When I was a child in the 1980’s, canning and preserving food from our farm was a way of life. I’m not going to say it was essential for survival like in pioneer days, but our family has always had large gardens that produced enough to almost get us through the winter. Garden produce, along with cattle farming were the main portions of our diet. I do remember my mom and grandma getting together to ‘do pickles’, do the ‘kraut’, or to can the dreaded tomatoes (they were grandma’s least favourite to preserve). I didn’t get to help too much, though I was pretty good at fetching jars/lids and packing them with food. Sauerkraut making day was my favourite day of preserving because I had several jobs. I would bring the cabbages to grandma who would shred them on an old (but super sharp) wooden mandolin. Then I would take the shredded cabbage back to the large crock where my mom would start pounding the layer with a filled plastic vinegar bottle. I would add the salt (and a bit of sugar), watching grandma closely for the nod that meant ‘enough’. I felt needed and useful; and that’s why I still preserve food to this day.
Then I grew up
After university and the birth of our first child I began preserving again by making jam. Just enough blueberry, strawberry rhubarb, and raspberry to get us through to the next season. Then when our daughter was weaned it seemed like all she would eat were pickles. She was an odd little duck, moving straight from breast milk to chunky food and forgoing baby food altogether. So, I began pickling pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Carrots, asparagus, beans, beets, and she ate them all.
It wasn’t until just last year that I started to think about making my own sauerkraut. I hunted around for a crock of my own and found one for a steal at a garage sale. Working from memory (the last time I made sauerkraut I was about 10) I bought a head of cabbage, shredded it, added some apple slices, added some salt and waiting for the kraut magic to happen. Nothing. One week later I looked in and there it was….mold! I binned the whole thing and put the incident out of my mind.
What I needed was some Preserving Food Skills
One day I was checking out the Calgary Bloggers Facebook page I noticed an invite for bloggers to come out and try a food preserving class at [Pre] Serve Food Skills. I had heard of this cool new small business before through twitter and had every intention of checking it out. This invitation was all I needed and I was finally able to attend a Fermentating 101 (Sauerkraut & Crazy Blends) class courtesy of Jessica Matthies, owner and chief preserver at [Pre] Serve Food Skills. I was super excited because this meant that I would finally have the answers as to why my sauerkraut didn’t work out.
Let me take a moment to talk about Jessica. She knows her stuff, that’s for sure. She grew up in a Mennonite household and has been preserving food her entire life. Jessica is super friendly, funny, charming, and best of all she can steer all off topic class conversation back to preserving without being ‘teachery’. Yes, I count this as an important skill.
Fermenting 101 (Sauerkraut & Crazy Blends)
The class sizes at [Pre] Serve Food Skills are kept small on purpose (10 person maximum); while it’s fun to get together and share the workload, too many cooks in the kitchen equals chaos. Our class had four eager ladies and I thought it was just about right. We began by eating and I already knew I was in my happy place. We tasted some of Jessica’s previous preserving experiments which included various sauerkrauts and kimchi.
I really surprised myself by loving the kimchi because when I had it on our trip to South Korea I couldn’t stand it. It may be that I prefer less fermented versions as I think the oldest kimchi Jessica had was about 6 months old. I had a chance to flip through one of her Kimchi cookbooks and happened upon a tantalizing photo of a kimchi/grilled cheese sandwich. I still can’t get that image out of my head so it looks like I will be starting my own kimchi ferment soon.
While we ‘taste tested’ Jessica began soaking a bowl of Napa cabbage in salt water, then began explaining ‘the science’ behind fermentation. I got to ask all sorts of questions which she patiently answered. Nudging us (me) back on topic she explained the difference and similarities between fermenting sauerkraut and kimchi; the former being a slower ferment than the latter because of added starch and sugars.
Getting our hands dirty
One of the best things about Jessica’s classes is that they are ‘hands on’. So many classes I’ve attended are just based on watching and I don’t know about you but I learn better by getting my hands dirty. We all received a pound of cabbage and were allowed to ‘personalize’ it how we wished using a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, flavoured salts, and spices. Several of us, myself included, chose to make the Carrot, Cabbage, and Ginger Sauerkraut because it was so delicious.After our ingredients had been massaged with salt, we transferred them to a quart jar to take home. My jar is sitting on the kitchen counter top and so far (fingers crossed) everything looks good!
Fermentating 101 (Sauerkraut & Crazy Blends) is a great class but it’s not the only class you can take at [Pre] Serve Food Skills. You can start with the very basics of canning if you take the Water Bath 101 class, learn about dehdrated foods, or even make your own cheese! For a full class schedule visit [Pre] Serve Food Skills.
If you know what you are doing and are a ‘canner from way back’ you can join the YYC Preservers club. On opening canning days, just bring your materials and your recipes and preserve them onsite in a fun and nicely air conditioned kitchen that is not your own. I bet grandma would have loved this place!
Oh, and in case you were wondering I found out that the mold on my sauerkraut happened because I didn’t have the proper ratio of salt AND because I didn’t work the cabbage and salt together to form the liquid needed to submerge the kraut for proper anaerobic fermentation.
[Pre] Serve Food Skills
We’re located at
3117 34 Ave SE Calgary,
shared with Brenda Pierson Catering