Happy birthday to one of my favorite writers, Joan Didion, who turned 79 on December 5th! Putting into words just how much I love Didion would take forever and probably make you all slightly uncomfortable, so let’s drink bourbon and make some bright pink sauerkraut in her honor instead. This recipe is inspired by one of my most favorite of her essays, “On Keeping a Notebook,” which appears in the collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem. In it, Didion talks about the obsessive need to record clips of her life in a notebook–overheard conversations, impressions of people, useless facts–that has followed her since she was five years-old. At one point flipping through an old notebook, she finds a recipe for sauerkraut wedged between a Jimmy Hoffa quote and a note about how much her friend’s father pays for electricity, and asks herself, “What is a recipe for sauerkraut doing in my notebook? What kind of magpie keeps this notebook?” In the end though, “It all comes back. Even the recipe for sauerkraut: even that brings it back. I was on Fire Island when I first made that sauerkraut, and it was raining, and we drank a lot of bourbon and ate the sauerkraut and went to bed at ten, and I listened to the rain and the Atlantic and felt safe. I made the sauerkraut again last night and it did not make me feel any safer, but that is, as they say, another story.”
Makes 2 16 oz mason jar’s worth (or 1 32 oz jar)
1 head purple cabbage (roughly 3-3 1/2 pounds)
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons caraway seeds
Thoroughly sanitize mason jars and set aside to dry. Remove soft outer leaves from cabbage and reserve. Cut cabbage in half and remove tough middle core from both sides. Cut the halves into quarters and slice cabbage into thin ribbons. Place cabbage in a large bowl, add salt and massage cabbage for five-seven minutes, or until it has released lots of liquid and is wilty and soft. Add caraway seeds. Pack cabbage into mason jar tightly and pour liquid over until cabbage is fully submerged. Drape one of the outer leaves over the top of the sauerkraut to help keep it submerged. Cover jar with cheesecloth and allow it to sit at room temperature for 24 hours, checking every so often to make sure cabbage is submerged under liquid and pressing it down if it isn’t. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover cabbage after 24 hours (this can happen if the cabbage is older), dissolve 1 tsp of salt in a cup of water and pour it over until cabbage is submerged. Continue to ferment sauerkraut for five days. After five days you can either eat your sauerkraut or screw a lid on the jar and refrigerate for up to two months.
Cheers to you, Joan!