Fermenting Cabbage

Thus far the cabbage in the salt brine is fermenting with all the correct odors and none of the “uh-oh” elements (like mold which means dump it in the compost, sterilize the pot and try again).  My pot was left warmer than ideal over the weekend.  It is still fine!

WE open it up, taste and put it in jars in the fridge in another week.  No, fridges are not period, but this is anachronism!

In period, they would just keep it under the brine until it is all eaten.  They might have rows of pots of cabbage preserved in this manner.  I read it is popular as a method in period for preserving other veggies as well.

Did you know botulism gets its name from sausage because until modern canning the usual way someone got poisoned with botulism’s toxins was from badly preserved sausage?  Apparently the salt brine encourages a ph that is so hostile to botulism and its like that it will not grow in a fermentation pot.

Meanwhile, I look forward to fermented cabbage!


Started my first crock of cabbage fermenting a few days ago, and so far it is off-gassing exactly as it should! Happy cabbage! I am using the lactic acid fermentation that takes place on a salt brine. I made my salt brine with pink salt that has been mined in the same place since before my 10th century time period. So my persona could very well have purchased this sort of salt in the market of Constantinople.

Due to a discussion on whether or not the Byzantines would have spiced their ferment of cabbage, I did not spice this batch. Meanwhile, I have been reading up on the history of cabbage and attempting to discover if any of the heirloom versions resemble what my persona would have used. If I find one, I will see if I can manage to grow it in a pot and try it in another ferment.

Meanwhile, I used the modern head cabbage that was developed much later in Europe. It is inexpensive so makes a good choice for learning the method. If I mess this up it will not cost me so much to try again.

And I am still seeking out sources to find, if I am able, an example of spiced cabbage ferment.

Sometime in October this first crock will be ready to eat! I am very excited and barely can wait!

Spices for Fermented Cabbage

I have been speaking to persons on one of the Society for Creative Anachronism pages about the right spices to use in my fermenting cabbage if my persona lived in 10th Century Constantinople and was part of a well off family.

So we have coriander, cumin, mustard seed, dill, fenugreek, peppercorn, & dill weed as all likely common spices for 10th Century Byzantium.

Further inquiry about the whole process brought out the recommendation that I choose no more than three off the list, and use no more than a table spoon of each in a one gallon crock of fermenting cabbage. Someone also suggested using the spices whole when possible.

Now, none of this is documented.  I suspect that from the extant materials, that the list of spices can be verified.  That cabbage was preserved by fermentation is well attested in the records. Pliny mentions it, and it is also ubiquitous, the Vikings made sauerkraut, the Koreans made Kimchi, and I read somewhere that the Romans would take it with them when they had to go East to help their digestion cope with the changes in food and water.

So I expect that with some work, if I wanted to document it for a paper, I could do so from the books I have on hand or can get ahold of without too much difficulty.

Meanwhile, the debate on facebook was IF cabbage would have been seasoned at all during fermentation.  With all the coming and going along the silk road, connecting everywhere from Scandanavia to Korea, there must have been variations. Would everyone have fermented their cabbage plain? The Koreans certainly didn’t leave theirs plain, even including fish parts in their fermentation process, but even there, the documentation is scanty until after the Koryo dynasty.

The Byzantines spiced a lot of things.  They fermented fish guts to make garum. They put that on all sorts of foods. But we do not have a document that indicates that the fermented cabbage was spiced. Thus we speculate.

So, we know what spices were common in my period and place. We know that cabbage and other vegetables were commonly fermented to preserve their nutrition. We do know that a 10th century Byzantine household would have had fermented foods with most meals, and liked to spice things, but we don’t know if they spiced their cabbage.

I am going to speculate that cabbage was fermented all sorts of ways. Mine will be spiced.

Now to figure out how to keep my crock cool enough, and find a place to cut up cabbage.  I wonder….