Apple Sauerkraut

Apfelkraut

When I lived briefly in Germany, I couldn’t get over the bins of freshly sliced crisp cabbage at morning street markets, awaiting the housewife thrifty of time. Cabbage is easy enough to cut up at home, but it’s the little niceties that make all the difference between starting from scratch and opening a can. Canning has all but ruined the reputation, let alone the taste, of sauerkraut in this country, since the vinegar is usually far too strong and the cabbage far too tired from mummification in a can.

The only major deterrent to making sauerkraut at home is finding space for a pickle crock, particularly if you deal in the quantities suggested by Mrs. Kander, in her “Settlement” Cook Book, for fifteen heads of cabbage and twenty-four apples to fit an eight-gallon crock. In the days of eight-gallon crocks you would also need a wooden tamper, a round board, a square cloth, and a very heavy stone, all to keep the cabbage under the brine during its slow fermentation.

Fermenting apples helped to sweeten the crock, and apples were as plentiful in this country as cabbages. Once the kraut was made, it might be “appled” again with fresh apples, bacon, and potatoes to make a splendid light supper or to accompany a roast. A booklet put out by Mader’s Restaurant, German Cooking and Baking (1977), includes a good recipe for this kind of apfelkraut, as does a valuable regional book, The Flavor of Wisconsin (1981), edited by Harva Hachten for the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

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Ingredients

Sauerkraut (2–2½ Quarts)

  • 8 pounds cabbage
  • 3 tart apples (such as Granny Smith)
  • ¼ pound kosher or pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds

Apfelkraut

  • 4 strips bacon
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
  • ½ cup each chicken broth and dry white wine
  • 2 potatoes, grated fine
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1–2 tablespoons brown sugar

Method

To prepare the sauerkraut, remove 2 or 3 outer leaves from each cabbage and set aside. Cut cabbages in half and slice very fine by hand or in a food processor. Peel, core, and finely chop the apples. In a large pan, mix the cabbage with the salt, caraway, and apples. Line a gallon crock or a nonmetallic equivalent with the outer cabbage leaves, saving a few to cover the top. Put in a quarter of the cabbage mixture and tamp it down with a heavy clean object like the bottom of a wine bottle. Repeat until all the cabbage is in. From the tamping, sufficient brine should be released to cover the cabbage. Cover the cabbage with the remaining leaves. The cabbage will swell while fermenting, so it should not start out reaching all the way to the top. Lay a plastic bag or a cloth over the leaves. Cover with a plate and then a weight, such as a heavy can or jar of water, to keep the cabbage under the brine and out of the air.

The cabbage will take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks to ferment: below 75°, 4 to 6 weeks; above 75°, 2 to 3 weeks. Every few days, remove scum from the top of the brine, replace plastic bag or cloth, wash the plate and the rim of the crock, and return plate and weight. When the bubbling stops, fermentation is complete. Cover crock lightly and store in a cool (38°) place, removing scum once a week, or refrigerate and dispense with scumming. Rinse the cabbage before using.

To make the apple sauerkraut, sauté bacon until crisp, remove from pan and drain, and pour off all but 4 tablespoons fat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Rinse the sauerkraut, drain well, and stir into the onion. Cover pan and simmer 10 minutes. Add apples, broth, wine, potatoes, vinegar, and sugar. Return to the simmer and simmer gently until apples and potatoes are tender but not mushed, 10 to 20 minutes.

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