It was a blustery cold day, with a dusting of snow just before nightfall. I'm soooo glad everything from the garden is snug inside (except for the kales, broccoli, and leeks, anyway - and with temps expected down to 20ºF tonight I covered the broccoli and kale, just to be on the safe side). It was the perfect morning to warm up the kitchen water-bath canning a batch of tomatoes.
Then, this afternoon, it was time to deal with the rest of the cabbages. I had three big heads and one smaller head of cabbage split when I didn't get them root-pruned soon enough. Towards the end of the growing season, cabbage can take up water so fast it can literally burst the head apart. This can sometimes be prevented by driving a shovel into the dirt next to the stem and then half-pulling the plant out of the ground - thus severing half of the roots and slowing the growth down. I caught three big heads and one smaller one soon enough, and got some nice firm heads to store. Not wanting them to freeze, day before yesterday I pulled them up by the roots, pulled off the loose outer leaves (making for some very happy chickens!), and they're now down in the cellar, upside-down, roots and all, in a bin stuffed with straw.
Split cabbage heads don't store very well, but I really don't mind. One big one that was in pretty good shape I've kept in the refrigerator to use now. The other three are now packed into my glass crock, destined to be sauerkraut. When trimmed and shredded, those three yielded five pounds of slaw. I mixed the shreds with three tablespoons of kosher salt, then packed it all into the crock and kept mashing and packing it all down until enough brine had risen to completely submerge the cabbage. I mixed two quarts of water with another 3 tablespoons salt, and poured that brine into a gallon zip-lock freezer bag, squeezing out all the air and sealing it up tight. Laying the bag over the cabbage prevents air from reaching the cabbage and keeps it submerged (using brine instead of plain water means a possible leak won't water down the fermenting cabbage). If air reaches the cabbage, it can spoil the whole batch - the fermentation process needs to be anaerobic. To keep everything clean, I sealed the crock with a piece of plastic wrap before adding the lid. Now it's ready to go into the cellar to ferment. I love having a glass crock - I like being able to see the cabbage change to sauerkraut, and can also see if any spoilage occurs (a pink color is bad in any fermented product - whether it be kraut or yoghurt). Letting it ferment in the cool cellar slows the process way down (usually taking at least 8 weeks), but the kraut will be wonderfully crisp and crunchy. It will make some nice winter meals, and as long as I'm careful to not contaminate the contents when dishing out a bit, it will stay good down there until Spring (or it's gone, whichever comes first).