Every time I woke during the night I wondered, “When I get up and look, will there be a long trickle of juice running away from the garbage can in the basement?” Behind my closed eyes I remembered mounds of crisp, white shreds of cabbage. The day before I’d had an intimate encounter with two hundred twenty five pounds of the cruciferous vegetable.
My daughter and I make a large batch of sauerkraut every other year. We slip extremely large, food-grade bags into a large metal garbage can especially purchased for this purpose. The fluid that forms when the cabbage is salted and pressed down allows fermentation to take place. Each year I fret and worry that a plastic bag leak could ruin an entire batch.
Yesterday my fear came true. While taking my turn at the grater, I had exclaimed, “Why is the floor so wet, did someone spill the water bowl we use to rinse salt off our hands?”
My daughter leaned down and touched the moisture with a fingertip. Sniffing it, she said, “It smells like cabbage.”
Everyone in the basement stopped what they were doing and turned to stare at the garbage can. We had already grated, salted and pressed down one hundred pounds of cabbage.
A decision had to be made fast. I said, “I have extra bags, but none of us are strong enough to lift this one out of the can.”
My daughter said, “Jon can lift it.” A few minutes later her fourteen year-old-son pulled the bag up. I quickly pushed a new bag down into its place and he tilted the heavy bag to dump the contents into the new bag.
Although I was happy that we had caught the problem before all the juice was gone, a feeling of uneasiness settled over me. If one bag could leak, so could another one.
After we had grated, salted and pressed down another one hundred pounds of cabbage into the can, we pressed all the air out of the giant bag and twisted it shut. Then I tucked the kraut in for its six week hiatus by placing two garbage bags, each filled with three gallons of water on top of it.
The next time I woke up and worried about a sauerkraut juice leak, I looked at the bedside clock. It was three in the morning. I thought, “If I went to the basement right now and found a trickle of juice draining away from the garbage can, there is nothing I could do about it except lose sleep.”
Entering into a light, fitful sleep, I dreamed about Marie, a blond, blue-eyed widow that I had worked with at my first job in the hospital. One day she said to me, “When my husband and I lived in Chicago, we had Czechoslovakian neighbors who made Sauerkraut patties. They liked to eat them while we played cards.”
I had never heard of sauerkraut patties. Marie said she had their recipe and promised to make a copy for me. When she handed it to me the following day, she explained, “They wrote the Czechoslovakian name for the patties down for me. I’ve copied it for you.” The foreign words looked unpronounceable. Thankfully, the rest of the recipe was in English.
I never attempted the recipe until many years later. Once I did, I was hooked. I’ve made them over and over many times since. My daughters and grandchildren love them, too.
The next time I woke up, pale daylight was filtering into the room. Unable to wait any longer, I got up and shuffled down to the basement. When the garbage can came into sight, I stopped and sighed.
There wasn’t a trickle of juice running away from the can. The basement floor was dry. That meant all we had to do now was wait six weeks for the cabbage to transform itself into sauerkraut. Then sauerkraut patties will be first on my menu.
Kyzele Zeli Placikie
2 cups sauerkraut
1 tsp. caraway seed (optional)
1 tsp. salt (optional)
½ cup melted butter
1 to 1 ½ cups flour
Mix, form patties, bake on greased pan in 400 degree oven for 15 minutes. Turn over and bake another 15 minutes. Add cracklings if you want.