At some point in early September we decided that we would, for sure, have an Oktoberfest gathering of a few friends and family. Bill brewed a Dunkel Weizen (a dark wheat beer) and we had assorted bottles of other German beers on hand. We also had a couple bottles of wine – a Reisling that Bill made a year ago and a Gewurtztraminer that he picked up along with some of the beer. No one drank either of the white wines. Instead, the wine drinkers had some Italian reds. There was sparkling cider for the older kids, and juice for the younger.
And now…the food.
We ordered some items from Bavaria Sausage, Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin. Anthony Bourdain lists Bavaria Sausage in his book Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, and we've been ordering from them for the past few Christmases. We've ordered some of their complete meals to send to various relatives as Christmas gifts, but this is the first time we've ordered anything for ourselves.
We ordered a selection of brats and wursts…head cheese, and two smoked beef tongues. Yes, beef tongues. For the sole purpose of freaking people out. (This is how my husband plans a dinner party: beer and gross-out food. We served a chicken foot soup at our very first dinner party many years ago. Of course, I'm no better – I go right along with it.)
In addition to these tidbits, the rest of the planned menu included the following:
Smoked bluefish and some cheeses and grapes (to round out the appetizer selection)
Bill's grandmother's Onion Cake
Bill's grandmother's Onion Cake
Grilled brats and wursts
A beer-can chicken (for those who don't eat mammals)
Roasted root vegetables.
Rolls and assorted mustards for the brats and wursts.
And my "cousin-in-law" brought an apple-cranberry pie and some chocolate and peanutbutter chip bars for dessert.
Bill started the sauerkraut about a month ago or so. We found a few sauerkraut recipes online and he probably ended up using elements of all of them.
We started with two heads of cabbage from our garden. Now – just a little aside – when Bill bought the cabbage he planned to use it to fill in some gaps in the front garden. It was sold as ornamental cabbage, and the leaves were very pretty shades of pink and orange, green and blue. Really! See?
Aren't they beautiful? But they didn't stay that way. They grew and lost the fanciful shades of color until only the green remained…and much to our surprise, little head of actual cabbage began to form. Maybe we're just stupid, but for some reason we just thought this "ornamental cabbage" would stay leafy and colorful. It didn't.
It continued to grow until Bill "harvested" two heads in September. Here's one of them:
Okay, back to the sauerkraut. You slice up the cabbage into "slaw" and layer it with a generous amount of salt in a crock. Cabbage, salt, cabbage, salt…and you push down on it with a potato masher or something as you go – you want to make it as compact as possible. Once all the cabbage is in there, you place a clean cloth on top and then a plate with some sort of weight on top (Bill used a big beach rock left over from one of our clambakes.). That's it, as far as the prep work goes.
The salt will help the cabbage release liquid, and the whole mixture will ferment. You will need to check it daily to skim any "scum" from the top, and you'll want to keep the crock in a cool spot – around 50-60 degrees so it won't go bad. Yes, it will smell. Oh yes. And no, it's not something you want to say "oh, I got used to it" because, well…it smells. It's fermenting cabbage, after all. But still, it was pretty cool – we were making sauerkraut!
Now, we didn't really have anywhere cold to store this. Well, we had the chest freezer in the basement that Bill uses when he's brewing beer. He's got a regulator hooked up to the thermostat of the freezer and can set it at just about any temperature he wants. But he didn't want any chance of the sauerkraut contaminating his beer, so forget that idea. He ended up placing the crock in a large bowl and placing a couple of those ice pack things you use to keep lunches cold around the crock. And that worked. The bowl and crock sat out on the counter all that time…stinking up the place and taking up valuable counter space near the sink…but it was all for the cause.
After a few weeks, he bottled it and stored it in the fridge. (He also made a batch of kim chee with the other two heads of cabbage, but that will be another post.)
And the result? It tasted like sauerkraut! But with a "funk" to it, as our friend John described it. A homemade vs. store-bought sauerkraut kind of funk. A "nothing fake" kind of funk, I guess. It couldn't have been objectionable – all the sauerkraut was gone at the end of the night. It was perfect with a brat and some grainy mustard on a torpedo roll.
Next up? Bill's Grandmother's Onion Cake….