Turning heads . . . into sauerkraut

It looks like one thing to begin with, but by the time Fred Sperr of Chokio gets through with it, it looks entirely different. This 91-year-old gentleman and “krautmaster” turns many heads of cabbage into many jars of sauerkraut from the bounty of his garden after many hours of work and many years of experience behind him. Just what is “sauerkraut”? The name, translated from the German language, means “sour cabbage.” That is very much a true definition. It is finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by various acid bacteria. Sperr this year put out 72 heads of “Megatone” cabbage. This took place about the 15th of May. He said, “The first week I planted 24 cabbage plants. Then everyone started asking if I was going to give them heads of cabbage and jars of kraut. And I decided I should plant more. So the next week I picked up 48 more plants.” After the growing season of approximately two to two-and-a-half months, the cabbage is ready to harvest. During the weeks of growing season there is a lot of weeding to be done, slugs to pick off the plants and waiting and watching. According to the krautmaster,  this has been a good growing season for cabbage. There was cool weather to begin with much moisture and hot days to mature the plants. And grow – and grow they did! There is not a weed or a slug to be found in the entire patch. Besides the close to ideal growing weather this summer, several other things help to make this a very good growing place for cabbage. The garden spot has a slight slope to it so the water doesn’t stand in it and the soil is of the heavy type. Another advantage in growing all this cabbage is that the owner of the patch is very knowledgeable about the process and is working out in the patch many hours to get the job done. “It looks like the heads will be about the same size as I had last year,” said Fred. “If that’s the case, I’ll end up with about 1,400 pounds of cabbage.” That’s a lot of green to deal with! Fred noted that it takes about nine heads of that size to make 70-75 quarts of sauerkraut. What exactly is this process and job to transform the heads of cabbage to the final sauerkraut? The cabbage is picked and cut the day before. The outer leaves are peeled away and the head is washed. This stands overnight.         The next morning the pickling part begins. Fred places about two inches of sliced cabbage into an eight gallon crock. He covers  the cabbage with a small handful of salt, tamps this down and repeats this until it comes to about six inches from the top. He places a round plate on top of this with a gallon of water to hold it down, covers the crock with a dish towel and leaves for 14 days. After these 14 days, takes the scum off and fills the jars. Fred said to be sure to heat the lids before putting them on the jars and sealing. He cooks the kraut for 30 minutes (after the rolling boil) in a canner with a water bath. Fred has been making kraut  for over seventy years. It was the  traditional German dish in a traditional German family. Right now he is hoping to pass on his love of kraut to his children and grandchildren. From his 72 plants of cabbage, Fred supposes he will put up about 60 to 70 jars of kraut. He says he and his wife, Christine, have really never eaten a lot of kraut they make. They usually give away most of it to friends and family. And although he is of German descent and does eat sauerkraut, Fred admits to liking lutefisk more, a decidedly Norwegian dish. Fred (and everyone around him who loves his sauerkraut) has enjoyed his many years and thousands of jars of kraut. “I think this will be my last year of kraut making,” he said. “My shoulders aren’t what they used to be and it’s getting harder to garden and make the kraut.” His fans will be sorry to hear that Fred will be hanging up his crocks, but know that he has earned a well-deserved retirement.

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