Filling the hungry gap with sauerkraut

P1080741There are occasions when you need a particular lens, and this was one of them because I wanted to capture as much as I could of the colour, texture and activity of the batch of sauerkraut that’s sitting in the kitchen fermenting like crazy in the warm atmosphere.

So the only lens I could use was the macro lens I bought in New York a few years ago. I’m not a ‘proper’ photographer and no doubt with a good deal of faffing around with lights I could have produced something a bit more aesthetically pleasing but this will have to do because it shows how after only a few days the ferment has burst into life with asolutely no technical help from me.  All I did was to wash and shred the cabbage, add a little salt – not a lot – and put it into a fermentation jar. It’s a small miracle, once again, and aside from the faint whiff of dead sheep bubbling up from the depths it’s no trouble at all. If you look closely you’ll see the bubbles rising through the cabbage (a mixture of Savoy and red cabbages). The proof of the pudding is in the eating, of course, and it’s easy to get very squeamish about the prospect of eating ‘rotting’ things, but really there’s no reason.  This stuff is good for you and stuffed full of benign micro-organisms that your gut will just love.

I was once confronted with a cup of fermented hooch when I was out on a soup run one Christmas.  One of our regular stops was a tiny concrete hut on the docks, and the resident was a generally safe guy who really appreciated a sandwich and a couple of cigarettes on a bitterly cold night. I stopped by and gave him something extra for Christmas, I can’t remember what it was – it was very small –  and he was so grateful he offered me an ashtray he’d found and a taste of his drink.  He’d been scouring the bins at the back of the local greengrocers for discarded fruit, and blagged a bit of yeast off someone so he could make wine. Everything in my whole body was revolted at the prospect of drinking this stuff but I knew that my credibility rested on reciprocating his generosity – those are the rules. So I took a sip from the shared mug, made appreciative noises and went on my way waiting to be struck down by at least a dozen fatal disorders which, thankfully, I wasn’t. So, to end this writerly oxbow, I’ve always had at least a taste of local delicacies wherever we’ve been.

And if the idea of eating sauerkraut scares you, perhaps it’s best to start with a tin from the local deli or Pollsh shop where you know you’ll be perfectly safe.  Even that’s tasty but it’s a bit of a Johnny one-note flavour. Then when you try the real stuff you’ll get the full Brahms symphony, and if you’re a gardener staring down the barrel of the “Hungry Gap” that’s just about to begin, preserves, pickles, dried foods, stored beans and fermented foods will really brighten up the plate until the late spring flush of new vegetables begins.

Oh and what I forgot to say was that the sauerkraut tasted pretty good even after a few days. Crunchy, lightly acidic and fizzy with real sweetness from the cabbage and not the tiniest hint of anything unpleasant.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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