Shred, tamp and then let 'er sit - it's that simple to make sauerkraut.
This is the second year Lake Oswego residents Elizabeth Fox and her dad, Alan Fox, have made sauerkraut and they invited my husband Mark and I to join in their fun.
'It really is easy,' Elizabeth said when we arrived. 'Last year while I was out at Sauvie Island with the kids I found kraut cabbage. I called my dad from the farm and asked if he wanted to make sauerkraut. He of course said yes and that is how we got started.'
The kraut cabbage had very loose, airy heads with big stems. The Foxes weren't pleased with how it cut and processed. This year, Elizabeth bought about 20 pounds of beautiful pale green, very compact heads of cabbage at Sauvie Island, which she felt would work better.
The first step of the process was to wash and core the cabbage. Next step was to grate the cabbage, which we did with mandolins. We placed the shredded cabbage in a bowl, weighing out 2½ pounds at a time. When we reached that mark we dumped the cabbage into a 5-gallon crock and sprinkled it with 1-½ tablespoons of kosher salt.
After we shredded the cabbage and layered it with salt, it was time to tamp it down. Alan had considered buying a new baseball bat to tamp the cabbage down to release its juices, but settled on using Elizabeth's rolling pin. He worked quite a while compressing the cabbage. What had been a full crock at the start had four to six inches of headroom when Alan deemed his job done.
And now, he said, we wait. The crock will sit in a cool, dark place for about six weeks. Elizabeth said she would cover the kraut with a towel; she planned to fashion a weight out of a plastic bag filled with rocks, to keep compressing the kraut.
'I'll check it about once a week, and scoop off any foam (from fermentation). We'll taste it to check to see if the flavor is correct,' Elizabeth said.
When the fermentation process is completed, the Foxes will freeze portions in plastic containers and then, when frozen, prepare them for long-term storage by a vacuum-sealing method. They don't fuss with canning the kraut. They'll keep it frozen until they are ready to use it.
'We like to have sauerkraut for New Year's Day, so we plan to have it completed by that time,' Alan said. We calculated this sauerkraut would be ready mid-December and might make great gifts for friends and family.
The Foxes come from a long line of sauerkraut lovers; it's on their list of comfort foods. They told fun stories of sending sauerkraut to family members away at college and those living far away. And this batch is already promised to a number of friends and family.
The process was far simpler than I anticipated. We spent just about an hour preparing the 20 pounds of cabbage. There was no brine to prepare, so we dealt with two ingredients: Cabbage and salt.
You still have time to make sauerkraut and have it be ready for the holidays for eating and to give as gifts. Portland and Hillsdale Farmers' Markets still have cabbage available, or check Tri-County Farms' Web site, www.tricountyfarms.org for local farms. Many farms still have crops through winter.
Thanks Alan and Elizabeth for teaching Mark and me a new skill. I don't want to give too many hints, but we may have just solved our gift-giving dilemma this year. A big jar of sauerkraut may find its way under several trees this season!
Just reading Alan's recipe for Pork With Sauerkraut made my mouth water. He's looking forward to having an ample supply of sauerkraut to make it all winter long. Try it this weekend!
Bon Appetit! Eat something new!
Pork with Sauerkraut
2 pounds sauerkraut
¼ pound sliced bacon
1 clove garlic, finely minced
6 juniper berries (if you don't have juniper berries, a couple of shots of gin will work!)
1 onion stuck with 4 cloves
1 ½ to 2 cups dry white wine
1 ½ to 2 cups chicken broth
2 pounds boneless shoulder of pork, cut into 2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons oil
2 cups coarsely chopped onion
1 bay leaf
2 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes or canned Italian plum tomatoes
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Squeeze the sauerkraut between your hands to extract much of the liquid. If desired, the kraut may be washed in cold water and squeezed. This will make it blander and, to some tastes, a less interesting dish.
Line a two-quart casserole with bacon and add the kraut. Add the garlic, juniper berries (or gin), peppercorns and the onion. Add equal parts of wine and chicken broth. Add just enough liquid to cover the sauerkraut.
Bring to a boil on top of the stove, and then place the casserole, covered, in the oven. Bake for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the pork cubes with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large casserole and cook the pork cubes, stirring and turning the pieces in the fat, until they are golden. Place in the oven and bake 15 minutes. Add the chopped onions, bay leaf and thyme. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is wilted. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Bake one hour.
Using a slotted spoon, add the sauerkraut to the pork, stirring to blend. Be sure to remove and count the peppercorns and juniper berries! Continue cooking, uncovered, 15 minutes or longer or until pork is fork tender. Serve with boiled potatoes.
Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at [email protected]