I've never been a picky eater....except for blue cheese....and organ meats....and black licorice...and just about anything from the ocean. OK, so maybe I'm a bit of a picky eater! In any case, I have never been a fan of sauerkraut.
As a kid I would turn my nose up at the stuff and always minimized my consumption of it to the smallest "no thank you" portion that I could get away with. Even though I tend to be someone who enjoys traditions, I never wanted any part of the whole eating sauerkraut on New Years' Day thing.
When Janet recently announced that she was going to make sauerkraut from the last of our cabbage, I did my best to conceal my lack of enthusiasm for the idea. I even spent an afternoon attempting to make a wooden lid for the crock that would fit inside on top of the cabbage. That didn't work out so well because of the conical shape of the interior made it a poor fit.
I watched as Janet rinsed, chopped, salted and placed the leaves into the five gallon crock. When she was done I said, "That's it? Just leaves and a little salt?" She assured me that nothing else was required. I didn't question her authority on the matter further because she was raised by her German immigrant mother who certainly knows all about sauerkraut.
The success of the pickling process depends on the exclusion of oxygen. After my failed attempt with the wooden stopper I tried a second idea that I saw in a book somewhere. I placed a large plastic bag in the crock on top of the cabbage and filled it with water. This idea seemed to work very well, it sealed very tightly to the sidewalls of the crock and provided weight to press the cabbage down.
The flaw in the idea wasn't apparent until a few days later when I checked the bag and found that all of the water was gone! My choice of bags wasn't the best and it ended up developing a leak and flooding the cabbage. With considerable effort, I lifted the full crock to the sink and drained the water back out again.
Janet wisely took the whole effort over from me then. She placed two dinner plates into a plastic bag and pressed them down on top of the cabbage. We moved the crock to a quiet corner and let it alone for about six weeks.
When the day came to open the crock and try the sauerkraut, I was dubious to say the least. I was expecting to find a moldy disgusting mess under those plates. When she lifted them out and we peered inside, I was amazed to see that the cabbage had been magically transformed into pale pickled strands that looked for all the world just like sauerkraut!
Janet rinsed some of the the sauerkraut and placed it in a pan. She warmed it up a bit and added a little red wine vinegar and a touch of sugar to taste. The children and I sat at the table wrinkling our noses as it was served out but became instant believers the moment we tasted it. To my surprise, it was delicious and we all asked for extra helpings!
I guess I have to admit that her skill in the kitchen has decreased my picky eating habit by one more item. We canned what we didn't eat right away and it is now now resting in the basement larder for whenever the mood strikes us. Despite my misgivings, I now find myself looking forward for the first time to resurrecting that New Year's Day tradition in our household. I know already what one of my resolutions will be.....to plant more cabbage!