The Roman emperor Tiberius always carried a barrel of sauerkraut (lacto-fermented cabbage) with him during his long voyages to the Middle East because the Romans knew that the lactic acid it contained protected them from intestinal infections. In ancient Rome, sauerkraut had a reputation as a food that was easy to digest. In China, they fermented cabbage 6000 year ago… [from the book ‘Nourishing Traditions’ by Sally Fallon, page 92..93]. Sauerkraut is also an excellent source of Vitamin C, and so was carried on board sailing ships once the link between the disease ‘scurvy’ and lack of Vitamin C was established as the cause of teeth-loss and declining health of sailors on long sea voyages.
Somewhat more recently, my wife’s relatives in Germany stored cabbage for the long cold winter months by making sauerkraut and storing it in the cellars beneath their homes in the village. The particular large conical cabbages they use are unknown here in South Australia, but are commonly available from gardening shops in Germany, from whence my small store of seed came.
These cabbages grow to over a metre in diameter, and the cabbage head can weigh many kilograms. If left too long in the garden, they also fill up with slugs and earwigs or bolt to seed as Spring brings warmth to the soil.
Making sauerkraut is labour-intensive, as the cabbage must be cored, washed, shredded, mixed with whey, sea-salt and caraway seeds then pounded with a wooden pounder to release the juices. It is then pressed tightly into wide-mouthed jars with the wooden pounder until within 25 mm of the top of the jar then covered tightly and kept at room-temperature for three days. It may be eaten immediately but improves with age.
We don’t have a cellar to keep things cool, but we did pay a chap $200 to cut a trap-door into the floor space on the cooler southern side of the house through our wooden floor; we keep the finished sauerkraut down there between the foundation piers.(Also stored down there are rice, sultanas, grains, olives and other lacto-fermented vegetables and meats that we are still experimenting with…)
It’s also a handy spot to store very large cooking pots that don’t fit into the kitchen cupboards.