The palace kitchen sits level with the east courtyard of the grounds. Behind it, a terraced garden brings guests down to a shady pond filled with carp, sunfish, and other aquatic life. The garden staff are diligent about their work throughout the year and plant a variety of species on the various levels. By the time I began working in the kitchen, room was being made for the summer crops and one morning we were presented with cabbages at various sizes & stages of ripeness. The one dish that came to mind immediately was sauercraut.
Perhaps I’m biased. I came to enjoy sauercraut (sowercraut, sourkraut, or the litany of other phonetic spellings you see in period sources) around the same time I began studying 18th century trade work. The fermentation process uses naturlly-ocurring lactic acid bacteria to create a tasty, tart dish. The fermentation also make cabbage’s abundant potassium and vitamin C more bioavailable. Sauerkraut was issued at various points throughout the War for independence as a ration and antiscorbutic.
Strongly associated with Germanic culture, ‘kraut nonetheless appears in Hannah Glass’ cookbook (served with beef, in proper English fashion). With all of the pork bring produced in the Old Dominion, it seemed an obvious choice.
The process is simple and still found in works like Sandor Ellix Katz’s fanatically popular book/blog Wild Fermentation. From Hannah Glasse:
Procure some fine hard white cabbages, cut them very small, have a tub on purpose with the head out, according to the quantity you intend to make; put them in the tub, to every four or five cabbages throw in a large handful of salt, when you have done as many as you intend, lay a very heavy weight on them, to press them down as flat as possible, throw a cloth over them, and lay on the cover; let them stand a month, then you may begin to use it. It will keep twelve months, but be sure to keep it always closc covered, and the weight on it; if you throw a few carraway seeds pounded fine amongst it, they give it a fine flavour. The way to dress it is with a fine fat piece of beef stewed together. It is a dish much made use of amongst the Germans, and in the North Countries where the frost kills all the cabbages; therefore they preserve them in this manner before the frost takes them. Cabbage-stalks, cauliflowers stalks, and artichoke stalks peel’d and cut fine done in the same manner are very good.
The cabbage breeds may be the only thing changed since Glass published her receipt. I used two lusty Jersey Wakefields – football shaped and sweet even when raw. When we were given a tour by one of the gardeners to familiarise ourselves with the space, her description of the Wakefields was one of fond anticipation – an emotion we’re quick to assign to fruits, but often less readily for vegetables.
This is why I love heirloom breeds. Vibrant colours, and hearty flavors were key factors in their development. Some breeds available in the middle of the 18th century include: the common White, Sugarloaf, Pontefract, Battersea, Red, and the green and White Savoy. While some of these are lost to time, others survive thanks to English ceramics designer Josiah Wedgwood. If Wedgwood had a green thumb, it was more likely from his exclusive glaze recipe that allowed him to make vibrant greens, and a fascination with nature.
My cabbages were cut fine, and strewed liberally with coarse salt and carraway seed. By the time I was done slicing, packing, and interpreting there was already a healthy layer of brine forming in the bottom of the stoneware crock. I was instructed on the proper application of a hog’s bladder as a cover, though I could have used a cloth per Mrs. Glasse’s instructions ( & as is my practice at home). The bladder is washed, then cut not quite equally in half (how much you need depends on the size of the opening). The larger portion is stretched just enough to get over the rim of the vessel. Too much stretching and the bladder will sag into your food and spoil it.
The activity of the bacteria does create some carbon dioxide as a waste product, and the bladder I used puffed up from the pressure, then dried that way.
In a week’s time (like brewing, lactic fermentation happens quickly in warm weather) the ‘kraut was done. It had taken on a light amber color, and had that perfect translucence which has graced many a hot dog. In the interest of science I had to test my creation, and was soon being ribbed by Tiffany for taking third and fourth helpings. At the end of the day the kraut was carried down to the Anderson Armoury where it could be used to address wartime food trends.
You can also try Cabbage, with Onions
For some more reading about cabbage: