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Posts Tagged ‘making sauerkraut in a crock’

I am Scottish. That should explain all, right? Let’s start with my name: MacLaren Scott. If that didn’t clue you in… well, there may be no hope. Sorry. My husband is Czech and German. Fortunately, my clansmen and women still love and accept him, regardless of this handicap. When he accompanies me to the Highland Games, they make him an honorary member of Clan “McKraut”, as it were. This way he feels… included and not quite so silly wearing a kilt of his wife’s tartan. (Besides, if he didn’t he may never have sex with said wife again.)

Now being an honorary member of Clan McKraut, Hubby also received the honor of tasting my newest batch of sauerkraut…. first. Because after all, he IS a descendent of two kraut making cultures. (I get the first taste from new bottles of scotch, so it all comes out in the wash.) Usually I just bring the sample to him, but this time I asked for his help in photographing the experience. He had never seen the disrobing of a freshly cultured crock of kraut before and therefore did not expect the colorful fur coat and pungent smell of roquefort cheese… and worse. He grimaced as he took pictures for me, rivaling only our 3 yr old for the most expressive face of revulsion west of the Mississippi. But once the mold was peeled away, the inverted plate removed, the top layers scrapped off and the inner sides sponged clean, his interest was beginning to grow.

Setting up to jar the sauerkraut.

Setting up to jar the sauerkraut.

The weight, a 1/2 gal jar of water, has been removed and now we ogle at all the pretty, furry colors!

The weight, a 1/2 gal jar of water, has been removed and now we ogle at all the pretty, furry colors!

Remove those pretty colors from the bottom of the plate...

Remove those pretty colors from the bottom of the plate…

...and then remove the plate by pushing down on one side and grabbing under the other.

…and then remove the plate by pushing down on one side and grabbing under the rim of the other side.

Scrap off the top layer of kraut, a bit deeper around the sides.

Scrap off the top layer of kraut, a bit deeper near the walls.

“Why are you taking so much off!?” he asked with dismay, demonstrating the way his wife’s scottish thriftiness has rubbed off on him. “Because I don’t want to be responsible for killing myself and my family”, I replied evenly. I don’t really think I would kill anyone, I just want to get as far away from the mold layer as I can without wasting too much of the gold beneath. I have never taken the energy needed to send off samples of the mold to see if it is harmful, I just follow my homesteading mom philosophy of “What would Ma and Pa Ingalls do?” Well, they sure wouldn’t be shipping their kraut molds off to a lab and neither will I. After all, I consume blue cheese and haven’t died yet.

Wipe around the inner sides of the crock to remove the rim of mold.

Wipe around the inner sides of the crock to remove the rim of mold.

And this is what you've got. This particular batch is a mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage, carrots which is why is has a pinkish-orangish color to it.

And this is what you’ve got. This particular batch is a mixture of green cabbage, red cabbage and carrots which is why is has a pinkish-orangish color to it, reminiscent of a NM sunset!

“Ya ready Dear?” I asked with a devilish smile. He nodded and opened his mouth like a good little guinea pig. I scooped a fork full from the side where the mold had seemed the deepest and shoveled it into his pie hole. “Mmmmmmm….” he said. He was still standing. “Dats ‘ooood.” “Does it taste like mold?” I inquired. He swallowed. “Not a bit! But what I don’t understand is how something can taste so good that smelled like a never ending fart for 2 1/2 weeks.”

Well, there you have it. Making kraut in a crock may not make friends during the culturing, but those same friends will be lining up outside your door once it’s jarred. Please see the beginning of this process from 2 1/2 weeks ago here. I would have jarred it after 2 weeks, but the entire family was down with head colds. Fortunately, the kraut is very forgiving. Two to three weeks is the window I shoot for, barring death or dismemberment. If that occurred, I am sure it could wait another week or so while we collect and reattach the missing limbs.

The afore mentioned 3 year old insisted on getting out of her bath to assist me with the last jar.

The afore mentioned 3 year old insisted on getting out of her bath to help me fill and pack the last jar.

Not as many jars as I had hoped for. I guess I did not realize how small the cabbage heads really were. This is the results of 9 med-small heads of cabbage and 9 large carrots. As I already had takers for half this haul, guess I'd better start the next batch soon!

Not as many jars as I had hoped for. I guess I did not realize how small the cabbage heads really were. This is the results of 9 medium/small heads of cabbage and 9 large carrots. As I already have takers for half this haul, guess I’d better start the next batch soon!

I doubt I need to tell you how to put kraut into a jar. But I will make a few suggestions. You’ll want to stir and fluff the batch first and try to take your spoonfuls (or handfuls) from the bottom of the crock. This is where the juice ends up and you don’t want your first jars to be dry and your last jars to be juicy. Aim for getting some juice in all the jars, and once full, pack it down hard. Continue to add and pack until the well packed jar is full. Screw on the lid and store in the refrigerator. You can certainly eat your kraut right away once it’s jarred, but it will get better and better the longer you wait – up until a point anyway. I sampled a jar from my friend that had been stored in the fridge for 9 months. He shared it with sacred reverence like a well aged single malt and it was quite divine. I try to wait at least 2 weeks after the jarring before I sell or barter any with friends. It’s a long time for them to wait outside in line, but people do it for concerts, right?

And if you find a long lost jar in the back of your fridge one day, and are nervous about trying it, let me know and I’ll send Mr. McKraut over with his pie hole. Just have your fork poised and ready, eh?

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I love looking at a fresh head of cabbage: the pale underground quality of the spring green, the slight waxy sheen of the surface, the sturdy leaf spines ending in curling ripples, like a gentle ocean wavelet, sucking back down a steep, sandy beach. I love the crunch of my heavy 10″ chopping knife as it reveals the secretes within that dense head.

Good thing, because I had nine of them to chop which meant a lot of cabbage brains spilling over my counter top. But that was where friend Marian came in… with her superior Japanese cutlery and sexy bamboo cutting board. Whew! Off the hook.

Here's Marian hard at work.

Here’s Marian hard at work.

And so my morning began, with “Mare” on washing and chopping detail and Isla and I on the food processor, sea salt, caraway and whey song and dance (maybe I’ll include a video of the literal song and dance when we jar the kraut in another 2 weeks, for there actually IS one! Hasn’t everyone made up a kraut song with their 3 year old?). We alternated purple heads with green, grinding in a large carrot with each. Then 1 tbsp of coarse celtic sea salt, 3/4ish tbsp caraway seeds and 4-ish to 5 tbsp of whey left over from my last batch of goat chevre. Isla and I filled the hopper, I ground while she covered her sensitive, wee ears, I dumped the pile in the massive metal bowl, I measured and Isla dumped in the condiments. Then together, with very well washed hands, we stirred it all in , inquisitive fingertips tickling one another inside of the grated mass. Most of it stayed in the bowl. The vegetables dwindled as our multi-colored mound grew, and pretty soon it was time for clean up and hugging Mare goodbye. And here is where I let the salt and whey do their jobs. There is very little kraut bashing with this method. I just leave it to rest on a counter top with a clean towel draped over it, and get to work on something else.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Grating with the life saving food processor.

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey....

Add the sea salt, caraway and cheese whey….

...mix, cover, and wait!

…mix, cover, and wait!

The next something else was re-rendering our recently rendered goat tallow. I had noticed at the end of the first rendering, that there were a few bits of meat on the bottom of the last batch of tallow muffins. Read this post for more info on that first rendering job. I was not interested in goat meat showing up in future soaps, lotion bars and pastry crusts, so I set a massive pot on the stove top with about 4″ of water in the bottom.

While that got to boiling, I moved onto the third something else – boiling up a whole chicken for bone broth, gelatin, and meat. As I rinsed the expensive, organic chicken carcass, I vowed that we would buy straight runs of chicks this spring. I wanted my fall freezer filled with mean roosters from my back yard. No more $12 chickens from the store!!! I plopped the gold gilt bird into our crock pot with water and reached for one of our onions. This was when I received a horrible shock! No, not an electrical shock, a “we’re almost out of onions” shock! In fact, after this one, there was only one left!!! Our harvest had lasted until Feb 6th. Honestly, I was quite proud, but still weepy, as I sliced through the brittle, brown skin and into the white, seeping flesh. Oh. Well of course I was weeping – it was a yellow onion.

We try to boil up a whole chicken about once every 2 weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

We try to boil up a whole chicken once every 2 or so weeks. The meat and broth get used slowly over that period and much of the broth is frozen.

Crock pot loaded and topped, I checked the pot on the stove. Boiling – good. Outside to the deep freeze on the porch. Molly, our Pyrenees leapt repeatedly into the air, channeling her border collie alter ego, hoping to catch a falling goat roast as I juggled the bags of tallow muffins. I dumped them ALL in, undeniable proof of my characteristic impatience.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Tallow muffins re-melting for a cleaner render.

Now what? I put away some dishes, blended up some kefir mango lassies, sliced some pears, spread chevre on the slices, and called back in my daughter for her elevensies (oh woops – at 12:30pm. Dear me. Don’t think I would impress any parenting specialists today.). And then, thankfully, it was quiet time. Isla read “quietly” on her bed (which means in a loud whisper to her doll Sarah) while I read a parenting book on mine, in hopes of getting a higher rating from said specialists. And as an aside, this is one of my two most favorite parenting books and I am reading it for the second time. How to Talk So Kids Will listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish. (And here is the second of my 2 favorite parenting books, “Simplicity Parenting”.)

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir.

Setting up to blend our homemade kefir mango lassies.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

First, we strain the grains of kefir out of the kefir cultured goat milk.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

The grains are left behind and look like this.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

I just dump these grains right into a fresh jar of goat milk.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture.

Then I use one of my nifty, homemade, magnetic jar lid labels to let me know it is kefir, and the day I put it in my cabinet to culture. It should be ready to consume in about 2 full days.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend's farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender.

Chopped mangos, cinnamon, and maple syrup from my friend’s farm in VT is added, and blended with a stick blender. If we feel the need for more sweetener in the cup, we add a couple of drops of stevia.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Voila! Kefir mango lassies! One of our favorite treats.

Rest “hour” always feels like it is only 10 minutes, but the clock argued with my opinion loudly. Back in the kitchen I checked the tallow. It was melting nicely but there were still plenty of chunks. The “golden chicken” in the crock pot was simmering cooperatively, and it was not yet animal chore time. So back to the kraut went I.

I washed and rinsed well the 5 gal crock. I say this in such an off hand manner, but this is probably the hardest part of the the entire job. Have you ever tried to lift a 5 gallon, stoneware crock? No? Well start preparing the discs in your spine for some serious air time because they are about to be blown from your back in all directions. And then once in your sink – your teeny, miniscule, stainless steel sink (where you realize with terror that you have swiveled the spigot to the wrong side of the barely movable crock-a-saurus) – you have your eye balls shaken and teeth set on edge by the barest of movements of this mountain of ceramic against that teeny sink. Think fingernails on chalk boards. After this heavy weight wrestling match you still need to dry the leviathan and beach it onto the seat of a chair. Let’s hope the legs of that chair don’t promptly retaliate against the whale you dropped in their lap.

Next, with carefully wash hands, the kraut is transfered lovingly from the bowl to the crock, by double handfuls. (Make sure the crock is on a chair and not the floor as with all those missing discs, you will no longer be able to bend over.) At this time, if I were adding fresh dill instead of caraway, I would layer in a dill sprig after each couple of double handfuls. If you feel the need for some anger management, you are welcome to bring out a kraut bat at this time and pummel the kraut into submission. But it really is not necessary as the resting with the salt should have pulled the juices out of the grated vegetables by now. The addition of the whey will have given you plenty of juice. Give it a check by pushing your open hand down on the surface of the kraut. See all that juice rise up between your fingers? If you are answering “no”, then you probably weigh under 100 lbs and need to eat a lot more kraut. LEAN into it you light weight! THERE is that juice! I have to admit I like to abuse my kraut just a wee bit before I shut it up in the dark for 2 weeks. I have tried stomping in the crock with meticulously cleaned bare feet, but with size ten battleships, it was not terribly comfortable. So I usually just use my balled fists and puuuush in, alternating hands. I have not yet identified this gene – the one that entices me to do more work than I need to – the same gene that convinces me to knead my no-knead bread dough. But there it is.

Transferring the kraut from bowl to the crock.

Transferring the kraut from the bowl to the crock.

Punch it out baby!

Punch it out baby!

There's that magic juice!

There’s that magic juice!

Now I slip in an upside down dinner plate, well washed and rinsed first, of just the right size to cover as much of the surface as possible with out getting hung up on the sides of the crock (because ceramic grating on ceramic is only second in line behind ceramic on steel). Then I burp out the trapped air by pushing hard on one edge of the plate until all the bubbles release from under the concave surface of the plate. (You are welcome to use a truck with a cherry picker to lift the crock to your shoulder if you would like to attempt the burping in a more motherly fashion.) Then I fill a half gallon, or 2 qt jars (meticulously washed and rinse before hand, inside and out) with water, screw the lids on tightly, and place these weights on the protruding rump of the plate. This is merely to hold the plate down and keep the kraut under the juice. Lastly, cover the crock with a clean towel (I use a thick bath towel doubled over), and hire your neighbor and his back hoe to move it to a quiet spot in your house where it can remain undisturbed for at least 2 weeks. Join me in said time to see what our cheese whey and nifty, household microbes have created by clicking this link here.

Plate in and weighted with a half gallon jar filled with water.

Plate in and weighted down with a half gallon jar filled with water.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it's final resting place to do it's thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

The back hoe has moved the crock to it’s final resting place to do it’s thang. I always add a label with the date, 2 weeks out, when I can jar the batch.

OK. The tallow. It had melted and was at a rolling bowl with the water, hopefully as clean as a whistle. Then I simply repeated the previous rendering steps of ladling out the clear, liquid fat, straining it through a butter muslin-lined strainer, into a 4 cup measure, then pouring from the measuring cup into the muffin tins. Soon after, I discovered the process was not proceeding as planned (or previously experienced). It seems my impatient personality (that other unwanted gene) was not allowing the muffin tins enough time to chill in the freezer. So learn from my T’s and T’s (trials and tribulations) – let the tallow chill until some surface cracks show on the muffin tops. Do not try to extricate the muffins before this time (unless you want to bring in your neighbor’s heavy equipment again). Once the surface cracks are visible, run hot water over the bottom of the tins (quickly as they will want to leap from your overturned tin and break themselves in the depths of that teeny, weeny stainless steel sink with the ceramic scrapes on the edges), and pop the remaining muffins out onto a sheet of wax paper by inverting the tin again and pressing the center of each muffin cup. Slip the muffins into a gallon zip lock, suck out the air with your mouth, and store in the freezer.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

The tallow is all melted and ready to portion out into the muffin tins.

But I did not finish muffinizing all the tallow as animal chore time, laundry folding, hot bath, speedy dinner, and a movie with Marian preempted the rest of my greasy project (and I highly recommend seeing “Silver Linings Playbook”, by the ah, “whey”). So today I have a cool pot of water (I presume) with a thick circular block of solidified tallow on the surface (guessing at being 5″ thick without taking a core sample to verify). As I have been writing, I have not had a chance to tackle it’s removal. And I am about to make the drive to pick Isla up from pre-school now. (But you can see what it looked like at the end of this later post.)

I think I’ll just call my neighbor on the way and hire his power auger. I’m sure that will do the trick!

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner.

Randy sadly holding the very last onion before he adds it to the dinner that evening.

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