Mon, 17 Mar 2014 10:40:00 CDT — by: Nathan Bourne, C'11
“The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved” -Sandor Katz
If you’re anything like me, the phrase “Farm-to-Table” conjures up images of fresh vine ripe tomatoes picked fresh, sliced thick and laid on a sandwich at a summer picnic; or I see tender okra, begging to be fried or to join the other fruits of September in a stew or gumbo; or I imagine handfuls of fresh basil tossed with garlic and oil in a light pesto. These are the treats of summertime, “farm-to-table” in immediate gratification. But what do we do in the wintertime, when frost threatens the heartiest of crops and a real tomato ripened under the hot August sun is just a faint memory and a longing our tastebuds have for that perfect blend of sweetness and acidity? We have to rethink “farm-to-table” with a lens not on the here and now but on the then there, with that place being the fall, winter, and spring months, when locally-grown vegetables are few and far between and when we rely on the tried and true methods of preservation that give us everything from pickled okra to apple butter to the subject of a recent workshop held at the Green House--Sauerkraut!!
While making saeurkraut is, like pickling or jelly-making, a method of food preservation, it differs in a few ways. When making jams, jellies, or pickles you are in control; you dictate flavor, consistency, and the state at which you preserve it. Once you hear the pop of that lid, it will remain as it is until the jar is opened and the contents consumed in remembrance of harvests past. Sauerkraut is world’s removed. A live ferment, you don’t so much make it as it is made. You set the stage: chop the cabbage, grate the ginger, peel the beets, toss in the salt, mash it down and cover it up, but at that point all you have is a salty salad. It is only over time and the labor of countless microbes breaking down the ingredients, changing flavor, structure, and consistency, that the sauerkraut is made.
To demonstrate this process, five of us gathered at the Green House to make what Sandor Katz calls a “kraut chi.” There is a great spectrum of fermented cabbage products; from the traditional cabbage with a few caraway seeds to the kimchi’s of South Korea that are bold, spicy, and with a vast array of colors, and everything in between. And so we took what we could find locally--an abundance of cabbages hearty enough to survive the winter--and combined them with the bounty of globalized food systems (carrots, beets, peppers, garlic, and ginger) and set the stage for our own blend. Over the course of a few hours, a few beet-stained hands, plenty of sampling (you have to get the veggie to salt ratio just right), and, fortunately, no missing fingers, we went from a table full of fresh, whole vegetables to nearly five gallons of what will, over the coming weeks, become a spicy, sour, crunchy mix, transformed by microbes in an anaerobic environment, protected by the liquid drawn out of the vegetables and the salt that cures it.
And while a bowl of kraut may not be a vine-ripe tomato, it has a charm all of its own. It is the product of a process and a journey from “farm-to-table-to-five-gallon bucket-to-table,” reminding us that some of the best things come with time, age, and the foresight to think beyond the here and now