You're probably wondering, What the heck is sauerruben?
You've heard me describe plenty of times making sauerkraut. Sauerkraut, as everyone knows, is fermented cabbage. Sauerruben is the same thing only made with grated turnips.
This week I had to shorten the "food appreciation" classes I teach at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia because a client insisted I cater a cocktail reception. In fact, we've been pretty busy with holiday parties around here. I wasn't able to pull together the Dark Days meal I had planned either.
So I'm cheating a little and using fermented turnips to fulfill my commitments to both "food appreciation" and the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge this week.
The formula for making fermented turnips is the same as for making fermented cabbage, and you can use sauerruben pretty much the same way you use sauerkraut. Peel and grate enough turnips and/or rutabagas from the local farmers market or your garden to get five pounds. Toss the grated turnips with 3 tablespoons pickling or sea salt. Pack the seasoned turnip tightly into a crock or a heavy-duty plastic bucket. Cover with a ceramic plate and weight it down with a heavy glass jar or a plastic container fills with water. Cover everything with a tea towel.
Put the bucket in a cool, dark place. In my experience, the bacteria that perform the fermenting like a temperature around 68 degrees. The higher the temperature, the faster the bacteria will work. Lower temperatures slow but do not stop the process. It should take several weeks. Check the bucket occasionally and wipe away any mold that accumulates.
I was thoroughly impressed with the way the kids in my classes stuck to the chore of peeling and grating the vegetables. I used a 50/50 mix of turnips and rutabagas. The larger rutabagas were a challenge for the kids to peel. We had lots of vegetable peelers, but only three graters, and two of them were the small, one-piece kind rather than the big box grater. You really had to grate with some precision and persistence to get the job done on those small graters. The kids put their heads down and got the job done.
One of the great pleasures in life is getting a full blast of the aroma that comes off a freshly peeled turnip. It smells more like horseradish than you might expect.
For two batches of turnips--or 10 pounds total--I used one of the heavy-grade, 2 1/2-gallon plastic buckets from the local paint store. The only thing that's ever been in that bucket before was sauerkraut, so I am confident it's safe. Ten pounds will fill the bucket about half-way. Press the turnips down as firmly as possible with your balled-up fist. The salt will already be drawing the liquid out of the turnips. The liquid should come up over the top of the turnips. Press the ceramic plate (you can also use a round piece of non-resinous wood, such as oak or ash) so that the brine come up over the edges of the plate. The turnips must be completely submerged during the fermentation process to avoid spoilage.
At this point, I have no idea how we are going to use our sauerruben. But I guarantee the kids in my classes will be asking for it.