Farm Horizons, Oct. 2015

Socializing over sauerkraut

By Gabe Licht

Every fall, Tony and Kim Hausladen host parties for their friends and family.

So far, they’ve hosted a party to cut cabbage for sauerkraut and another party to can that sauerkraut and cut more cabbage. The second batch of sauerkraut will be canned in mid-October, when the group will also make kimchi and can horseradish.

The process begins with the Hausladens growing 150 heads of cabbage.

“I raise it in the garden, maintain it, and have to watch it for bugs, and spray it with Seven to keep the bugs and moths off,” Tony said.

He estimates that one good-sized head of cabbage makes about two-thirds of a gallon of sauerkraut.

If a cabbage head gets too big and splits, it is harvested earlier and used in a recipe other than sauerkraut.

About 50 heads were harvested for the first batch of sauerkraut.

After letting it sit for two or three days, the Hausladens get the gang together.

Two people cut the cabbage. Another group of people cuts and preps onions. One person is dedicated to weighing the cabbage, measuring salt, adding onion and caraway seed, and mixing it together.

Sauerkraut is fermented using crocks, and one person is dedicated to properly putting the ingredients in the crocks.

“You have to pound the cabbage to get it to mix and activate the salt to start fermentation,” Tony said. “Basically, you’re packing it into the crock. My father-in-law built a special tool for us to do that.”

Once the crocks are filled, two-gallon Ziplock bags are filled three-quarters full of water and placed on top.

“We take those bags and put them on top of the crocks to create a seal,” Tony said. “It can’t be air-tight because it’s releasing gas, but it prevents air from getting in. Last year, we actually had enough fermentation that it pushed one bag out, but we were able to save it. It can get that much fermentation going during the early process.”

The crocks are covered to keep bugs out of the sauerkraut.

If the temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees, fermentation should take between two and three weeks, Tony said.

“Some people will leave it in crocks and eat it out of there over three to six months,” Tony said. “We can it because there’s a bit of spoilage, and we’re concerned about the health of it being exposed to open air.”

Others ferment the sauerkraut using jars with zinc lids.

“I don’t like that version,” Tony said. “As it ferments, it’ll bubble out.”

So, friends and family members bring different crocks to use. They could ferment up to 56 gallons of sauerkraut at a time, with their crocks holding 20, 12, 10, eight, and six gallons, respectively.

The most recent batch resulted in about 35 gallons of sauerkraut.

“A couple years ago, we did 180 quarts (45 gallons) in one afternoon,” Tony said.

The Hausladens have been hosting sauerkraut-making parties for four or five years, but made sauerkraut with others before that.

“I started doing this with my brother-in-law Gerald Kucera from Silver Lake,” Tony said. “We’ve been doing it with him for eight years. He raises cabbage and cans and donates to fundraisers.”

Tony said much of his produce and sauerkraut is also given away.

“What we’ve done in the past with a lot of our extra produce is take sauerkraut and other canned goods to the Council of Catholic Women fall bazaar,” Tony said.

Making the sauerkraut and giving much of it away is fun for the Hausladens.

“We do it with a big group of friends,” Tony said. “Personally, ourselves, we probably make 10 times more than we use and give the rest away. We do it for friends and camaraderie. It’s more about the friendship than the cabbage.”

Friends who helped make sauerkraut were Paul and Rhonda Herbolshimer, John and Colleen Entinger, Steve Ebert, Tracy and Roxanne Felder, Joe and Melissa Neumann, Gary and Joan Daigle, Curt and Mona Piepenburg, and Jim and Betty Ebert.

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