As a kid, I used to hate the smell of sauerkraut wafting out of the firmly closed doors in the fall. It was one of the few meals that I could smell before I opened the back door. It would drift toward me through the smell of wet leaves, crisp northwest breezes and musty earth as I sat under the trees in our yard and played until my cheeks were rosy and bright. I always wanted to eat at someone else’s house that night.

My mom would tell me that when I got older I might actually like the taste of vinegar and cabbage, and I swore I never would.

As always, Mom was right.

Last fall, we were given two enormous heads of cabbage into which our family barely made a dent. We were enjoying so much bounty from the garden, we couldn’t eat it all at once, and I needed to do something to save the cabbage before it went bad.

I had only heard about making sauerkraut but never attempted it myself, and it seemed a good way to use up those enormous heads of cabbage. After doing some research, I found that it’s an amazingly simple process.

Clean a large bowl or tub with a lid. The more sterile the better, as you don’t want to introduce any extra forms of bacteria. Slice the cabbage and sprinkle every 3 inches or so with salt. Cover with a weight and an airtight lid.

I used a very clean 5-gallon bucket, and layered the cabbage with salt. I then placed two clean kitchen garbage bags, one inside the other, on the top of the cabbage, letting the sides of the bags hang over the bucket. I then filled the bags partway with cold water and tied them shut. This served as the weight. The airtight lid went on the top, and the whole ensemble moved out to the barn.

Every week or so, I checked to see what was happening, and by the fifth week, we had sauerkraut that we were using for dinner and that my children were making faces about. By the eighth week, I removed the remaining sauerkraut, and, to stop the fermentation, froze what we hadn’t yet used.

That was for a big batch. I’ve since made small batches over the summer that sit next to the woodstove in the cozy heat and kick much faster. I used a glass half-gallon container stuffed with cabbage that I layered occasionally with salt and topped with the usual lid.

Every so often, I’d shake it to get the juices flowing and then let nature take its course. It took only two to three days to have lightly fermented sauerkraut to use on Reubens, with bean dishes or as a condiment to brats.

My favorite way to serve sauerkraut is with mashed potatoes and kielbasa. It’s how my mom always made it, and it reminds me of the days I just described above.

As this is the preserving time of year, I’ve included recipes for some other favorites that have become staples in our house.


Quince is a round or pear-shaped fruit that can be found in grocery stores from October through December. If you are lucky enough to have a quince tree close to you, keep your secret guarded, as this fruit, while not terribly well known, is wonderfully tart and sweet.

Think of it as you would an apple or a pear. It is more firm in feel and more fragrant in smell, evoking rose bushes in the evening on a warm summer night. It’s also a fruit useful in making jams and jellies as it is high in pectin.

1 1/2 pounds whole quince, (about 3 large), peeled, quartered and cored

1/2 lemon, seeded and coarsely chopped, skin and all

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

1 1-inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise

Pulse both quince and lemon in a food processor until finely chopped. Place quince mixture and the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the mixture has thickened and reduced. Remove vanilla bean, cool, and place in a glass jar. Refrigerate up to two months.

Makes about 31/2 cups.


. . . on toast, over ice cream, with yogurt, by the spoonful.

4 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 1/2 pounds apples, peeled, quartered and cored

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 1-inch piece vanilla bean, split in half length-wise

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 pinch of cloves

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the mixture thickens and reduces, mashing the apples with a potato masher when they become soft. Remove the vanilla bean, cool, and store in a glass jar. Refrigerate for up to two months.

Makes about 3 1/2 cups.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]