25 August, 2011

A Sauerkraut Maker I Am!

Me at the SF Ferry Building.
My paternal grandmother's parents hailed from what is now Slovakia and my grandfather's people came from Hungary, so growing up I consumed A LOT of slow-cooked Kielbasa sausage and sauerkraut with mashed potatoes at their house (see photo below). I also ate, and still eat (see image to the left), sauerkraut on any kind of sausage or hot dog. Like many first generation Americans, especially of my grandparents' generation, they attempted to assimilate into their new culture by acting "American." For my grandparents, that meant going to the grocery store to buy prepared foods in cans and jars that were produced in big plants instead of prepared at home using traditional methods brought over from the Old Country. In Post-Cold War United States, what could be more patriotic (and convenient) than eating mass-produced foods made by hard-working citizens in factories where bombs and other weapons were once manufactured?
This homemade recipe I made used green kale mixed into the sauerkraut!

But I digress...The point of my story is that I sadly never got to watch my grandmother prepare homemade sauerkraut the way her parents made it when she was a kid by shredding cabbage, mixing in salt, stuffing it into some kind of crock, and letting it ferment for a few days to a few weeks. That food tradition I have learned on my own and been trying to spread the word of the miracle of fermentation ever since. I often add celery, carrots, garlic, or beets to my cabbage (either red or green), and sometimes other natural additives like dill seed or weed, mustard seed, caraway seed, or thyme. I make my sauerkraut in a Japanese pickle maker which is made of durable plastic and has an internal press that, combined with the chemistry magic of salt,  gradually squeezes out all of the liquid from the vegetables and creates a brine that allows for a probiotic cocktail to come about.

Image courtesy of wisementrading.com.
I have been looking for a replacement container lately because I want to make much more sauerkraut and quite frankly, the one I have is too small. In my search I came across this video on CHOW that features a goofy guy and fellow blogger named Mark Frauenfelder who co-writes the science-geek blog Boing Boing, and is the Editor-in-Chief of DIY-obsessed MAKE Magazine. In this video Mr. Frauenfelder gave me a valuable suggestion as to what new contraption I should use to ferment my sauerkraut: the Picklemeister! This cool website called Wise Men Trading and Supply out of Alabama has the best explanations of the Picklemeister plus other product options for pickling containers if you choose to go another route. It is also good for pickles, kimchi or other such goodies. I bought the gallon one because that one and the half gallon one are the same price. Besides, if you're going to go for it you might as well go whole hog, right!

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