If you know me, or if you’ve been reading the blog for a bit, you may be aware that I have certain Earth mother habits which, depending on your perspective, make me a paragon of righteous living, a sanctimonious prig, or a hopeless eccentric. Most of these habits center on food: I make all of our household’s bread (whole grain, sourdough), as well as salad dressing, soup stock, corn tortillas. Most important, I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like, with the exception of okra, because it is objectively disgusting.
Before you get too concerned, let me set your mind at ease. I wear lipstick. I don’t own a pair of Birkenstocks. I made damn sure that my children got every single one of their vaccinations, right on time. And then I had the pediatrician give them a few extra shots for good measure.
But I do have this vegetable thing, which led me to sign on to a year-round farmshare. Yes, this is in addition to my vegetable garden. So there are times of the year when I harvest head after head of lettuce, and then eagerly tear open my farmshare box to find....a half-bushel of lettuce. But that’s OK with me. Because who can ever have enough lettuce?
OK. Maybe you are a person who can have enough lettuce. But lettuce, need I point out, is not okra. And it’s light-weight stuff! I can chomp through a box of lettuce in no time at all, and then head out to the garden for more.
But it is not lettuce season. It is February, deepest winter in Massachusetts. No frilly green heads in our weekly farmshare box. The winter CSA brings only the most earnest of vegetables: turnips, cabbage, beets, storage radishes, carrots. These are vegetables that would surely wear Birkenstocks if they came in the right size. Here is this week’s box:
It weighs 17.5 pounds. That adds up to 70 four-ounce servings. Truth is that it's pretty hard for three medium-sized people to eat 70 servings of earnest, Birkenstock-wearing vegetables every week, and then pony up for more the following Wednesday.
This cabbage alone weighs more than four pounds (and it is not the biggest we've received):
That's sixteen servings of cabbage, right there. Three people. One week. You do the math.
When life gives you too much cabbage....you make sauerkraut! Of course. It's the clear next step. And the media, at the moment, is awash with people extolling the miracles of fermentation, of flooding our bodies with helpful bacteria and their glorious bi-products. Michael Pollan loves fermentation. People like me love Michael Pollan. Michael Pollan loves Sandor Katz, the fermentation guru. People like me feel they need to own his book:
And so I joyfully, and perhaps somewhat arrogantly, set about making sauerkraut from kohlrabi, following a recipe provided by my CSA. I shredded the kohlrabi, massaged it with salt and spices, packed it into a crock, per instructions. This was not my first bout of fermentation: i have successfully preserved lemons and pickled turnips, and I've kept my sourdough starter going for 22 years. But this was my first attempt to rely solely on the ambient bacteria in the environment to get my ferment going, with no support from starter cultures, vinegar or other acids. Just me and the lactobacilli, baby. Bring it on!
A few days after I put my nascent kohlrabi sauerkraut on the counter, the kitchen started to smell a little rank. I took out the garbage. I took out the garbage again. We all started to avoid the side of the kitchen in which resided the brewing crock o' kraut.
"It smells like big farts," said my daughter.
"No, it does NOT!" I answered. "It smells like the lactobacilli which will soon re-populate our guts, which have been depleted of all healthy bacteria by the industrial food complex."
We made it through the prescribed week--barely, given the growing stench--and then we gathered around the crock for a taste.
My husband and daughter went lurching for the garbage to spit theirs out; but I took time to chew mine thoughtfully. Tangy, certainly; but not at all in a pleasant way....musty. Redolent of old socks. But the real problem was the texture. It was slimy, like....OKRA. I had turned four lovely orbs of kohlrabi into the only vegetable I detest. After three years, this was the first chunk farmshare produce that I've consigned to the trash.
Will I try again? Probably. We have a lot of cabbage on our hands. It makes sense to preserve some of it. Otherwise, what will we grace our tables during those grim days in June, when all we have to eat is lettuce?