Monday, January 14, 2013

Summertime Mysteries, Bigfoot and Sauerkraut

The big ceramic crock sat a dark corner of our crowded and dusty utility room.   It was a mystery unsolved by my eight-year-old mind.  I was forbidden to ever lift the lid and could only stare at it, imagining how it would sound and smell if I broke the rules and raised the top.  What would I find inside?  Would it be something good that my parents weren’t sharing with me?  Or maybe it would be something bad — a tragic family secret long hidden away from prying eyes.  I didn’t learn until many years later what exactly was in that crock.

I’m older now (wink, wink).   I know sauerkraut is made with cabbage and salt and tastes best when cured in a ceramic crock in a damp, dark place.  The pieces of those long ago summer days are falling into place.  

Mom (left front) with her
sister-in-law (The Aunts).
As my Mom and my aunts would chop endless heads of cabbage, us kids played outside – where summertime kids belong. There was a shallow creek with a sandy bottom on the property next door to our house. My brother and I and any number of first cousins would walk up and down the creek.  I made pies for everyone out of sand, watched the little minnows swim and basically made an annoyance out of myself. 

My brother is two years older, and I was pest.  Ask him. He’ll tell you.   I wanted to be a part of their games and their fun, but I couldn’t keep up.  And when they didn’t include me because I was too little, I found endless reasons to go tattle.  Any minor infraction was made huge in my mind.  I would tell my Mom about it with indignation and authority and stand by just waiting for them to get a spanking – they never (okay, rarely) did. 

Easter the year I turned 4 (pre-bigfoot
days).  That's me left front, Annette
on the right, Mickey is in the back
behind me.  (You may remember
Aunt Alice from another  post, that's
her carrying the basket and my cousin 
James just behind Annette. 
When my cousin Annette, who is older than Mickey, was at our house, the two of them barely tolerated me at all.  Mom would make them let me tag along so they would begrudgingly take me on their walks around the neighborhood.  When I became too much them to bear, their fun really started. 

Everyone would suddenly STOP!  “Did you hear that?” 

“What?” I would ask with my eyes big. 

“Listen!  Mickey, did you hear it?”

“I heard it,” he would say looking all around like something was going to jump out of the trees any second.  “What was it?”

“I don’t know, let’s look.” 

I didn’t know what was going on.  I would try to hold Mickey’s hand and then Annette’s, but they would just shake me off.  They needed their hands free to solve this new mystery.  

 A big production was made of searching around, looking in bushes, watching the ground.  “Oh No!”  Mickey would suddenly say.

And as Annette and I came running, I would see it there on the ground.  “What is it?” I whispered.

“It’s a big foot track!  RUN!”

And off I would run as fast as eight-year-old legs would take me.  By then, the shredded cabbage had been layered in the crock with salt.  It had been pushed down as tight as possible with a heavy plate and something of weight on top.   No clues to the mystery remained.  Everything was cleaned up in the kitchen with hot dogs and Kool-Aid waiting for lunch.  

When, about two weeks later, my Mom and my Aunts were enjoying the fruits of their labor  — Homemade Sauerkraut, I never linked it to the mystery of the crock. Sauerkraut stinks!   As a child, I tried to stay as far away from the stuff as possible. 

These days, I love good sauerkraut, and homemade is the BEST.    A few months ago, we had an abundance of cabbage from the garden, so I recruited my Mom to come over and show me how to make my own sauerkraut.  I got to see all the secrets that crock contained.    

That's one mystery solved, but I wonder if anyone ever found that Bigfoot creature?

Homemade Sauerkraut

5 heads shredded cabbage
6 tablespoons plain salt (not iodized)
Large ceramic crock

Wash, core and shred cabbage.  As each 1 or 2 heads have been shredded, mix the cabbage well with salt.  Layer the cabbage in the crock, a little at a time, pushing it down as tightly as possible.  When all cabbage is in the crock, press it all down as tightly has possible.  Cover it with a heavy plate, keeping it under pressure while you add a weight on top (a gallon jug of water works well).  Cover with a cloth then wrap with a band or string to hold the cloth tight.  Cover it all well with plastic wrap and allow to sit for 10 to 14 days or longer.   (We generally do 14 days.  But research shows that it can sit for as long as 6 to 8 weeks.  It depends, it seems, on how long you can wait and your taste preference – the longer it ferments, the more sour your sauerkraut.)


  1. I'm kinda dissappointed you didn't share about those "killer bees" :)

    By the way, I would hold your hand any old time you wanted me to. Want to go walking around the woods at your house? No telling WHAT we might fine! (wink, wink) I'll call Mickey!!

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