me struggle—he told me it was never going to work. After I was frustrated enough (I can be stubborn) he smiled and handed me a second jar. Moral? At least consider the advice of others, especially those you love and respect.
Someone on Twitter recently tweeted:
There are too many blogs about making #sauerkraut. Its salt and cabbage, people.
I’ve got five more things I’ve learned that I’ll be sharing next week, but we’ll leave it here for now. So, what do you think? Are you craving a reuben? How about a brat covered in kraut? Do you think you’d like to give home fermenting a try? Let me know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already.
Thanks, and keep in touch!