As well as the allotment which Elsie’s been cultivating for the best part of 20 years, we also have a small plot at the local council’s new site. There’s well over 100 plots there, with a posh deer-proof boundary fence, lots of nice water tanks to fill your cans from, and a big communal compost heap. It’s even got a composting loo in its own little shed.
Unfortunately the site’s on a North-facing slope which seems to have its own weather system, the chief characteristic of which is either a strong wind or a very strong wind blowing up the hill or down it on 360 or more days of the year. Add to that clay soil with the consistency of well-cured concrete and its amazing that anything grows there.
When we took the plot over in April and discovered just how solid the ground is, Elsie immediately prescribed a full trailer-load of good farmyard manure, so that’s what it had. She didn’t think much of my suggestion that one stick of dynamite per square yard might just loosen things up a bit quicker, so we just planted a few things in the muck by way of a trial then pretty much left them to get on with it.
Now, the other thing from which the new allotments suffer is a number of scarily enthusiastic tenants who turn up in their BMW X3’s with all manner of stuff they’ve just bought from B&Q with which to play on their plot while young Gabriel and Willow make a confounded nuisance of themselves around everybody else’s. It’s something I can get very grumpy about very quickly, so we never go near the place at weekends or during school holidays.
That explains why the first task yesterday morning was to put on the winter jacket and the woolly hat and head up to the new plot to harvest the first of the Filderkraut, of which we had ten. We brought five of them home, and that’s a snap of four of them posing on the big water tank outside the back door after I’d trimmed ‘em (and bust the top off one) The biggest two are 21 inches high, and the chap second from the right weighed in at just over 14lbs, which is a fair weight for a trimmed cabbage. Filderkraut is without doubt the cabbage for making sauerkraut.
17.5lb of it, thinly siced and mixed together thoroughly with coarse salt, is now rammed into a 10-litre sauerkraut crock which is sitting under the kitchen table. It looks quite harmless, but you can’t trust a sauerkraut crock. One day soon we’ll both be in the kitchen and Elsie will look at me suspiciously, I’ll look at Elsie, then we’ll realise that the crock has just farted. That’s because the lid of the crock sits in a groove containing water so as to form an air-lock, and as the cabbage ferments, every now and then the gas escapes as the pressure builds up enough to lift the lid on one side and blow off. And oh dear, does it ever pong!
So, we’ll be eating some of the remainder of those cabbages for dinner for the next day or two, and we probably won’t be able to resist having a taste of the sauerkraut in a couple of weeks just to see how it’s going, even though it’ll be nowhere near its best.
In case you’re wondering, the ratio of coarse salt to shredded cabbage is 3 tablespoons to 5lb, and the exact method we use is down to both Steffi in the farm shop and a book called “Wild Fermentation” by the wonderfully-named Sandor Ellix Katz.