Making Sauerkraut from the Oeconomia

I should be working on the Kuchenmaistrey, but there is so much interesting stuff in Coler. This is the oldest detailed recipe for sauerkraut I have found yet. No surprises here, just solid German cuisine.

To lay in (einzumachen) a sour cabbage

Strew a small handful of salt on the bottom (of the cask), then form a layer of shaggy (zoettichten) cabbage over it, cut on a zoetteleisen (cabbage slicer) or a cutting board. Caraway and salt is strewn on the cabbage and then, if you wish, you lay halved or quartered heads of cabbage on top, but it must be laid down forcefully and close together. You can do this and then strew salt and caraway on it again. Then lay down another small layer of shaggy cabbage and stamp it with clean feet until the juice runs up though the toes as is the custom in some places. But if you think that it would disgust you that it is stamped with feet, you may take a wooden masher and mash it with that until it releases its juice. Continue thus, lay down another layer of cabbage with salt and caraway strewn on, and sometimes also a handful of juniper berries strewn into it, until your tun or barrel is full. But you must always mash or stamp it when a layer has been laid down so that it gives off its juice. When it is full, lay down boards on the cabbage and put stones on the boards that are as heavy as you can lift so the cabbage is weighed down and ever more juice pressed out. When you have later cooked it and want to serve it, arrange a couple of bratwurst sausages or fried herring around it on the bowl or on top of the cabbage and then eat of it and see how you like it.

Certainly dating to the first half of the seventeenth century (and very likely to the late sixteenth, though I have yet to gain access to a copy of the first edition of the Oeconomia), this is the earliest recipe for making sauerkraut that I know. It is basically sauerkraut as it is still made today, down to the seasoning with caraway and juniper. One interesting aspect is the use of a zoetteleisen, a dedicated tool probably much like a grater or slicer, to produce shredded cabbage in quantitiy. Technical ingenuity was a feature of the Renaissance kitchen. But other than that, this is the kind of krautfass that would have been found in German households all the way to the 1960s and very likely farther back in history than we have written sources for.

Johann Coler’s Oeconomia ruralis et domestica was a popular book on the topic of managing a wealthy household. It is based largely on previous writings by Coler and first appeared between 1596 and 1601. Repeatedly reprinted for decades, it became one of the most influential early works of Hausväterliteratur. I am working from a 1645 edition.

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One Response to Making Sauerkraut from the Oeconomia

  1. Pingback: Sauerkraut Using a Late Period German Recipe | Siglindesarts's Blog

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