It is in October that cabbage is ripe and ready to be turned into sauerkraut. Like potatoes and flour, sauerkraut is yet another indispensable ingredient in Rusyn cuisine. We use it in soups, as garnish or filling, and many other things. And if you don't have it for Christmas, then you can say goodbye to two dishes that need sauerkraut -kapustnica and peruhy.
Of course, we can buy sauerkraut in any European store and in the US, too. But making our own still has its charm and appeal in my family so we make sure we grow enough cabbage to fill a barrel or two. So how is it done?
Once the cabbage is brought from the field and placed on the table, the women peel off the outer leaves to reveal the crispy and clean hearts. These are then cut in half and the hard stalks are removed by making a triangular cut. My Grandma used to cut out the softer parts of the stalks for us to munch on while we were working. I remember it was already cold and our hands were red from the cold, but it was part of the magic. Anyways, the cabbage halves are then laid onto a white linen cloth like you see in the photo.
While the women do their part, the men prepare the wooden cabbage shredder. It rests on two chairs with a cotton or linen cloth tied at both ends underneath for the shredded cabbage to fall in. By sliding the smaller top part, where the cabbage is placed, front and back on the blades, which are part of the bottom piece, the cabbage gets evenly shredded and is ready to be placed into a barrel.
The cabbage is put into the barrel in layers, each seasoned with salt, whole black pepper, bay leaves and caraway seed. If the opening is big enough and can fit a young girl's legs, then she is the one who presses onto the cabbage so that it lets the extra air out. If the barrel is smaller, then it is up to the men to do that with their hands. Either way, the juices are salty and yummy.
It takes about 5 weeks for the process to complete and someone has to watch it and keep the water level even because if it gets lower than required, the air will get in and the cabbage will go bad.
So - will you try it yourself one day? :-)