Sauerkraut: Providence City
Over the years certain smells have been familiar to the people of Providence. The smell of the old pea viner which stood where Providence Lane enters town; the smell of barnyards, mink sheds and outdoor privies; the smell of spring lilacs and fresh baked bread; and the smell of sauerkraut. The smell of sauerkraut is an enigma in the field of smells. To some it smells worse than the pea viner on a warm day; to others its goodness exceeds the smell of anything imaginable.
Sauerkraut came to Providence long ago with the German and Swiss immigrants who came in the early years of the settlement. A regular part of the diet of many people, sauerkraut came into its own in the early part of the 19th century when it was used as a main course at many of the public dinners for which the town later became famous.
The process by which sauerkraut is produced in Providence has ceased to be an exact science and has become an art. No known recipe exist, but each generation passes on to the next these few salient facts: from the mature heads of cabbage the dark outer leaves are stripped. The cabbage is halved or quartered, core removed and washed. The cabbage is then shredded and placed into a crock or barrel to a depth of four or five inches. To this layer of cabbage is added three or four handfuls of salt. The mixture of salt and cabbage is then tamped with a wooden tamper or club until juice is extracted from the cabbage. The cabbage and salt form the brine that cures the cabbage to produce the sauerkraut. The shredding, salting, and tamping are repeated until the barrel is full. When full, the cabbage in the barrel is covered with a clean white cloth. A wooden lid is placed in the barrel on top of the cloth, and is weighted down with a large rock or a piece of cement about 75 or 100 pounds. The barrel is placed where the temperature can be maintained at from 50 to 75 degrees and left to cure for about six to eight weeks. During the curing period it is necessary to periodically remove the weight, wooden lid and cloth, dip off the fermented brine and impurities which have accumulated on top of the barrel and remove any cabbage that has turned black. The kraut is then covered with about one inch of fresh water,the clean cloth, wooden lid and the weight is replaced.
Cure time depends largely on temperature, and salt is a critical factor in producing good sauerkraut. Too much salt will cause the kraut not to cure; too little salt will allow it to spoil.
As the years roll by the art of making sauerkraut is being lost as the older people in Providence pass on. It is important that the tradition of kraut making continue in Providence.
The process of making sauerkraut requires the following:
A sharp knife, a clean white cloth large enough to fit the kraut barrel, a clean board sized to fit the barrel, a heavy weight, a shredder or food processer, and a tamper.
Shredded cabbage 10 pounds
Plain salt about ½ cup
Best to use a hard cabbage, Danish Bald Head is a good one
Clear the cabbage of the green leaves until only the white heads remain
The cabbage is then halved or quartered and the core is removed using the sharp knife
The cabbaged is washed and shredded using the kraut shredder or other method. Fine cut about 1/16 inch.
Add a layer of shredded cabbage to barrel (about four to five inches)
Add salt by sprinkling over the layers of cabbage
Tamp cabbage and salt layers until brine covers the cabbage
Add enough salt to cabbage until a light salty taste in brine, but not too salty
Continue the process of adding salt, cabbage, and tamping until the barrel is full
Place the clean cloth over the cabbage.
Cover with the wooden cover
Place the heavy weight on top
Drain off brine every week for about six to eight weeks, washing the cloth (no soap) and replacing it along with the wooden cover and weight. Add about an inch of fresh water on top of the cabbage.
Cured kraut should have a glassy appearance and taste semi sweet
The amount of cabbage and salt ratio depends on the kind of cabbage and the amount of moisture. Be sure to tamp sufficiently to mix the salt into cabbage. Salt brine should have a slight salty taste. Cure time depends on the temperature, about 6 to 8 weeks is normal. The longer the kraut is in the container the better the curing process.
The finished sauerkraut can be canned or frozen for future use