Sauerkraut is comforting to make, comforting to eat

Anne S. Hopkins demonstrates pressing cabbage for sauerkraut

Anne S. Hopkins demonstrates pressing cabbage for sauerkraut

With a name like Zimmermann, it is not surprising I grew up eating sour food–pickled herring, pickled onions, sauerbraten, and sauerkraut. I prepare German and Scandinavian meals regularly, too. While I make a sweet-tart red cabbage, and misshapen but tasty potato dumplings, somehow I had never made sauerkraut.

My grandmother made kraut. I recall the big crock that had a plate weighted down with a mellow golden, oval and smooth stone we all called “the cabbage stone.” The kraut crock stayed in the cool earthen-floored basement, and always seemed to be full. I have inherited her cabbage slicer, which I use for massive coleslaws at the Fourth of July picnic, but making kraut just had not occurred. Checking out the Bangor Daily News calendar I saw it: Sauerkraut workshop. It was offered by the Eastport Arts Center, over two and a half hours away. It was only a two-hour workshop. Drive close to six hours for a two-hour class? Without any hesitation I did, and it was worth every second.

Simple ingredients are all that is required

Simple ingredients are all that is required

After a seemingly endless drive up Route 1 I found the Center, hauled in my tote with the requested mixing bowl, cutting board, glass jars, and knife, and joined thirteen other hopeful krautmakers.

Within minutes our instructor, Anne S. Hopkins, had her knife flying, and a large green cabbage and overgrown carrot were soon a pile of small bite-sized veggies.

Not a moment of our short class was wasted. Anne’s shiny 12-inch chef knife was decimating vegetables in a blur, and at the same time she was explaining dry salt versus brining, never missing a chop.

Anne has a very comfortable teaching style. She pulled us in and around her workspace by holding out jars to sniff, and bits of mold to examine. Yes, mold. “Mold will happen,” Anne assures us, “Do not fear the mold.” She demonstrates mold removal and the importance of sterile utensils. Anne, who is the manager at the Eastport Eat Local Coop, has been fermenting for ten years. She unabashedly shared tales of failure as well as success. It put everyone ease. Batches will go wrong once in a while, and it is nothing to worry about. Scrap it and make another. This is one of the reasons she suggests jars instead of crocks–so a non-successful batch is only a small loss.

Making sauerkraut

Anne and fellow kraut makers

The workshop was extremely well-organized. We absorbed our lessons and tasted different vegetable and herb combinations. Sampling krauts that had been fermenting for different amounts of time revealed a big difference in taste and texture. Like knowledgeable sommeliers we stood about comparing flavors and sharing comments. Anne paused, watching us, and a beatific smile filled her face. “I love hearing the sound of a room full of people crunching sauerkraut.”

But it was quickly back to business, and with intense concentration we went to our stations and made our own batch or two of kraut to take home and tend. It isn’t over when we walk out the door. “You will have a living creature in your home. You need to care for it,” Anne reminds us.

Fermented veggies in jars

My jars of dry salted white cabbage and carrots and brined red cabbage.

I have been diligent, pounding my kraut down into its liquid so it does not dry out, and draining the brine from my brined version. I have tasted both, and they are already delicious, but I want to see how they develop over the next few weeks. Having these jars full of living creatures on my counter is comforting, they are beginning to feel like old friends. Soon I will be talking to them.

As I peek under the towels protecting my krauts from light, an old ditty comes to mind,

“I made you look, you dirty crook
You stole your mama’s pocketbook
You turned it in, you turned it out
You turned it into sauerkraut.”

My mother used to say it, and I never really understood it. I still don’t, but it is perfect to sing as I pound my kraut, and make a note to plant more cabbage in the garden this year.

Anne S. Hopkins' fact-filled and graphically adorable booklet that we received as part of the class.

Anne S. Hopkins’ fact-filled and graphically adorable booklet that we received as part of the class. Shades of the old Moosewood Cookbook.

For more information on the Eastport Arts Center and the Eastport Eat Local Coop which generously provided vegetables.

If Anne offers another class, take it. Otherwise, there are plenty of easy recipes online for making your own kraut. Here is one: Simple Sauerkraut.

Karen O. Zimmermann

About Karen O. Zimmermann

Karen O. Zimmermann savors chance encounters with people throughout the state of Maine, and is endlessly delighted with the tales they have to share.