“The time has come the Walrus said, to talk of other things- of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings.” So today, let’s avoid shoes, ships, sealing wax, and kings…what does that leave? Cabbage of course!
This stalwart of the winter season (and the star of St Patty’s Day) is March’s Harvest of the Month featured item at 19 local schools. Through this Sierra Harvest program, 6,000 students tasted sweet, raw, unadulterated organic cabbage from Super Tuber Farm out of Penn Valley. Established in 2012, Super Tuber Farm is committed to “increasing the availability of tasty, local, organic foods in our community, enriching the soil and providing the farmer- and employees – with a living wage.”
Currently, Super Tuber grows delicious potatoes, super sweet corn, carrots, cabbage and a variety of salad greens on about five acres of cultivated land in Penn Valley, CA and at a home site in Nevada City. You can find their produce at the Briar Patch Coop, the Nevada City Farmer’s Market and up the hill through the Tahoe Food Hub.
Super Tuber is also involved in Sierra Harvest’s farm to school program as a farm partner to Pleasant Valley School and Williams Ranch, and Farmer Jeremy has gone into the classrooms at these schools and hosted students out to his farm. His favorite part of the programming is seeing the students taste his produce and say things like, “this cabbage has sass!”
Now for more about these sassy cabbages:
- Humans have been eating cabbage for more than 1,000 years!
- Nearly 3,000 years ago, wild cabbage indigenous to Asia and the Mediterranean slowly spread into Northern Europe by the Celts and later the Romans.
- Able to store for long periods, cabbage was a staple item of Europeans in the Middle Ages. Its juice was commonly used to heal wounds and as a cough remedy.
- Since cabbage contains lots of vitamin C, many explorers (including Captain Cook) traveled with it in order to prevent scurvy, especially in the form of sauerkraut.
- China produces the largest amount of cabbage in the world, while Russia consumes the most at a whopping 44 pounds per person per year!
- With over 13,000 acres harvested for cabbages, California leads the nation in commercial cabbage production with Monterey, Ventura, Santa Barbara, Imperial, and San Luis Obispo as the leading cabbage-producing counties.
- Cabbage is shipped year-round in California reaching its peak in March for traditional St. Patrick’s Day fare of corned beef and cabbage
- Cabbage is a cole crop of the Mustard family (Brassicaceae) and its varietal name, B. oleracea Capitata, distinguishes this cruciferous vegetable as being “in the form of a head.”
The Brassicaceae (also called Cruciferae) family takes its name cruciferous (meaning “cross-bearing”) from the shape of the plants’ flowers, which have four petals resembling a cross. Other members of this family include kale, collard greens, mustards, turnips, brussel sprouts, cauliflower and Asian greens such as bok choi.
- There are more than 400 cabbage varieties but most common are the green, red, purple, and savoy varieties. Most Asian cabbage varieties belong to another species, including Chinese cabbage, which is also known as Napa or celery cabbage.
- The word cabbage derives from the French word caboche meaning “head.”
- The French really do have a love of cabbage, “mon petit chou” is a common term of endearment, meaning “my little cabbage.”
There are so many ways to enjoy cabbage- a classic slaw, stuffed cabbage rolls, alongside corned beef, atop tacos with a twist of lime…the variations are endless, and it’s a good thing they are since one usually buys cabbage as a whole head!
In addition to all these ways to enjoy cabbage, there’s one particular way worth highlighting and that’s sauerkraut. You may have heard the buzz about probiotics and how they help us maintain a healthy immune system starting in the gut. Sauerkraut is alive! That’s right, not just a side dish for a sausage, kraut (and other fermented foods) are rich in live probiotics (read: beneficial bacteria) which more and more studies are linking to a strong immune system and robust overall health. Often doctors will recommend patients taking a probiotic when on antibiotics, but these little beneficial bacteria can help you out every day, not just when your gut bacteria are being wiped out. And it tastes great!
Sandor Ellix Katz, the author of the book Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods (Chelsea Green, 2003) has earned the nickname “Sandorkraut” for his love of sauerkraut.
This is Sandorkraut’s easy sauerkraut recipe from his book (also available on his website wildfermentation.com)
Sandor Katz’s Basic Sauerkraut
Timeframe: 1-4 weeks (or more)
- Ceramic crock or food-grade plastic bucket, one-gallon capacity or greater
- Plate that fits inside crock or bucket
- One-gallon jug filled with water (or a scrubbed and boiled rock)
- Cloth cover (like a pillowcase or towel)
Ingredients (for 1 gallon):
- 5 pounds cabbage
- 3 tablespoons sea salt
- Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like it. I love to mix green and red cabbage to end up with bright pink kraut. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
- Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it. 3 tablespoons of salt is a rough guideline for 5 pounds of cabbage. I never measure the salt; I just shake some on after I chop up each cabbage. I use more salt in summer, less in winter.
- Add other vegetables. Grate carrots for a coleslaw-like kraut. Other vegetables I’ve added include onions, garlic, seaweed, greens, Brussels sprouts, small whole heads of cabbage, turnips, beets, and burdock roots. You can also add fruits (apples, whole or sliced, are classic), and herbs and spices (caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds, and juniper berries are classic, but anything you like will work). Experiment.
- Mix ingredients together and pack into crock. Pack just a bit into the crock at a time and tamp it down hard using your fists or any (other) sturdy kitchen implement. The tamping packs the kraut tight in the crock and helps force water out of the cabbage.
- Cover kraut with a plate or some other lid that fits snugly inside the crock. Place a clean weight (a glass jug filled with water) on the cover. This weight is to force water out of the cabbage and then keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep dust and flies out.
- Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
- Leave the crock to ferment. I generally store the crock in an unobtrusive corner of the kitchen where I won’t forget about it, but where it won’t be in anybody’s way. You could also store it in a cool basement if you want a slower fermentation that will preserve for longer.
- Check the kraut every day or two. The volume reduces as the fermentation proceeds. Sometimes mold appears on the surface. Many books refer to this mold as “scum,” but I prefer to think of it as a bloom. Skim what you can off of the surface; it will break up and you will probably not be able to remove all of it. Don’t worry about this. It’s just a surface phenomenon, a result of contact with the air. The kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine. Rinse off the plate and the weight. Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.
- Enjoy. I generally scoop out a bowl- or jarful at a time and keep it in the fridge. I start when the kraut is young and enjoy its evolving flavor over the course of a few weeks. Try the sauerkraut juice that will be left in the bowl after the kraut is eaten. Sauerkraut juice is a rare delicacy and unparalleled digestive tonic. Each time you scoop some kraut out of the crock, you have to repack it carefully. Make sure the kraut is packed tight in the crock, the surface is level, and the cover and weight are clean. Sometimes brine evaporates, so if the kraut is not submerged below brine just add salted water as necessary. Some people preserve kraut by canning and heat-processing it. This can be done; but so much of the power of sauerkraut is its aliveness that I wonder: Why kill it?
- Develop a rhythm. I try to start a new batch before the previous batch runs out. I remove the remaining kraut from the crock, repack it with fresh salted cabbage, then pour the old kraut and its juices over the new kraut. This gives the new batch a boost with an active culture starter.