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Sauerkraut: Great gratings

I've been in the sauerkraut mode lately, and it's not because of the H1N1 virus. (More later.) It all began back in mid-September), when I had to pluck about half of the remaining cabbage (10 to 15 heads) from my garden that were in need of picki...

Jeff Tiedeman
Jeff Tiedeman

I've been in the sauerkraut mode lately, and it's not because of the H1N1 virus. (More later.)

It all began back in mid-September), when I had to pluck about half of the remaining cabbage (10 to 15 heads) from my garden that were in need of picking because of a insect infestation. (Actually, the cabbage still was in pretty good shape -- only a few of the outer leaves were affected by moths. But leaving them in the garden could have been disastrous.)

Luckily, the other half of the crop was OK, which was good, since our refrigerator became quite cramped with the crucifer family member. (Have you ever tried to cram a dozen or so heads of cabbage in your fridge when it's full of the usual suspects?)

A couple of weeks later, though, the remainder needed to be harvested, so I talked my sauerkraut-partner-in-crime, Darrel Koehler, into starting what's become an annual fall ritual a few weeks earlier than he would have liked.

He was a bit hesitant at first, worried that warmer temps would speed up the fermentation process too much and also that he would be gone during a crucial time when the kraut needed to be turned every three to four days.

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As it turned out, things cooled off by the time he had finished grating the cabbage, putting it in containers and salting it, where it would sit for three to four weeks. And I volunteered to watch over it while he was gone. This required rinsing every three to four days the large cabbage leaves, plates and weights that covered the soon-to-be kraut.

And lest I forget, it also meant digging into the 5-gallon containers with my bare hands, turning over the chopped cabbage several times. (Of course, I had to sample it, too.)

Shortly after Darrel returned, the first batch was ready to be canned, yielding 20 quarts, not counting what I ate. My part of the second batch is sitting in our refrigerator in two 1-gallon pickles jars, waiting to be canned.

Before going any further, I'll say that sauerkraut is one of my favorite foods. Even before putting the finishing touches on the first two canners of kraut, I had to make a pot of Czechoslovakian Cabbage Soup, a staple for me during the winter. I had it for lunch all last week.

Another way I like kraut is with pork. Maybe it's my German roots, but I don't think there is anything better than pairing pork with sauerkraut -- especially when it's cold.

That brings me to a second meal I fixed recently. I picked up a package of center-cut pork chops at the supermarket, placed them in a cast-iron frying pan, topped them with sauerkraut and simmered the works for about two hours. Along with steamed carrots and mashed potatoes, it was a meal made in heaven.

Nutritionally, sauerkraut is a good source of fiber and essential nutrients, including iron, vitamin K and vitamin C.

And two recent studies also promote sauerkraut as a "superfood." One published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry has concluded that sauerkraut is a cancer inhibitor, and a University of New Mexico study links sauerkraut consumption by adolescent females to a reduced risk for breast cancer.

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But my favorite is the health claim was made in 2005 by a group of Korean scientists who reported that feeding an extract of kimchi (a type of fermented cabbage) to 13 chickens with avian flu led to a much lower mortality rate in the birds, which brings me back to the H1N1 (swine flu) virus.

Not being in the priority group for getting the vaccination, I'm wondering if a weekly dose of sauerkraut will do the trick.

Tiedeman is food editor at the Herald. Reach him at 780-1136 or toll-free at (800) 477-6572, or e-mail at jtiedeman@gfherald.com .

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