Sauerkraut with Apple and Caraway

The other night, I was reminded how lives can change in the blink of an eye. One seemingly simple action from one person can reverberate through a community, reaching far wider than this one person would ever know. I was reminded that too often we think of our actions as only affecting ourselves, though they ricochet around the network we live in, touching family, friends, and even people we may have never laid eyes on before. I have been feeling angry for being forced into involvement in a stranger's action--for having my life altered simply for being at a certain place at a certain time.
Yet there is something
powerful about being reminded that none of us are islands, that we are woven together--and in a way that even though pulling one string out will tug some others down, there are many many many more strings keeping
us together. It is intense. When I woke up this morning, I really felt the wrinkles of the sheets pressed into my skin. I opened my eyes and really could see the light bouncing off the leaves and skittering over my desk. I walked through the
grocery and really smelled the canteloupes as I passed. So, alive things....
So, sauerkraut. It seemed fitting to make something to counter losing something; to create to erase helplessness. And it seemed fitting to make something alive and transcendent. I never would have thought of the words "transcendent" and "sauerkraut" in the same paragraph until I had made my own (I might have used "hotdog" and "sauerkraut," though). I haven't written about sourdough or yogurt here yet, but they are transcendent too.
I was nervous the first time but now I find that making ferments, like sauerkraut, takes me to a higher creative place than my average cooking adventure. Perhaps it is because I know I am not alone in the effort. It is part my work and part the work of my little friends bacteria and yeast that can transform one thing into another. My part is mostly guiding something to be alive. The alchemy is unpredictable--no two batches taste exactly the same. And it requires patience. I have to (literally) put the cabbage in the closet and forget about it (well, sort of forget) until the time comes for it to emerge an entirely new creature. So if cooking can be a healer...or at least a metaphor, this is a festive-colored sauerkraut with apples and caraway:

  • 5 lbs of cabbage, shredded, a few large leaves reserved (I use red and green because I like pink. a lot. But use whatever you like)
  • 2 carrots, grated
  • 1 tart apple, grated
  • 1-2 T caraway seeds
  • 3 T kosher salt
  • 1 gallon crock or food safe plastic bucket with a plate or lid that fits inside
  • water bottle or other weight

Layer the shredded cabbage, carrot and apple in the crock, sprinkling with the salt and caraway seed as you go. Pack it down with your (clean) fist really really good and keep on layering until you're done. Keep on packing it down and then lay the reserved full leaves on top to keep everything in, then the plate, then the weight. Cover the whole thing loosely with a cloth to keep out flies and put it in a cool, dark place. Check it daily by removing and rinsing the plate, skimming off any scum (I've never had any, but it's normal. Mold is not), and packing it down some more. You should see that the cabbage will start to compress and will be covered in liquid as it ferments. Basically, keeping the vegetable submerged keeps them from growing bad mold. The (good) bacteria creates a safe, acidic environment as it ferments the cabbage. Give it a taste after a few days and see how you like it. When it tastes like the sauerkraut you want it to taste like (4-7 days), stick it in the fridge to slow its fermentation.
* Of course, don't eat anything that smells or looks scary to you. It should look, taste, and smell like sauerkraut.