One of the best new ideas to come off Island Meadow Farm in the past couple years is indeed a well-worn throwback honed by the tools of tradition: sauerkraut. Not a new idea at all, but rather an ancient food. Cabbage preserved with sea salt, and, in our case, a dash of caraway for flavor.
We ferment our shredded cabbage by placing it into a crock in layers, alternating cabbage, salt and caraway, then smashing it to bruise the cabbage leaves and release juices that help create a brine. For four weeks, we check the batch every couple of days, observing the development of pickled flavors and encouraging the fermentation carefully along, making sure the cabbage continues to stay underneath the level of its brine to allow for a delicious finish to the process.
It’s the best when people get excited to see this sauerkraut in the farmstand and at Vashon’s Saturday market, telling us they like it because it just tastes good. Well-made kraut is delicious, and it’s good for you. too. We like to eat it on its own as a garnish or simple salad on the side of the plate, and also, of course, with cured meat or seared pork chops. The kraut also has a snappy texture with a slight and pleasant crunch that speaks to its freshness and differentiates this food from what is sold on supermarket shelves.
Island Meadow kraut is raw, not heat-processed, so the probiotic cultures are alive and intact. Many people think that the lacto-bacteria responsible for this fermentation, are not only critical to human health, but are all but absent from the modern diet. According to Sally Fallon, in her influential book, Nourishing Traditions:
“Modern food choices and preparation techniques constitute a radical change from the way man has nourished himself for thousands of years and, from the perspective of history, represent a fad that not only has severely compromised his health and vitality but may well destroy him………The process of fermenting foods — to preserve them and to make them more digestible — is as old as human history. Fermented foods are valued for their health-giving properties and for their complex tastes.”
Sauerkraut is one of the many fermented and cultured foods eaten by humans throughout the centuries. Along with kefir, yogurt, kimchi, miso and borscht, kraut can be made easily, and stores well. The book Wild Fermentation, by Sandor Katz, is a great resource for learning about how to make these treats on your own.