Thursday, September 27, 2018

Simple Sauerkraut Inspired by #cookthebooksclub Selection "Sourdough"

The August/September Cook the Books Club reading selection was "Sourdough" by Robin Sloan, and as usual, I am squeaking in at the very end.

I actually read the book about three months ago - based on the name, I pictured this might be a cozy little novel about some wholesome baker experiencing the joys of breadbaking.  Well, it was...and wasn't and I'm not sure it can really be put into any sort of genre box.

It has strong magical realism elements, a bit of Old Country fable, a lot of Silicon Valley weirdness of both the high-tech variety and the obsessive foodie variety.  There are robots.  There's a whiff of Little Shop of Horrors. It's fun in parts, strange in others, and I'm not sure the story ever really pulled itself together in any cohesive way.

I'm not sure I'm exactly recommending it, but I'm not warning anyone away either - it was an easy read and if it was a bit frothy, it wasn't unpleasant froth.

The key character is a woman who is very good at programming robotic arms, but isn't particularly enjoying the work.  She, like many of her colleagues, subsists on some nutrient ooze that comes in squeeze packs, along with the occasional soup and sourdough from an underground food delivery service near her apartment.  When the brothers that deliver for her leave the country, they leave her with their sourdough starter, a wonderful batch that has come down to them from their ancestors for generations.

This is where it gets weird - the starter, like all starters, is alive, but this one is really, really alive.  It occasionally glows with life, it responds to music, it has moods.  The main character learns the care and feeding of it and learns to bake bread, eventually connecting with an exclusive experimental food market where high tech and fermentation come together to create innovative foodstuffs, from her sourdough bread (made by robotic arm) to cheeses to 'lembas' - a fermented mass intended to end world hunger.

Fermentation and the art and science of working with living organisms is the wider theme here. Just as humans come together in communities that have their own dynamics, micro-organisms create communities that transform themselves in living, interacting and dying into something amazing.

I knew I wouldn't be making sourdough for this - I am the Sourdough Starter Murderer, and had no interest in destroying yet another micro-galaxy in trying again.

Then I tried and failed to make some apple cider vinegar - it got away from me due to my own neglect and I created mold. Yay, me! (Fementables getting away from you and doing their own thing is definitely an aspect of the novel.)

So I fell back on the one fermentable I know I can do - homemade sauerkraut.  This is it at its simplest - cabbage and salt.  I find it pretty foolproof. I like to use purple cabbage for its color and while many variations can be had by adding spices or other vegetables, this simple version is an easy and relatively foolproof introduction to fermenting.

This is a really simple way of getting some fermented veggies on hand, and it takes so much more delicious than store-bought kraut.

I think the big key to the process is using Fido jars.  I have a couple Bormioli Rocco blue lidded jars that I just love - they have a great solid seal, and the blue glass lid is so pretty.  The thing about Fido jars is that they let excess pressure leak out, but they let no oxygen in - no oxygen means no molding.

I like not having to worry about things like that.  The other thing that ensures it, of course, is making sure your containers, utensils and work surface are all clean and sanitary.   So, with that out of the way, here's all it takes:

Purple Sauerkraut


  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 head red cabbage
  • 4 T. salt


  • Cutting board
  • Large sharp knife
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Food processor
  • Potato masher 
  • Large serving spoon 
  • Fido jar (50oz or larger)


  1. Wash and dry your cabbage, removing any worn outer leaves.  Cut the cabbage into chunks, removing the cores.  Feed the chunks through your food processor set to grate coarsely.  As processor gets full, turn the grated cabbage into the large mixing bowl, and sprinkle with some of the salt.  Continue to process and salt the cabbage until done.
  2. Cover the bowl loosely and let it sit about 1/2 hour - the salt will start releasing liquid from the cabbage.  Using a potato masher, pound the cabbage for a couple minutes to more completely release the liquid.
  3. Scoop cabbage into Fido jar, mashing it down as you go to fit more cabbage.  Make sure all liquid from the bowl ends up in the jar - the cabbage should be covered with liquid.

  4. Seal the jar and set it aside in a dark place with a moderate temperature (70-80F) for 4-6 weeks, then refrigerate.

Here's the full round up of Sourdough inspired posts!

The Cook the Books Club selection for October/November is Michael J. Twitty's "The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South."  If you haven't read it yet, I highly recommend it!


  1. Such an interesting color... perfect for fall.

  2. Your review of the book is funny. It made me want to read it even thought you didn't endorse it!

  3. When it comes to sauerkraut, the simplest way is so often the best! Yours is a lovely purple. I've been told to remove the outer leaves but not to wash the cabbage because it removes many of the beneficial bacteria that reside on the leaves, so I've never bothered to wash it first and haven't had any major disasters with mine. I also like the "sit and wait then mash" method, rather than spending half an hour squeezing salt into the cabbage. Thanks for sharing your tips xx

  4. I think you actually nailed the description of the novel (even though you didn't love it).

  5. I've murdered saurkraut the few times I've made it but I'm great at making Kimche. I'm going to have to try this recipe again as the purple looks rally interesting.

  6. A great way to switch up traditional sauerkraut! Thanks for sharing on Friday Frenzy! Faith, Hope, Love, & Luck - Colleen

  7. Your Sauerkraut is just beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing with us at Full Plate Thursday and have a great week!
    Miz Helen

  8. I have never heard of Fido jars. I'm going to order some up and try my hand at sauerkraut again. My last attempt was a failure.

  9. Great review Lynda! And a great looking sauerkraut. I have pretty good luck with fermentables, just not sourdough, though thanks to this novel and everyone's comments, I'm trying again with one from King Arthur.

  10. Sounds delicious! I like the purple cabbage. Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  11. Lynda -- thanks for taking this Cook the Books selection into the fermentation realm. I too did not feel inspired to bake bread based on the book (see peach tart post). But I'm quite a fan on sauerkraut so will give this a whirl.

  12. As a huge fan of the book Sourdough, I've been fascinated by all the varied reactions from the members of the Cook the Books club! Making sauerkraut does seem to be a perfect not-exactly-rigorous choice, going beyond spicy soup and sourdough bread as in the book.

    best... mae at

  13. Thank you for the precious note about the Fido jars: if I decide to try making sauerkraut, I will remember it. I love the color provided by the red cabbage: nicely done!

  14. This looks tasty, I love red cabbage in things. Thanks for sharing at Creative Mondays :) Hope you can join us today.