I generally have a supper. Just to clarify, this isn’t a late dinner; it’s merely a light snack before retiring for the evening. According to my lad ‘suppers’ as such don’t really exist anymore (only in my head) and he claims the word supper has been declining since the beginning of the 1900s, while the use of ‘lunch’ has been increasing.
I was confused for years when people ate Fish Suppers in the afternoon and just what time of day do you turn up for something like dinner, anytime between just after noon to eight in the evening? I’ve never been able to fathom it out.
My supper is at a pretty constant time though and I always been partial to anything pickled. I have in the past made my own beetroot, onions, and gherkins (baby cucumbers in my case as I didn’t grow the smaller West Indian Burr kind)
They were all very successful so I have decided to rekindle my enthusiasm by making something similar this time to have as an accompaniment to a lump of cheese. I made some sauerkraut from both green and red cabbage. Sauerkraut or "sour cabbage” isn’t in vinegar though, it’s a fermented liquid made from sugars, salt and bacteria and lactic acid, just the stuff to be digesting before bed (maybe not).
This finely cut raw fermented cabbage has been cultivated for longer than almost any other vegetable on record. Although sauerkraut - German for "sour cabbage" - is thought of as a German invention, Chinese labourers building the Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it. Their cabbage was fermented in rice wine though, which sounds more fun. It’s said that the idea was brought to Europe 1000 years later by Gengis Kahn after plundering China. The Dutch, who were great sea-fearing traders, used sauerkraut on their ships as it did not need refrigeration and helped prevent scurvy.
Eastern European families prepared for winter by putting up several barrels of sauerkraut. Depending on the size of the family and the size of the cabbages, a clan might ferment as many as 300 whole heads of cabbage in wooden barrels. Occasionally, along with the salt, spices like caraway seeds, wine, or other vegetables were added.
By the late 1800s, the cabbage was shredded before being placed in covered crocks. If the family couldn't afford their own shredding tool, a peddler went door-to-door and performed this service for a fee in much the same way people would come around and sharpen your knives.
There are other vegetables that have been preserved by a similar process. Also, silage, a feed for cattle, can be made the same way.
Sauerkraut is said to have a raft of health benefits and there are the usual ‘cure all’ claims. Done right it’s is packed with B and C vitamins and minerals, works as an immune booster and balances the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract.
Here’s my recipe for basic no-claims attached sauerkraut. There are loads of recipes online, but like most things in my life, I like to keep simple.
Recipe for Sauerkraut
2kg very firm, pale green or white cabbage (any leathery outer leaves removed), cored and finely chopped (think coleslaw)
3 tbsp coarse crystal sea salt (or 6 tbsp flaky sea salt)
1 tsp caraway seeds ideally but I used fennel seeds as they were in the cupboard
1 tsp peppercorns
Other things to consider would be use clean containers. I’ve used glass jars but you can use stoneware and glazed pots too.
My first batch wasn’t quite covered completely with the brine juice so the shredded pieces above the waterline went mouldy and I had to compost it.
Check it daily and also release the gasses. My second batch of red cabbage leaked all over the worktop one night as the pressure got too much inside the jar. I’m now looking at effective methods to clean off red cabbage stains from kitchen worktops. The jars are not sitting on the garage floor out of the way until they are ready to put into the fridge. It can be ready in a week and the longer the leave it at room temperature the sourer and bitter it gets. Yum.
One teaspoon a night of my “fermented cabbage” will be enough for me and I hopefully won’t be looking to cure anything apart from my inability to understand when dinner is.