One thing you should know about the making of sauerkraut is that it’s important to massage the shredded cabbage. You may pound it with a potato masher or with the end of a French rolling pin. And I always do, to start. But the goal of the exercise is to bruise the brassica bits, and induce them to yield up their water. The goal is to mix cabbage juice with salt, such that the vegetable essentially brines itself. And to accomplish this most effectively, hands are by far the best tool.
As I was making this batch of very purple sauerkraut, there was a moment when Sarah turned to say something to me and found me elbows deep in cabbage. I was moving it around, squeezing handfuls between my fingers, and apparently — says Sarah — singing softly to myself. So struck was she by my display of what she deemed pickling madness that she insisted on taking this photograph of my manual manipulations.
Kimchi is extraordinary and complicated and vast, and it would be no less than hubris to imagine that I could do justice to so rich a tradition in one post, or in a whole blog’s worth of posts. When I started thinking about kimchi — quite a while ago, now — I assumed that it would be a little like making sauerkraut — possibly based on something that Sandor Katz had written in The Art of Fermentation (a book I highly recommend!):
“Kraut-chi is a word I made up, a hybrid of sauerkraut and kimchi, the German and Korean words for fermented vegetables that we have adopted into the English language. The English language does not have its own word for fermented vegetables. It would not be inaccurate to describe fermented vegetables as “pickled,” but pickling covers much ground beyond fermentation.”
Kraut, in the United States, isn’t a very nice word. Dating back to the nineteenth century, the stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German immigrant was already a thing, and showed up in all the usual places — anecdotes in newspapers, on the minstrel stage, etc. — where one might expect humor at the expense of some racial or ethnic group or another.
During World War I, Kraut became a metonym for German, German became synonymous with wicked, and it became acceptable to use the term as a sneer or a snub, as a way of stirring up enmity and making school-children whose parents derived from Deutchland feel lousy about themselves and about their national heritage.