Gardening – Preserving the harvest

Continual rain, overcast skies and high humidity certainly changed things in the summer garden. 

Overwatering is a major cause of disease, while the wet and humid conditions meant the usual hoard of white butterflies didn’t materialise, allowing every variety of cabbage to flourish.

We couldn’t keep up with the coleslaw, and also tried various unusual cabbage dishes. Luckily, a little book called Making Sauerkraut came into my hands reacquainting me with the time-honoured technique of lactic acid fermentation – sauerkraut translates as ‘sour cabbage’.

Little did I realise the role that lactic acid fermentation has played in history. As early as 200BC Chinese cooks were pickling cabbage in wine. The first written instructions for fermentation are found in the writing of Pliny the Roman scholar in 50AD. Genghis Khan (1167-1227) carried cabbage fermented with salt and Captain Cook sailed with barrels of sauerkraut during his three-year voyage.

Latic acid bacteria, which were first isolated in sour milk, break down food, both making it digestible and preserving it.

Lactic acid fermentation allowed me to use all those cabbages – six 2kg green cabbages and four large red cabbages – all organically grown.

With so much cabbage to turn into sauerkraut we purchased a 7-litre crock which came with two small semi-circular “weight stones” designed to rest on top of the cabbage inside the crock. We could have used ordinary glass jars, but it was easier to use a crock.

Lactic acid fermentation consists of creating three conditions, otherwise the food will spoil rather than fermenting. You need a certain ratio of salt, an oxygen free environment and pressure on the food being fermented. Crocks with their weight-stones and a lid with a water gutter make this easy to achieve, keeping the carbon dioxide inside and preventing any yeast formation.

All biological processes take time, and we left the crock for 14 days before checking to see if the cabbage had developed a pleasing aroma and a slightly sour taste. Once opened, we transferred the sauerkraut to glass jars, storing them in the fridge to be used on a variety of salads, pizzas, sandwiches and as a pickle with cold meat and cheese.

Growing vegetables is exciting but finding ways to preserve and use them over time adds a whole new dimension to gardening.