I recently spotted the Nourishing Traditions cookbook for forty percent off and picked it up immediately. Nourishing Traditions is the cooking “bible” for Weston A. Price aficionados. While I definitely don’t buy into everything that the WAPF folks espouse, I’m generally in agreement with their ideas and values: eat whole foods, produced in the way that God intended them to be grown, and stay away from the modern industrialized “food” system by purchasing real food from local farmers. Check out the local WAPF’s chapter for more information.

So, even though I didn’t have the cookbook, Sally Fallon (the author of Nourishing Traditions and current president of the Weston A. Price Foundation) and Weston Price (check out this Wikipedia link for a brief synopsis) have been on my radar for some time. I had a Christmas gift card at Lehman’s to spend, so, after much deliberation, I purchased this:

It’s a crock! Don’t worry, I had no idea what it was  either – other than a large clay pot – until I started learning more about the benefits of fermented foods.When the package arrived on the door step, Grant opened it first and just gave me one of those looks. You know the one. He’s a very supportive guy, but when I started telling him about all of the probiotics in a batch of food that’s been sitting out for a week+, he just kinda stared.

One of our favorite local farms, Homestead Heritage, has a neighbor that makes fermented veggies, and Homestead Heritage sells them for him. We’ve tried his various types of kimchi and sauerkraut, and we’ve really liked everything we tried. So, when I saw this crock at Lehman’s and found a few recipes for sauerkraut that looked super simple, I thought we could save a few bucks by doing it ourselves.

You know how most blogs about food only show you the delicious meals that go perfectly? I rarely have a meal that goes exactly as planned, and I thought it would be nice to share a colossal screw-up in kitchen with all of you. So you’ve been warned: don’t try this at home – or at least do a better job of following the directions than I did.

I mostly worked off of this recipe from Nourishing Traditions, but I referred often to this recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz, who from my research seems to be the expert on modern fermentation recipes. I modified it a bit to include some shredded beets, celery and coriander seeds. Things started off so well – I threw a whole head of cabbage, about four stalks of celery and two large (peeled) beets in the food processor to shred. I’m really not sure there’s a much prettier vegetable than a beet.

I then dumped the vegetables with about two tablespoons of salt and another 1/2 tablespoon of coriander into my beautiful new crock. I added four tablespoons of whey (which I obtained from my latest batch of homemade ricotta – recipe to come – but here’s an easy recipe for whey if you don’t want to wait for the ricotta instructions). I smashed it all down with a potato-masher per the directions, and then I added enough water to cover the mixture by about a half inch.

Right about here is where things might have started to go wrong…the Nourishing Tradition‘s recipe used a large glass jar to make the kraut and just recommended that you fill the jar to the top with water, and Mr. Katz’s recipe wasn’t entirely clear about exactly how much water was needed. I referred to several other sources on the internet, but I didn’t find anything that I felt very confident about. I decided to wing it (my usual MO) and just filled the crock with enough water to cover the vegetables by about a half an inch.

Since I already had my fancy new crock (in hindsight, I maybe should’ve researched a little more before jumping the gun on the crock and tried the regular Ball jar method first), I had to follow Katz’s instructions from here, which called for a plate to be placed over the vegetables with a weight (I used a well-washed rock that Jasper had found for me in the garden) of some sort on top to keep the vegetables from rising above the water line.

After I had the water sufficiently covering the plate, I put a pillow case over the crock and placed it in a dark, secluded corner of the laundry room that was safe from toddlers and dogs. Katz recommended checking on the kraut every day, but waiting a minimum of seven days before trying it. I forgot about it for the first three days or so, but then I looked in on it on the fourth day. It looked great – not much different from the first day, except maybe more water had risen to the top to more sufficiently cover the veggies underneath. I checked it on the fifth day and things looked mostly the same. When I went to check on it on the sixth day, there was some obvious mold forming on the surface of the concoction. I got a little squeamish, but then I skimmed the scum from the surface and put it back in its spot. The next day when I looked, there was more mold, as well as a distinctively icky smell coming from that corner of the laundry room. I started Googling frantically. Katz said that mold was no big deal, even to be expected. Fallon said

As with all fermenting, follow your nose. If it smells putrid or you have any doubts about the quality, then discard the sauerkraut and start again.

I hate waste more than just about anything besides people going hungry, but, in the end, I went with Fallon’s school of thought. The more I read, I wondered if 1) I hadn’t put enough water in the original concoction and 2) my plate + weight weren’t sufficiently wide and heavy enough to properly keep the vegetables submerged beneath the surface. I couldn’t even handle taking a picture at this point in the process because I have a surprisingly strong gag reflex, and it was all I could do to get the moldy kraut into the compost bin without puking.

Minus the whole waste thing (at least all of that stuff will eventually go toward making our plants and soil healthier), it was still a fun learning process. I’ll try again – soon – and report back on my second attempt. Much like life, cooking is an adventure in trial and error. I think that’s why I like it so much.