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Unemployment: Adventures in Pickling

It all started with an excessive amount of cabbage. One of my housemates wanted to make a pretty and delicious green and purple cabbage salad for a dinner party she was attending. “Why are your cabbages so big in this … Read More

By / November 12, 2009

It all started with an excessive amount of cabbage. One of my housemates wanted to make a pretty and delicious green and purple cabbage salad for a dinner party she was attending. “Why are your cabbages so big in this country? In South Africa we have little cabbages!” True, even after making her salad a few times we still had a lot of cabbage left over.

Then I got cabbage in my CSA share – two heads of it. “How do you feel about sauerkraut?” I suggested, thinking about my own German heritage. “Or kimchi?” was her suggestion. Now we started getting excited. She pulled out her Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving, which was a rather comprehensive collection of pickles (although no kimchi). So several kimchi recipes were consulted online and we got to work.

Big canning jars were purchased along with some chili paste, fresh ginger, scallions and lots of salt. The cabbage was washed, sliced and ready to wilt. “It says to let the salted cabbage to sit for several minutes to let it wilt, but it’s been twenty minutes and it’s not wilting.” This was us looking at our bowl of crisp and fresh purple cabbage sparkling with salt. About an hour later the outer edges appeared slightly limp. The cabbage was then firmly packed down into the jar it’s salty cabbage juices covering the leaves. We jerry-rigged a cover and some weight to press the cabbage down firmly into its own brine. “Fermentation is usually complete in three to six weeks,” she read. “Weeks?” Oy this was a lot of work for a little sauerkraut. And neither of us knew how the purple cabbage was going to work – especially since it had been so reluctant to initially to wilt.

The kimchi, on the other hand was remarkably easy. Let the cabbage soak overnight in a water and salt mix. Rinse then mix in a blend of chili powder (although I used paste) salt, sugar, ginger and scallions. Instead of chopping I simply threw the spice mixture in my food processor making a nice even and smooth paste I massaged into the dry cabbage leaves (using a glove since the chili can burn your skin). I packed the kimchi into jars and let it sit on our kitchen counter.

And a few days later, bright and shiny with flecks of red in a hot and tangy liquid, the kimchi was ready and remarkably delicious and was quickly eaten. The purple sauerkraut continued to sit on the counter. It smelled bad (as sauerkraut does) and overflowed its jar a few times (making a big purple mess). Occasionally we could see some bubbles from the fermenting process, but other than that there was great skepticism in the house whether or not this was going to be successful.

More kimchi was made with the next week’s CSA cabbage. While picking up that week’s share I traded some other veggies for more cabbage. “What do you do with all that cabbage?” I was asked. Good question, what does one do with lots of kimchi? We brought out the bamboo steamers and made dumplings. We made sushi. Not authentic Korean foods, but delectable. And there was more cabbage. And beets. I forgot to mention the beets. There were also lots and lots of beets. Pickling spices simmered on the stove with a stick of cinnamon in apple cider vinegar. Cooked beets and this tangy brine were poured into more jars. The fridge was starting to get full.

kimchee 2

Shabbat dinners began featuring our pickled goods. Kimchi on a Shabbat table? Why not. We brought jars of beets as gifts to dinner parties. Then the sauerkraut was ready. It didn’t taste anything like the mushy stuff that my mom would cook on New Year’s Day with pork loin. I never liked sauerkraut. It was offensive I couldn’t imagine putting it in my mouth and dripped its rancid liquid everywhere. But our purple sauerkraut was still crisp, had very little liquid and very little smell. It gleamed like strips of scarlet silk on our Shabbat table. The beets were like deep rubies and the kimchi was just fun and exotic.

I love cooking. I love cooking for other people. Being unemployed gives more time than I would have if I were working. So I feel like I can try new things. Although pickling is a way of preserving fresh foods, it has also been preserving my sanity as I have tried to find a new job.

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