There's something wonderful doing things yourself. This is not just my observation, there's data on this. For example: people love their Ikea furniture more than any particle-board-glued-to-plastic-wood-patterned furniture has any right to be loved. Mostly, the hypothesis goes, because their own sweat and labor (and if my experience is any judge, a fair bit of cursing) went into it. Of course, making food yourself is no different. Though I never feel like I have time anymore, I love cooking. Even something simple - some veggies sauteéd in soy sauce or something - tastes better if I did the chopping and the stirring and the heating over flame. But what if microbes do the cooking? Lactic acid fermentation is actually not that dissimilar from cooking - both involve the chemical break-down of food to liberate nutrients and increase digestibility. But instead of heat, a batch of sauerkraut relies on the enzymatic action of a microbial community. And, though the result takes a couple of days or weeks instead of minutes or hours, a home-made batch tastes better than the stuff you might buy at a store. I have data on this now too... n = 3
As I mentioned in my last post, getting a batch of saurkraut going is actually pretty easy:
1) Cut up cabbage. 2) Add some salt. 3) Press out water and sumberge cabbage. 4) Wait.
But it's perfectly reasonable to spice it up a bit. The first batch I made was fairly small, and I included a couple of jalapeño peppers from our farmshare, plus carrots and garlic. Adding salt changes the osmotic balance of the plant cells, and water leeches out through osmosis. After mixing in about 2 tbsp of salt, I waited about 20 minutes, and pressed the veggies down every 5 minutes or so to help press out the liquid. Then I packed everything into two small jars. I did it with my bare fist, and I had a tingling sensation on my hand for a couple of hours - the capsaicin from the peppers (the molecule that makes them spicy) was leeching out along with the water, and was pressed into my skin. It wasn't unpleasant until I accidentally rubbed my eye... oops.
Finally, I took one of the intact leaves from the cabbage and put it on top and pressed it under the liquid. This trick is to keep the small bits of cabbage from floating up and being exposed to air. Until the medium acidifies by action of the lactic acid bacteria, mold can grown on the surface. With the large cabbage leaf covering, it's much easier to push things under the liquid, and any mold that does grow will grow on this leaf and is easily removed. I only let this batch ferment for 3 days, which wasn't really long enough, but I had a party to go to. It was just a bit sour, and the peppers gave it a nice kick so it still made a good condiment for hot dogs at a BBQ. For my second batch, I used a green cabbage and included beats, but left out the peppers. The sour flavor was great, but I missed the spicy kick of the peppers. So for the most recent batch, I used a giant red cabbage, and added in the skins from 3 different varieties of hot peppers. I packed everything into a giant 1 gallon bail-top jar that I got for this purpose. I also tried something new - I backslopped from my first batch.
Backslopping is moving bacteria from one fermentation batch to another. According to Art of Fermentation, many traditional fermentation practices involve seeding each new batch with something from the old - culturing a continuous community of microbes for many generations. Of course, my ferments don't have this proud pedigree, but adding about 3 tabblespoons of liquid from my first batch got the culture going much more quickly. Because of the large volume, I let this go for 19 days before it was sour enough for my taste. I brought 2 jars of this last bactch to CA and plan to share them at our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow - sharing these creations is almost as much fun as making them!