I recently friended Kim Patten, who admits he’s a bit of a Luddite and just got himself on Facebook. Of course I’ve been “real” friends with Kim and Andi for over a decade but the FB experience adds a new dimension to our knowing each other.
Last week Kim posted a picture of wife Andrea with 16 enormous heads of cabbage and announced that sauerkraut making was about to commence. Each head, between ten to twelve pounds, means that they were looking at making one hundred plus pounds of sauerkraut! I did not want to experience this in some third-hand virtual FB-way — I wanted the Full Monty — so I went by for a visit to see, hear and taste for myself.
Believe me, there is nothing like the analog world! There was Andi with blue-trimmed white apron tied around her waist, German machines whirring, the kilogram scale at the ready, and an enormous crock awaiting. Kim and Andi are both meticulous scientists so I was not surprised that Andi had everything in place. Those cabbages were getting processed in style.
First, of course, they’d been harvested from the Patten garden, a wonderful sprawling thing still providing enormous quantities of food. “Half my garden is still producing,” said Kim. Sure enough, I saw beds of kale, rows of Brussel sprouts, leeks and potatoes. “I dug up the potatoes then replanted some of them so they’re easier to find,” Kim said, “German Butterball, Russian bananas, French fingerlings, we have all different varieties.”
“But my mother’s potatoes in Austria are the best,” said Andi, “They’re spekcig potatoes — that just means fat — they’re so sweet.”
“We seem to do everything on an industrial scale,” she continued, laughing about the enormous quantity of sauerkraut in the making. There were still six gigantic cabbages waiting on the table on the porch outside the kitchen, each one about as big as a basketball. “Bring your crock — do you have a crock? — and I’ll fill it for you.”
I asked whether this was a family recipe. “Recipe schmecipe,” said Andi, “this is sauerkraut, the only thing you vary is the percentage of salt.” And, of course, she had tested this out in years past. “Most recipes call for two and a half percent salt — in relationship to the poundage of cabbage — but we realized you can do it with much less than that. Last year I tried one and a half percent and one percent. Actually one percent works faster because salt slows down the bacteria, so less salt means the kraut is ready sooner. To 600 kilograms of grated cabbage I add 30 kilograms of salt.”
Andi mixed this up in a metal bowl and poured the cabbage into a five-gallon crock. Then she punched the cabbage over and over until liquid started to be released.
A bit of background here: sauerkraut is finely chopped cabbage or, for that matter, any root vegetable (the Patten’s have used carrots, leeks and beets) that has been fermented and softened. The salt brings out the liquid in the cabbage and the sour flavor results from the lactic acids that form when bacteria ferments the sugars in the cabbage. It’s a type of pickling food preservation that doesn’t require refrigeration. So it’s a great way to preserve vegetables when you can’t eat everything fresh out of the garden.
Roman writers mention sauerkraut made of cabbage and turnips; and Wikipedia notes that Genghis Khan introduced sauerkraut to Europe when he invaded China. It took (ahem) root primarily in the Germanic cultures. James Cook even brought sauerkraut on those long seafaring voyages because it prevented scurvy.
Anyway, the Pattens were experiencing the same problem farmers have had for centuries — Egad! the cabbage is ready to harvest, what will we do with all of it?
“Last night we had three different kinds of cabbage for dinner,” said Kim, “Kohlrabi soup, stuffed cabbage and coleslaw.”
“It’s a total anti-cancer diet,” added Andi.
“It’s a little boring,” said Kim.
“But sometimes we alternative with beet soup or leek soup,” said Andi.
About that time Kim brought me a bowl of sauerkraut that he had made, this one with cabbage, leeks and black pepper. It was delicious!
Meanwhile, back at the sauerkraut “recipe” — Andi showed me the sauerkraut nursery in the living room set-up behind a sofa that looks out over Willapa Bay. There we found two crocks bubbling away. “They need two weeks of warmth for the fermentation to start, then you can put kraut in jars and store it in a cool place.”
Andi had another project going in the kitchen so I stayed to watch her make apfelstrudel for Lutheran church refreshments on Sunday. She volunteers to handle the food once every month or so.
“Most people just go to the store and buy cookies,” said Kim, “but not Andi. Nothing is done in moderation.”
“Moderation? — is that vocabulary we use in our household?” she said.
Andi had one strudel dough already rolled out into a big round and began slicing apples in her food processor. I peered over the edge of a bucket which held enough apples for a second strudel, and — being from Yakima’s apple country — I asked, “What kind of apples are you using?”
“We have Ashmead’s Kernel, Liberties, Jonagolds, Bramleys — they’re all from the yard,” Kim said. “We probably have 50 or 60 varieties out there. Theoretically, we could easily grow 100 percent of our own food, except for milk and cheese.”
Just then Andi was ready to roll the first strudel. She’d spread the sliced apples, some sugar, ground nuts and cranberries over the two-and-a-half-foot round of dough and crimped all the edges.
“This is the magic part,” said Kim.
And, sure enough, in one graceful move, Andi tipped up the pastry cloth and the strudel dough curled up, nearly by itself, into a beautiful long sausage roll. She patted it gently, almost lovingly, tucked it into a butter-greased pan in an elongated horse-shoe shape and popped it into the oven. The second was quickly made and rested for a bake-off the following day.
“My mother did make apfelstrudel — this is a family recipe,” said Andi, “we used to have to sit and peel and slice all the apples by hand.”
Tending the summer garden, harvesting the results of that sun in a dark winter, and making delicious things out of it in a warm kitchen while the rain pounds on the roof — those are some of the joys of Peninsula living. But one even more delicious thought comes to mind — having friends that share their bounty.
Facebook is fun, but not nearly as fun as driving down Sandridge Road to get my crock filled with sauerkraut.