The sauer taste of pride

When a gorgeous head of cabbage came in our CSA subscription last summer, dreams of sauerkraut began dancing in my head. I don’t even like sauerkraut. But hubby loves the stuff, and having been inspired by Sandor Ellix Katz’s book Wild Fermentation, I thought, what could be simpler than mixing a little vinegar with cabbage and ignoring it for several weeks?

(You know this story can’t end well.)
Sauerkraut depends on fermentation, the conversion of carbs to alcohol and CO2 — with the help of yeast or bacteria — under oxygen-free conditions. This magical process is responsible for giving us wine, beer, and sourdough bread. Three of the five major food groups.

Since this was my first attempt, I didn’t want to try Katz’s recipe which requires intervention every couple of days for a month (thus creating lots of opportunities for error), so I decided to try this one instead. You can see the instructions are pretty straightforward. 

Cut cabbage and fill the jars. Pour the boiling water in jars until full. Put 1 tsp. of salt and 1 tbsp. of vinegar in each jar. Seal the jar with the lid rim. Let sauerkraut ferment for 6 weeks. When the bubbling has stopped, it indicates that the fermentation period has finished. Process the sauerkraut in a boiling water bath canner for 15 minutes.

By this time in the season, I had easily preserved more than a hundred jars of food and was feeling pretty cocky about my basic canning abilities. Instead of giving it my full attention, I glanced at the recipe, boiled a giant pot of water for the hot water bath, and began chopping cabbage. Before long, that one head had produced nine beautiful pints of potential sauerkraut. The first seven jars promptly went in the boiling water bath, and I wandered away to do a bit of laundry.
(Figured out my Epic Fail yet?)
Yeast and bacteria are living creatures who, like you and me, don’t enjoy being boiled. I realized this about four minutes later, when it was too late to save the batch. Reading the directions again, carefully this time, I was reminded the jars aren’t supposed to take a bath until six weeks have passed — after our microorganism friends have had a chance to do their job. Tossing the contents of those seven jars into the compost bin was a wasteful lesson in pride.
Fortunately this story has a happy ending. The remaining two pints were tucked away in the pantry and one of them came out for a taste test last week. The result? So crisp and delicious. Even I liked it, and sauerkraut has always given me the heebie geebies. It’s good to know that one head of cabbage can be stretched so far and last so long. No doubt that’s why the process was developed in the first place.
The finished product could be slightly more tart, so we’re searching for a recipe with a higher vinegar content that doesn’t alter the fermentation process.
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