Recipe: Bavarian Sauerkraut

IMG_0838Tools of the trade: Holzbrett, Stampfer, Krauthobel.

When I arrived at the farm in Kulmbach last weekend, I was immediately assigned to the task of making sauerkraut–an entire day’s undertaking even for a relatively small batch, as I discovered. I was given a hand-written recipe and more or less left to my own devices, with liberal advice from whichever of the family members happened to be passing through the kitchen. It turned out pretty decent, if I do say so myself…not bad for an American. ūüėČ

IMG_0835Fresh from the root cellar, harvested during my stay in August.

Ingredients: white cabbage, sea salt, caraway seeds

Instructions:¬†Wash cabbage, remove several of the large outer leaves from each head, and set them aside for later. Cut the cabbage into small pieces. If you don’t have a traditional cabbage cutter (Krauthobel), a knife works just as well. Apparently, it is best to cut it into long, narrow strands–it tastes better that way, according to my hosts.


Beat the cut cabbage in a crock or large pot until enough liquid has come out to entirely cover it. This takes some hefty work–if you can’t seem to get enough liquid out, you will need to add a bit of water later. Let stand for an afternoon, or overnight.


IMG_0870Allll the Sauerkraut….

Add salt (30 grams per kilo of cabbage) and sprinkle with caraway seeds. If you are making a large batch, it is best to work in layers–a kilo of cabbage, then salt and seeds. Stop between layers to compact the cabbage as firmly as possible. If you are making a small batch, this can be done in a glass canning jar–for a large batch, use a crock or pot.

IMG_0875Cover the shredded cabbage completely with the whole leaves (set aside previously). At this point, the shredded cabbage should be quite compact, and completely immersed in its own liquid–if not, add a bit of water.

IMG_0877Set some sort of press on top of the whole leaves, with a weight on top heavy enough to push everything down below the level of the liquid. We used a large plate, weighted down with a jar full of water. The most important thing is that the actual cabbage is fully submerged–this will keep it from spoiling.

IMG_0880That’s 18 kilos of Sauerkraut, yo.¬†

Put a lid on the crock, jar, or pot, and set in a cool place. Ferment for five weeks, and enjoy! Geschafft! 

IMG_0883Sauerkraut, don’t touch!!

Travelogue XIX: W√ľrzburg Kreuzweg


24. November, 2014 On the way back from the farm in Kulmbach, we stopped in W√ľrzburg, the half-way point on the Autobahn between eastern Bavaria and Mainz. It’s still the city I know best in Germany–my first introduction to the country, and a place I will always feel a bit homesick for. On the last evening I spent there, I drank wine on the bridge and bid farewell to a dear friend–hot July night, street musicians playing klezmer, the castle all lit up on the hill behind us. It’s been four months since then. Tempus fugit.¬†

We only had a couple hours, so we decided to walk up the Kreuzweg (stations of the cross) to the beautiful K√§ppele, high above the vineyards outside of the city. ¬†The path–247 steps!–dates from the 1760s and leads up to the chapel and a tiny cloister.


The almost-bare branches, the stone steps, the clear light–it all¬†had a fairy-tale-like feel to it. M√§rchenhaft.¬†





Inside the chapel–baroque, one of the few buildings in W√ľrzburg not destroyed during World War II. It’s never been restored, which means the interior has¬†a hazy-dusty-dreamlike feel to it.


Looking back into the city, and then across to the Festung Marienberg.


The sky was the bluest of blues, for what seems like the first time in weeks. I love the Rhine, but living on its banks means that Nebel (fog) is an unavoidable fact of existence during the winter months. And sure enough, the clear skies in Bayern turned overcast as soon as we took the exit towards Mainz.


I think, though, that the afternoon of sun in W√ľrzburg will be enough to keep me going for awhile yet.

Travelogue XVIII: Back to the Farm


23. November, 2014 I’ve just returned to Mainz after spending the weekend in Kulmbach, on the farm where I worked as a WWOOFer over the summer. Here in the city, I forget how wonderful perfectly silent, dark nights are. I forget how much I miss cooking for an entire family, what it’s like to structure one’s day around caring for livestock, and how splendid it is to sleep under down comforters in the freezing upper story of some drafty old house. A few years ago all I wanted to do was to escape that sort of life–but now, even a long weekend on the farm feels rather like going home.

I went out to see the sunrise on Saturday morning, before breakfast. In Vermont in November, everything is monotone–black branches, gray-brown fields, gray-white sky. Here, there’s still color, but it’s all pastels, pale blues and greens and golds. So different from the hyper-saturated vibrancy of last August, but perhaps even lovelier.



IMG_0833The apple orchard. 

IMG_0818Above, the castle Plassenburg in the distance. 




…And then back to the farmhouse, to make tea and get the breakfast on the table: German meat-cheese-homemade bread, American oatmeal and pumpkin pie. A most excellent start to the day.


Travelogue XVII: Bonn and Beethoven

bonn_beethovenBeethoven statue on the town square.

2. November, 2014 So many cities here are defined by their connection to specific artists and thinkers in Germany’s past. Mainz, for instance, is the Johannes Gutenberg city–Bayreuth is Richard Wagner’s–Frankfurt (along with Weimar, of course) belongs to Goethe. One has the feeling that these figures are still very much present, as much a part of local rhythms as the marketplace, theater, Rathaus. There are streets and universities and drugstores named after them, statues on every square, museums and memorial associations that hold lectures and concert series in their honor. The past is exceedingly¬†alive.

Bonn, where I was last weekend after the DAAD Conference in Cologne, is the city of Beethoven–he was born there, and spent the first 22 years of his life in the city before moving to Vienna. I was able to visit¬†his house, which was converted to an archival museum in his honor over a century ago.

Surreal, to see Beethoven’s pianos arranged side-by-side, his reading glasses, his viola, the organ he played on as a boy. On his desk, there was a hand-written copy of a poem by Schiller, who had himself taken it from some ancient inscription in Egypt:

Ich Bin, was da ist
Ich Bin alles, was ist,
was war und was sein wird
Kein sterblicher Mensch
hat meinen Schleier

I am what is there.
I am everything that is
that was and that will be.
No mortal man
has lifted my veil.

Beethoven had written it out on a slip of paper and it sat on his desk for years. A sort of life-motto, according to the elderly gentleman who worked in the museum.


Downstairs, there were newsreels from 1945, showing American soldiers entering the house, half-destroyed, and removing furniture and instruments covered in ashes. And there were pages from a guestbook dating back to 1890, containing the signatures and notes of the hundreds of¬†famous men and women who had been there–Heinrich B√∂ll, the Clintons, Isaac Stern, Indira Ghandi, Claudio Abbado, Joachim Gauck, the Dalai Llama. They were humbled, they wrote, and inspired, and grateful. Strange, to be sharing an experience with so many luminaries.


So there it was: standing in the house of yet another giant.

Beethoven aside, Bonn is a fascinating city. It was the de facto capital of West Germany until the fall of the Berlin wall, and remained the seat of government until 1999. Today, over twenty years later, the main evidence of its former position is the excessively extensive public transportation system–S-Bahn, buses, and subways galore, and a huge Autobahn that cuts right through the middle of the city.

Even during Bonn’s time as capital, the city’s position did not go unquestioned: due to its relatively small size it was referred to, more or less jokingly, as the¬†Bundeshauptstadt¬†ohne¬†nennenswertes¬†Nachtleben¬†(Federal capital without nightlife worthy of the name) or the¬†Bundesdorf¬†(Federal Village). To me, it didn’t seem to fit:¬†after having visited Berlin, the current capital of Germany, it’s hard for me to imagine Germany’s government anywhere else. That restless and crazy city, as I have written about before, seems to me to be supremely suited for the capital of a country like Germany. Bonn just doesn’t make one think¬†in the way that Berlin does.


All the same, though, it’s a lovely place, especially at this time of year. It’s foliage season in Germany, which is automatically noteworthy to me, since I grew up in the one spot on earth known perhaps above all others for its autumns. Here, the colors are more muted than anything in Vermont, but still grand, especially in the vineyards along the Rhine. In Bonn, the yellow-gold-orange color scheme of many of the buildings complemented the leaves perfectly.





Of course, though, on the way back to Mainz a fog bank rolled in, and it’s been damp, drippy, and freezing ever since. Welcome to winter in the Pfalz!