Update on Fermentation Preserved Vegetable Project

The carrot ferment was delicious! The stick cut carrots and diakon radish turned out still crisp but nicely tangy. The sliced version had more tangy flavor but went soft so was less satisfying.  We opened up one of the large crocks of fermenting cabbage and it is good. This time we got a stronger fermentation and the cabbage was softer yet still with enough texture and a lot of depth of flavor. Can say that garlic can certainly over-whelm a ferment, but ginger doesn’t.  Am not certain what I think of the coriander seeds since that is a strong flavor and while interesting I am unable to decide if I like it or if I am neutral.  I certainly do not dislike it!


This post really does need a picture of a nice bowl of carrot sticks and sauerkraut.

There remain two large crocks of cabbage which will ferment longer.

There is a smaller container that is a mix of leftover items from the other preparation and absolutely NO garlic. Will broach that one next.

If anyone wishes to try this process themselves, I recommend the facebook pages Wild Fermentation and Fermentor’s Kitchen.

Why 10th Century and Fermentation of Cabbage?

Why 10th Century? Well, longish story. I used to bake. My beloved husband does not like baked goods. I needed an episodic kitchen thing so I thought about how great grandma made kraut and that tasted way better than the junk that comes in the jar and don’t even mention the canned version!  Anyway, I was asked in a fermentation group why the historical focus on the 10th century, and as my explanation was much too long for a post there, I decided to carry it over here and blog on it.

In my family of origin, I was taught to bake cookies and then later to expand that out into pies. These were the delights I made whenever I had the urge to be creative in the kitchen. Then I fell in love with a whole foods healthy eating focused man who took over the general cooking and anytime I mentioned baking a pie would tell me he would rather eat the berries straight than be presented with them in a pie.  He also considered cookies an entry food to bad eating practices. So what is a girl to do when her ONE creative food outlet is unwanted and even deemed wasteful? In my case, I went looking for something else creative and interesting to make my contribution to the table.

Anyway, I started learning about how to make Sauerkraut, finding first the book WILD FERMENTATION, and later other books on the subject.  Somewhere along the way an author, it may have been the first author, mentioned in passing that Pliny wrote about lactic acid fermentation. Another author mentioned in passing that the ancient Roman legions, when they traveled by land or by sea, always brought with them fermented cabbage because the use of it with every meal resulted in a more stable digestive system when dealing with ever changing food and water sources. They especially wanted the fermented cabbage when heading into the middle east, for apparently the foods going that direction were harder for them to digest.

All this meant that my interest in an episodic cooking project had cross-over with my Society for Creative Anachronism interest in all things 10th Century Byzantine.  It also meant it crossed over into my research for my Historical novel.  Thus was born a passionate pursuit of the history of Brassicas and anything else the Byzantines grew or fermented in the 10th Century.

And the best part?

I have only just begun the journey.

Researching Cabbage

The process of properly preparing an Arts and Sciences (A&S) Project has interested me from my first days in the SCA, but up until recently nothing caught my interested thoroughly enough to keep me focused. My topic came along by way of the kitchen, and my mundane one at that!  Enter salt brine fermentation, sauerkraut, and the history of cabbage.

As I began to explore sauerkraut for my fun contribution to the table, Sandar Katz’s books (WILD FERMENTATION & THE ART OF FERMENTATION) gave me the technique and hinted at a very long history behind the practice.


Intrigued, I began to explore sauerkraut for 10th century Byzantium.

I no longer recall the titles of the earlier books I explored. The search was tantalizing and confusing. One author mentioned Pliny, but gave no footnote to aid in finding the quote. Another hinted at differences between cabbage varieties over time, but gave little detail except to say that modern tight heads were a late Medieval development, so while OK for some portions of the SCA period, they are not correct for my 10th century Byzantine. Still another commented, without footnote, that the ancient Roman Army always carried fermenting cabbage when traveling. Oh, the frustrations of finding hints of what I longed to find—without attribution!

My first exciting breakthrough came with a Horticulture textbook by Geoffrey R. Dixon. Bibliography for it can be found at the bottom of this article.

Vegetables from the Brassicas family go back to the Neolithic period. According to Dixon there are quite a few references to these plants in the extant literature. Three plant families are the roots of all the brassicas: Brassica nigra (grows on rocky Mediterranean coasts), Brassica oleracea (coastal throughout Europe) and Brassica rapa (from the high plateauxs of Iran, Iraq and Turkey). [Dixon, pp 1-3]

“[A]ncient Sanskrit literature UPANISHADS and BRAHAMANAS, originating around 1500 BC. Mention brassicus, and the Chinese SHIH CHING, possibly edited by Confucius (511-479 BC), refers to the turnip….”

“Aristotle (384-322 BC), Theophrastus (371-286 BC), Cato (234-149 BC), Columella (1st century AD), and Pliny (23-79 AD) all mention the importance of brassicus.”[Dixon p. 1]

As always, the quotes are not given. But with the names of the authors, I am further along in my search for documentation than I was before. Theophrastus’ writing INQUIREY INTO PLANTS is sitting on the pile waiting with Apicius.

Meanwhile my kitchen counter looks like this: IMG_1229

The next step, in my research for documentation, will be to dig around in the original works cited by G. R. Dixon and gather up the quotes. Future articles will be about the versions I selected to grow because they most resemble the descriptions from the ancient texts, containers I am using for the fermentation process and what was likely used in 10th Century, and a how-to article so you can make your own. The next root veggie ferment will be 3 weeks March 19, and I do my next taste check on the cabbage March 22.

In conclusion, long before SCA time, these plants were cultivated, traded, crossed with each other, and spread throughout Europe and Asia. This makes my efforts to use the ancient practice of salt brine fermentation on vegetables in 10th Century Byzantium all the more interesting!

Today’s article takes heavily from:
Dixon, Geoffrey R., VEGETABLE BRASSICAS AND RELATED CRUCIFERS, Crop Production Science In Horticulture #14, CABI North American Office, Cambridge MA, copyright 2007 G. R. Dixon, ISBN:978 0 85199 395 9.

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.


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.


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!

Period Preservation of Vegetables

Pliny, sometime around 50AD, wrote about lactic acid fermentation. This gives documentation to the process of fermenting vegetables to preserve them for my period of the 10th century. Crocks for fermenting vegetables and meats have been found all around the globe. So in the name of wonderful flavors and period food preparation both, I am putting boldly out into the sea of fermenting some cabbage (cheap if I foul up and must throw it out) and hoping that in a couple of weeks I will have a delicious sauerkraut. Apparently the Byzantine kitchen would have had an array of pots fermenting various vegetables and meats at any one time and every meal would have had the results as sauces, condiments and side dishes. The ancient Roman favorite Garum is the result of this sort of fermentation process.

Fermentation of cabbage seems to be found in nearly every culture. The Vikings were known to have soured cabbage, the Romans traveled with pots of it, and the peoples of Asia lifted it to amazing heights and probably were the originators of the process. For example: The Koreans make Kimchi and it is amazing! Some is only vegetable, but other types include fish. The traditional process was to cut it all up add brine and bury the closed pot in the ground for a couple months or more.

I own a crock and several heads of cabbage and sea salt. Now to put it all together!

Every tradition spices their fermentations differently. The options are amazing, the flavors stunning, and I am quite excited to be learning this ancient and marvelous practice.