UPDATE: Fermenting Cabbage

The first attempt at making sauerkraut by the means of a possible in period recipe was a success. The initial kraut was shifted from the fermentation crock to containers for the refrigerator after 3 months fermented. They further aged in the refrigerator as they were used up.

The flavor improved over time even in the refrigerator. Initially the sauerkraut was too salty and not as sour as I like. Each successive container we opened to use was less salty tasting and more tangy. So there wasn’t anything we did not end up enjoying.

Evaluation of how it tasted initially led to the conclusion that my use of the salt was heavy handed and would be better if I went lighter in my next attempt and if I were to allow it to ferment longer in the crock before placing in the refrigerator.

My reading about the history of cabbage has taught me that the firm tight heads of cabbage we enjoy now are a more recent development. “Heads” of cabbage in period were looser. So for the next batch of sauerkraut I selected a different kind. I have no idea what it is called but it is darker, smaller heads, and the outer leaves spread away from the head as they mature, thus leaving only the center tight. I think it is also a modern variety, but just not the common large heads I usually see in the stores.

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So currently there are THREE crocks fermenting on my desk. Thyme and whole peeled cloves of garlic went into each crock. One crock also received whole cumin seeds, another received sliced, peeled, fresh ginger, the third nothing extra. Cabbage was sliced very thin, almost shaved, and mixed with less salt than last time and squeezed until liquid began to form. I packed each crock with the wet salty cabbage and pressed it repeatedly with each handful to pack it as tightly as I possibly could pack it. Folded whole cabbage leaves were used to cover the contents, then weights were added to hold it all down. A 2% brine was mixed and pour over everything until even the weights were covered.

And we 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….