March 22, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
“In Hell all they serve is coleslaw,” or Lessons from Sauerkraut—Part 2
Would you kill for a bratwurst right now? Do you dream of salty, tangy Ruebens? Have you been experiencing any strange cravings over the last week? I have been, and as my kraut obsession continues, allow me to pick up where I left off with last week’s post. Here are the other five things I’ve learned from sauerkraut that, surprisingly, apply to real life. What can I say? I’m a fan of metaphor—and cabbage soaked in a brine teeming with its own bacteria.
If you missed the first five, don’t fret. You can read them here. But without further ado:
ITS BETTER TO BE RAW AND CULTURED THAN [P]RESERVED AND PROCESSED. Commercially jarred or (yuck) canned sauerkraut is probably the number one reason so many people are put off by fermented cabbage. My hilarious friend Sara once worked in a cafe where the stuff came out of gallon-sized aluminum cans. She recounted to me in vivid detail exactly what happened to her stomach every time she was forced to open a new can, but I’ll save you the gut-wrenching/retching details. Good sauerkraut should be raw, alive, and (in my opinion) unique from batch to batch. Commercial canning and preservation kills the valuable probiotics, leaving the kraut dull, uncultured, and reeking.
The same is true for human beings. Be a unique snowflake! Its okay to come as you are, right now in this moment. We’ve all got our own distinct flavor, and when we’re overeager to fit in and conform, we lose the sense of ourselves—our personal culture—and risk ending up dull and unmemorable. Let loose! Cast off your reservations and be totally, unmistakably you!
SOME THINGS ARE BETTER WITH TIME is a concept that extends beyond wine and cheese. While I dote on basically all the other brassicas, I find plain old cabbage to be pretty uninspiring. Sure, it can be great in some European dishes, and my husband and I really love grilling it for wedge salads, but I never crave cabbage like I do kale, or broccoli, or some of its other cousins. In fact, sometimes I have a downright aversion to it. Its no secret that I detest coleslaw. I’m pretty sure that’s my idea of hell—no fire and brimstone, just an institutional cafeteria with fluorescent lighting where all they serve is coleslaw.
However, add a little time, salt and pressure, and plain old cabbage transforms into one of my favorite foods. In a society obsessed with instant gratification it can be hard to wait. I’m thinking of my novel now—believe me I want to throw it up on Amazon right now and click publish, but I know it isn’t ready yet. I could do it, but, well, I’d be giving you coleslaw in place of kraut. It still needs a little time, salt and pressure, but in the end its going to be worth the wait on both our ends.
TRIAL AND ERROR LEADS TO BETTER GROWTH, and occasionally delicious mistakes! I talked last week about the over-salted garlic-laden batch I made that went straight to the compost. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. Before we dumped it, my husband and I pulled out all the garlic cloves and threw them in the oven. The result was a delightfully tangy roasted garlic that was unlike anything we’d ever tasted. The kraut itself was a failure, but the roasted garlic was a more-than-adequate consolation prize.
So what happened?
I didn’t use a recipe and ended up ruining the batch. However, what I lost in fermented cabbage I gained in knowledge. I’m about to embark on another garlic kraut, but this time I’m going to start with one clove.
I also try to apply this principal to real life. I’m really glad I self published a short short story before I even considered self publishing my novel. I learned a lot about what to do, what not to do, and when to do it. Trial, error, and reassessment are the keys to autonomous learning and growth. The same thing goes with this blog. I’m looking to connect with you and, as its early on, I’m casting around a little for what resonates. So if this resonates, be sure to let me know. It’ll be better for both of us!
IN A DYNAMIC WORLD, SELF PRESERVATION REQUIRES CHANGE. If you’re a cabbage freshly cut from the field. there are a lot of things gunning for you. Without proper storage, the process of decay can begin almost immediately! Simply remaining a nice, tight head is a challenge; you’ve got to contend with heat, moisture, mold, insects and other animals. Maybe you’re lucky enough to go right into a cool, dark root cellar where you can hide away from the big mean world for a few months. Otherwise, its probably a cardboard box and a shipping container, and then fluorescent lights in the grocery store. All the while the threat of rotting is a real, constant fear.
Change is scary, I get it, but if you’re a cabbage there is another way. Shed your outer leaves, shred your insecurities, and ferment! The salt and lactic acid bacteria will keep you crisp and shelf-stable even with minimal refrigeration. Kept nicely, you can last for a year or more. I’d like to see an avocado or a banana do that.
Unsurprisingly, the same thing applies to humans. Romantic partners come and go, jobs change, we make and lose friends, technology provides new problems alongside new solutions. And these are just changes that threaten to derail us on a personal level! In the wider world political administrations come and go, globalization creates new industries in one place while decimating them in others. Its a struggle to stay current, educated and informed, and most of us don’t have the option to hide away in a root cellar. Even if we did, thats not sustainable. I’m not saying we should abandon all our convictions, but embrace at least a little of whats new and relevant every day and we’ll be better suited to survive in a dynamic world.
Finally, WE SHOULD CONNECT WITH OUR FOOD. Its easy to forget that refrigeration is a 20th century invention, that tomato sauce started out as a berry growing on a vine, or that hot dogs were (at some point in the distant past) actually living, breathing animals. Eggs don’t come from cardboard cartons. They come from chickens. Do you have any idea what went into making the mozzarella on your pizza?
Taking the time to understand where your food comes from and how its made not only makes you more interesting at a dinner party, it also gives you an authentic appreciation of the food itself. It gives you a connection to our shared history and culture as humans.
The world is an enormous place, but through my experiences fermenting, I’ve tapped into ancient traditions that span the globe. And I think in some ways the world, for me, has gotten a little smaller as a result. Smaller in a good way.
So, what do you think? Ready to give it a try? Here are a few resources to help you get started:
www.makesauerkraut.com provides thorough but easy instructions.
The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz offers the most thorough explanation of the science and techniques of fermentation I’ve so-far encountered.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and of course I’d be honored beyond belief if you subscribed to this blog or my monthly mailing list. Thanks as always for reading!