I recently wrote a very short story called ‘A lesson from Grandma’ about helping Grandma in the kitchen. It was for a competition so I can’t share it here, but I’ll certainly let everyone know if it wins a prize. Neither my Mum nor her mother were great cooks, so I don’t look back with fond memories of lush meals. But they were both excellent at making some things; and Grandma’s specialty was sauerkraut. I quite liked it then and I’ve come to love it. Not all German food appeals to me but I regularly make sauerkraut, especially when cabbage is plentiful and inexpensive.
That’s not really the case just now as fruit and vegetables are in short supply due to flooding of farmland. But I accidentally bought an extra sugarloaf cabbage, forgetting I had one in the fridge. Time to bring out the chopping board, salt and spices and start bashing away. Grandma was born in Australia to immigrant German parents and spoke English which sometimes lapsed into a sort of pidgin German. She would instruct me to ‘brash’ the cabbage which I assume is a mixture of crush and bash. I still say it to myself.
I’ll include the recipe separately. It’s not completely traditional – we add onion and a bit of dried chilli to the bottles to give a hint of heat. I use dried chillies from an Asian market – they are rich and dark with an almost caramel flavour. You can vary the spices to suit but the essentials are cabbage, caraway seeds and sea salt. I’ve never tried making it with alternative salt but if someone wants to try it, I’d love to hear how it goes.
You can make a version of kimchi – which I also love – by adding garlic, a splosh of fish sauce, ginger, radish and extra chilli. It’s usually made with wombok but any cabbage works.
It’s important to start with perfectly clean utensils and hands so as not to contaminate the natural cultures found in the vegetables. Home made fermented foods are excellent for gut health, which has been found to greatly influence mental health. Bought, processed fermented products have been heat-treated to preserve them. This destroys a lot of the natural goodness found in raw vegetables.
Be sure to use a large bowl sturdy enough to cope with pounding. I use the pestle from a granite pestle and mortar, but you can use a rolling pin, potato masher or the bottom of a clean bottle. You can just use your hands to squeeze and mash the cabbage but it takes longer.
If you haven’t made it before you are in for a treat. I recommend making a small quantity (as in the recipe) to begin with until you are confident. There is a lot of tasting and estimating but if you follow the instructions all will be well.
There are many recipe variations available and you may want to experiment once you’ve mastered the basics.