Hey! What's that smell? Why, I'm glad you asked. It's the jar of cabbage that's fermenting over on the shelf in the pantry. How did it get there? That's a very simple story.
A few Sunday mornings ago, I was doing the usual thing, which was to sit around, drink coffee, and catch up on my reading. That morning it was the glorious Sun magazine. A very interesting interview with underground food evangelist Sandor Katz (a.k.a. the fermentation fetishist) got me to thinking that it'd be fun to try to make my own sauerkraut. (This comes as something of a relief to TheWife™ as I'd been threatening to make my own mozzarella for years. For some reason, she fears cheesemaking in the home more than the sauerkraut thing. She owns more foodie books than a person rightly needs, and yet MKF Fisher and fear of homemade cheese exist under one roof!)
I found Katz's attitude about food to be quite inspiring. He makes some great points about fermentation as relates to our current thinking about bacteria, namely, that it's all bad. People have fear of the unknown on these issues, despite the fact that many popular foods come out of various fermentation processes: beer, yogurt, bread, cheese, soy sauce, vinegar. The attitudes are widespread, though: I mentioned to some co-workers that I was thinking about making sauerkraut and all the eyebrows went up. Even after explaining that the fementation's acidity makes it perfectly safe, the eyebrows remained in their suspect positions. I guess food is safe only when it comes from the grocery store.
The heck with that. I wanted my own sauerkraut!
I followed Katz's very simple instructions. Starting with shredded white and purple cabbage, shredded carrots, and rough-chopped garlic cloves, I added some sea salt and then began to squeeze. This kneading process gets the vegetables to release their water. After five minutes or so, the mixture was wet enough to pack into a mason jar. The key here is to make sure that there's enough juice to completely cover the cabbage. I found a nice dessert glass that fit into the top of the jar to act as a weight. Then, it was off to the pantry shelf. The happy bubbles of fermentation commenced just a few hours later.
In both his written material and videos, Katz is vague about the things like the amount of salt and how much time should pass until the kraut is "ready." I suspect this is because there are so many variables involved, from the rates of fermentation (partially driven by temperature) to the fact that "ready" is a subjective concept here. I intend to wait a week before the first taste test. It's going to be a long week, because the aroma (which is so far closer to kimchi than traditional sauerkraut) is driving me crazy.
That's right, it's not a "smell"… it's aroma. I'll let you know how it turns out.