Fermenting a Family Tradition: Making Sauerkraut with Kids
I may have mentioned before that while my husband loves fermented foods my extended family (parents, sibling, etc) are not so much with the fermenty love. They often think I’m weird when it comes to my food choices, which veer sharply from the Standard American Diet. I know from an aunt that my maternal grandmother made crocks of kraut when my mom and her sisters were young and from my paternal grandmother’s cooking that she did not fear the ferments in any way. Sauerkraut, beet rossol and pickles are all parts of my heritage. Unfortunately, these things seem to have skipped a generation, and I’m the one carrying the fermentation flag for my branch of the family tree.
Given how my parents and sister wrinkle their noses when ferments are discussed or smelled (one time they said one of my ferments was “OK” and I nearly died from shock, not because they didn’t totally hate it, but because they agreed to take a bite at all), I know that if it’s to happen, the work of keeping these foods from skipping the next generation falls to me. With that in mind, I decided to spend a bit of time with my niece last week, massaging some cabbage and working to make a ferment that she’ll like the taste of. Hopefully, like my grandmothers (and unlike my parents or myself) she’ll grow up with a rich and diverse colony of bacteria living in her gut and will grow to be healthy, happy and wise!
As a fun kitchen experience to have with a kid, I highly recommend it. Smooshing the kraut until it was loaded with liquid was a favorite of my little favorite’s, and she also dug pushing down the pump in the food processor. My niece is 8 years old, heading in to fourth grade next week. I worked with her on holding the knife properly and cutting safely. She got it just fine, and chopped the 3-8 pound heads of cabbage into food processor-sized hunks with just a tiny bit of guidance from me! (Ignore the pic, that was BEFORE our knife-safety lesson).
You don’t have to give your kid the knife, of course, if you don’t think they’re ready, but please allow me a moment to be opinionated about why you should, or go watch this TED talk, which says the same thing I’m about to write. Self-sufficiency is a trait that, as a non-parent, it appears parents are more keen to talk about than impart these days. Mushy playground floors, cushioned edges on any sharp corner and an aversion to letting a child within the vicinity of anything even remotely sharp surely do make little ones safer in the moment. But I don’t think those choices are made because of realistically assessed risks, and I don’t think they teach kids how to navigate the rough edges in life that are sure to be there when, one day, parents aren’t. For me, giving kids “dangerous” things (like knives) with oversight and instruction, dovetails perfectly with the empowerment that comes from eating fermented foods. Grow it, buy it locally, understand how it works and YOU decide when it’s ready to be eaten, and YOU decide when it no longer tastes good. In other words, you fight the man by teaching your kid to safely chop with a kitchen knife and by skipping those processed items with “best by” dates on them in favor of the world’s greatest expiration date detectors: your nose and tongue. Here endeth the rant.
I’m not completely sure that she’ll love the resulting sauerkraut (she does live amongst the ferment-averse, after all), I feel good about planting the seed of how fun and easy it is to make sauerkraut. This recipe is one I hope to save for my upcoming book, so stay tuned for that! In the meantime, enjoy some pics of a cute kid making kraut and feel free to check out other recipes: basic or sweet potato kraut or lemon ginger kraut! Or maybe you want some help keeping it all submerged?