What with all that rain that we got during the month of May, this is going to be a bad year for insects. Roly-polies, those little armadillos of the insect world, are everywhere. This is not good. They live between the surface of the ground and the mulch, congregating around the base of plant stems, and they nibble. They can kill the whole plant this way, or they can bring on a plant disease that will. So I picked my first cabbage last week. A lot of people don't really care for cabbage, and when it comes out of the garden, they are at a loss as to how to preserve it for use during the winter. How much sauerkraut can one eat, and IS consuming all that salt on a regular basis a very good thing?
Last year, I had a good harvest of cabbage and so I made sauerkraut. Sometimes I make it "By The Jar" but since I had several cabbages weighing in at five pounds each, I made it in a food-grade five-gallon plastic bucket. And it was the best sauerkraut I've ever made, more because of the quality of the cabbage than anything. We had some good rains in May of 2014 and it was juicy and sweet. And then I made a big batch of slaw that we ate till we didn't think we'd want any more again, ever. We ate cabbage braised in butter and that was very good. I shredded some, blanched it, and put it in the freezer and that is what I've used all year long in cooked cabbage recipes such as Runzas, Cabbage Roll Casserole, and in beef stew. I also cut some in chunks, blanched and froze. I've used some of those by thawing them out completely and heating in a covered saucepan just till hot, adding a little real butter or bacon drippings, salt and pepper to season. It's not quite as good as how it tastes when the cabbage is fresh, but still a lot better than the "Cook It Till It Turns Pink" method that my mother always used. And that was the extent of it. I remember seeing canned cabbage but it isn't recommended anymore and with good reason. The longer you cook cabbage, the less appetizing it gets, in appearance and taste, and it'll stink up your house worse than fish. So my interest was piqued when I found recipes for "Freezer Slaw" while dinking around on the computer last December. HERE is that post. And then, more recently, I started looking into it more closely and thought how that was really a lot of sugar to defile a good vegetable with. So I have looked at a lot of different Freezer Slaw recipes and tinkered with the recipe, using what I thought was the best of several.
I think I've mentioned before that my favorite variety of cabbage to grow is Copenhagen Market.
I pulled the largest of the cabbages today as they were beginning to show signs of splitting, in addition to everything else. This happens to cabbage when there is a lot of rain. The outer leaves are riddled with insect holes but the insides are so dense that the insects must drill and blast, and that slows them down. These cabbages aren't nice enough to give to anyone. A lot of people get the idea you're just using them to dispose of your bad garden stuff and they either won't accept it or they'll take it and then just give it a toss into their garbage. They don't look past the chewed-on outer leaves and understand there's a lot of pristine good eatin' inside. Since they can't see all the chemicals that were put on those perfect cabbages in the grocery stores, they'd rather have those. Ah, town people, gotta love 'em.
To prepare your cabbage for processing, tear off the outer leaves and throw them away. Wash the cabbage well. Cut your cabbage into four wedges and slice the core off each piece. My mother used to eat the core as she prepared cabbage, and share it with whatever child was hanging around. It tastes faintly of horse-radish. If you are concerned that there may be insects inside the cabbage, prepare a gallon of cold water with a couple of teaspoons of salt dissolved in it and immerse the cabbage wedges in it. Anything that's in there will come out. I do inspect each layer, wash areas that need it, cut out bad spots if there are any.
I use the slicing blade on my Cuisinart to chop the cabbage into shreds. Some people grate their cabbage but I prefer shreds. I have to cut each wedge in half in both directions to get pieces small enough to feed through Cuisinart's hopper. It'd be so much easier if they'd design that better but I guess they're limited by safety concerns. After the cabbage is shredded, weigh it so you know how much of the other ingredients to add. If the recipe calls for a three-pound cabbage, figure you'll have two and a half pounds after core and outer leaf removal.
I don't like green peppers in my cole slaw and I don't really care for that pink cast that shredded carrots add. So I decided to leave those out. Another reason to leave these out of the recipe is that, when the cabbages are coming out of the garden, the carrots and green peppers are not ready. You can always add chopped green pepper and grated carrot before serving. Or, you could even prepare carrots and green pepper the same way the cabbage is, later, when they are coming out of the garden, and add some to each freezer container (if you planned ahead and left room).
And then we come to the onion. I see, over and over again, where recipes call for the onion to be added to chopped cucumber or green tomato and whatever other vegetables are in the mix when making relish, and then the whole she-bang is salted, soaked, and drained. What's up with that? There go your onion's flavors right down the drain. So I always put my onion in the boiling hot brine mixture, and all that gets mixed in AFTER the salted water has been drained away. This is just a personal preference of mine and you can do it whichever way you choose, of course. I imagine, if you're adding shredded carrot, maybe the salt would set the color in the carrot, but I don't know that for sure.
1 large head cabbage (about 3 pounds)
2 tsp. canning or sea salt
2 cups boiling water
3/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. celery seed
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot grated
1/2 large green pepper, grated
Core and shred cabbage. Mix salt with boiling water and stir into shredded cabbage, and carrot and green pepper, if using. Let stand for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Press cabbage so that it will all come into contact with the salt water.
Combine vinegar, cold water, sugar, celery seed and onion; bring to a boil. The recipe I started with called for mustard seed, too, but I don't think I will use them in future batches. Some of the other recipes I saw didn't call for any spices at all. Let cool.
Drain cabbage. Add cooled vinegar mixture and mix well. Spoon into freezer containers and press down with the back of the spoon. The vinegar mixture will not fully cover the cabbage, but it should be visible when you press the spoon down onto the surface. You'll be surprised how much slaw will fit into one container. Freeze. (later note: I got six pints out of five pounds of shredded cabbage (doubled the recipe), and with the next five-pound batch, for some reason, I found it necessary to make one more single batch of the vinegar-water-sugar mixture and portion it out a few tablespoons in each pint. I also found it not necessary to boil the mixture first and wait for it to cool. Just stir the mixture with a spoon till the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear.)
When ready to thaw and eat, if you want a more creamy dressing on it you can pour off the "brine" and then mix in a little mayonnaise. You could add shredded carrot and chopped green pepper at this point, as well.
Hubs and I ate some that I thawed out last night for supper. It was a test before I make any more. I let it sit on the counter till it was thawed but still ice-cold, then put it in the refrigerator till closer to suppertime. Then I poured off the excess vinegar and sugar mixture and added a rounded tablespoon of mayonnaise to the cabbage because I have to admit I thought it tasted a little "watery" and I was afraid it wouldn't be that good, even after the mayo was added. That's a matter of individual taste, I think, as I saw reviews where some people said they could eat it right out of the freezer container with no changes. I didn't try to dress it up with anything else, other than the mayo, because I thought if I was going to have to throw it on the compost there would be no point in adding insult to injury, so to speak.
But I was wrong. It was really, really good. Still crunchy. Just sweet enough. Hubs even went back for seconds and we all KNOW how picky HE is. I think next time, I might dress it up with some shredded carrot and some chopped pecans, let them marinate in the vinegar-sugar mixture for a little while first, then drain before adding. If it was just me, I'd add raisins, or pineapple, or cranberries, but I think that would scare Hubs off. Later on, when I have fresh apples, I might add chopped apples. (.....I wonder if chopped apples would stay crisp if prepared for the freezer in this way??) The nice thing about it being so basic is that you can do whatever you want to with it.
The left-over vinegar-sugar mixture might make a good salad dressing, it kind of reminds me of the taste of wilted lettuce dressing. And for that, you would just heat it first, add some bacon drippings, and pour it while still hot over fresh leaf lettuce right before serving.
Next time, I might use my Freezer Slaw without draining in this recipe (later note, it was ok, but next time I'd omit the sunflower seeds and make up the difference with slivered almonds):
Asian Ramen Slaw
1 (3 ounce) package ramen noodle pasta, crushed
1 ramen noodle seasoning packet
8 ounces cabbage, shredded (I'd use a pint of freezer slaw, thawed)
4 ounces slivered almonds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds (opt)
2 green onions, sliced* (leave out if using freezer slaw)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 Tbsp cider vinegar* (leave out if using freezer slaw)
3 Tbsp cup white sugar* (leave out if using freezer slaw)
Toast the almonds and seeds slightly. In large bowl, combine noodles, shredded cabbage, almonds, sunflower seeds and green onion. In small bowl, combine oil, vinegar and sugar and noodle seasoning packet. Toss dressing with salad just before serving.
And there's a recipe HERE for a "Detox Coleslaw" that offers up some interesting ideas. In fact, you could mix a teaspoon of dry Ranch Dressing powder into that vinegar-sugar mixture instead of pouring it off and then add mayo or not. It has some kind of thickening agent in it that takes effect after refrigeration. It's very salty, though, that might be a problem.
I don't know exactly how long this will stay good in the freezer. Some said about six months, some said only six weeks. I think the pouring on of boiling water that's called for in the recipe might be the thing, as enzymes must be killed by blanching or most vegetables you put in the freezer will otherwise turn bitter with time. And I would not chill my cabbage beforehand as that might cool off the boiling water too fast. When I made this batch, my cabbage was just in from the garden. Not all the recipes called for the boiling water, including that one where storage life was estimated at six weeks. I will make additional batches and will let you know how long it stays good when I know.
Links to the recipe for Runzas and for Sauerkraut salad, as served by the Brickhaus restaurant at The Amana Colonies in Amana, Iowa can be found in the link provided in the second paragraph of this post. I have also drained and rinsed sauerkraut and just added a little sugar, chopped onion and celery sauteed in bacon drippings, and served it hot.
Well, I hope you find enough here to get your cabbage wheels turning, let's take advantage of that nice cabbage we have in our gardens, it seems a shame to give so much of it away and then have to buy it at the grocery store during the winter, when we want to make winter salads. It's full of anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals. And YOU know where yours came from, and whether it was sprayed with harmful chemicals while it grew.
Rock On! Hugs xoxoxo