The last of our summer cabbage, rain-damaged and destined for the kimchi pot. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Preserving cabbage for later eating: kimchi and sauerkraut

A Korean lady I met makes kimchi for Christmas presents because her family goes nuts for the stuff.

By Mary Lowther

When I suggested fermenting cabbages became popular because they don’t store as well as root crops, David argued I was missing a few steps. He felt that after the root crops ran out and the cabbages rotted the survivors learned that fermented foods wouldn’t kill them, and repeated exposure led to our developing a taste for them. While I have succeeded in training him to do simple household tasks, I have never been able to convince David that fermented anything tastes good. He also claims an acute allergy to kale. I think of him as a work in progress, but let’s not lose our focus.

Although savoy cabbages hold well in the garden over the winter, summer and fall-harvested cabbages should be picked by the end of October or they can freeze and become slimy. I have read that cabbages can be successfully stored in containers or cellars where the temperature hovers above freezing and the humidity remains between 85 per cent and 95 per cent, but those are difficult conditions for most of us to provide. I have better success with fermenting cabbage than storing it. Sauerkraut and kimchi are both made from fermenting cabbage, and I do like them, but they’re both salty and a little bit goes a long way. In David’s case it would last all winter and well into spring.

Not everybody agrees. A Korean lady I met makes kimchi for Christmas presents because her family goes nuts for the stuff. David replied that they are certainly a very polite family to say so, and suggested I substitute it for the fudge and baking I send my brothers to get their opinions.

Fermenting preserves cabbage and other vegetables because lactic acid builds up as friendly bacteria proliferate in the anaerobic conditions within the fermentation liquid. To quote the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization about the bacteria that grow in the ferment: “The lactic acid produced is effective in inhibiting the growth of other bacteria that may decompose or spoil the food.” In short, it kills the things that might make us sick.

The report continues: “From birth, we are exposed to these species through our food and environment.” Given the constant assault upon our gut bacteria by antibacterial chemicals, perhaps we should consider replenishment by consuming more kimchi and sauerkraut.

My first attempts at sauerkraut were suspect, I thought, because the tops turned pink and slimy, but an experienced fermenter told me that instead of throwing the whole thing out, I should have just scooped off the contaminated top and used the sauerkraut underneath. I ferment cabbage in a crock pot designed for it, but I used to use glass jars. I won’t use plastic or metal because flavour and quality might be compromised. Though the fermentation process does not increase vitamin C and other nutrients, it does preserve their content for a considerable length of time. Here is an easy recipe for kimchi that I have used:


1 head cabbage, sliced

¼ cup salt, non iodized

1 – 2 T. crushed red pepper flakes

1 T. minced garlic

1 T. minced ginger

3 to 4 green onions, sliced

2 T. salt

½ yellow onion, grated

1 apple (or ½ apple and ½ pear), finely grated

Directions: Toss the cabbage with the ¼ cup of salt, squeezing and incorporating the salt well. Allow to sit for three hours or so. Drain and rinse the cabbage three times with cold water. Allow to drain for about 15 minutes. In a large bowl, mix the pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, apple, onion and the 2 T. salt. Add the cabbage and stir it all up.

Pack it tightly into a jar or crock pot, one layer at a time, squishing out bubbles and allowing the liquid, or brine, to cover the vegetables. Put something heavy on the mixture to keep the vegetables under the brine. I used a smaller jar filled with water. Cover the whole thing with a cloth to keep out them little old gnats and put a plate underneath to catch any overflow. Leave to ferment for one to five days, or when it tastes good. Open it up every day to check that the cabbage remains submerged; if not, use a clean spoon to push it back under. Store in the fridge and use within a few months.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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