a pickle party: part 1 – sauerkraut

Do you know what I love more than pickling? Pickling with other people!

Some of my favourite people and I got together a few Sundays ago to do just that! The beauty of having more people means you don’t end up with a million jars of pickle (you’ll have noticed by now that I use the term “pickle” quite loosely to refer to any kind of grandma style cooking that ends up in a jar) to store  because you can share the loving! PLUS with all the extra hands you get a variety of pickles!

Extra plus: more people to share the slightly mundane aspects of pickling. Like sterilising!

Washer woman

Washer woman







Maddness always ensues during pickling.



We decided on four recipes based on current, seasonal produce and the various excess of goodies in our combined fridges. This left us with ingredients for sauerkraut (hello cabbage from the bottom of the vegetable crisper!), brinjal (eggplant) kasundi, quince paste, and lemon curd (with lemons from my mum’s tree, my favourite!). Despite what the photos might suggest about order and organisation, I assure you that 6 people in the kitchen is guaranteed chaos. We were cooking, sterilising, drinking, eating and dancing all at once. It was excellent fun!

The most important ingredient for any pickle party is bubbles

The most important ingredients for any pickle party are bubbles and snacks!

Given the number of recipes we made, and my penchant for writing long-winded, meandering posts, I’ve decided to post the recipes individually and in order of relative ease so I don’t lose you all in the process…

Sauerkraut in a Jar

On a scale of 1-10 in difficulty, sauerkraut rates around about a 1. Dead. Easy. We used this recipe from The Kitchn.

  • 1 medium head of green cabbage
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs caraway seeds (optional but delicious!)
  • 4-5 large, sterilised jars

Divide the head of cabbage into 8 wedges then shred each wedge into fine ribbons. Combine the salt and cabbage in a large clean bowl.


Massage and squeeze the salt into the leaves for about 10 minutes until the cabbage becomes watery and limp (according to our chief masseuse, this is QUITE the work out).

Chief masseuse, Tegan

Chief masseuse, Tegan


Mix in the caraway seeds if you’re using them, then divide the mix into your jars, pressing down firmly to ensure that cabbage is covered by its brine (there’s not a lot of brine at this stage so don’t dismay if yours seems a little dry).


The recipe suggests that you weight the cabbage down to ensure that it’s covered by the brine. We were pretty slack and skipped this stage! Secure a piece of muslin over the mouth of the jar, or, in our case some chopped up tea towel, to allow the mixture to breathe…and to keep bad stuff out.


Over the next 24 hours or so, you’ll need to push the cabbage down (with your hands or a clean spoon works well too!) to ensure that it’s fully covered by its brine. You need to leave the cabbage to ferment at room temperature (so long as it’s not too hot in the room!) for 3-10 days, covered only by the muslin. You’ll notice the mix become more briny and begin to bubble over this period.


The Kitchn’s recipe gives an excellent rundown of the fermentation process that the cabbage goes through to turn into ‘kraut. The science of it is actually quite beautiful in its simplicity. I tried to summarise and paraphrase their description a few times but in the end, The Kitchn describes it best:

Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. To put it (fairly) simply: There is beneficial bacteria present on the surface of the cabbage and, in fact, all fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus is one of those bacteria, which is the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products. When submerged in a brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.

The distinctive sour smell will be noticeable after about 3 or 4 days, but the readiness of the mix will be determined by flavour. Check it each day (it’s like a primary school science experiment!) to see if it’s to your liking. Mine has been fermenting for a week, and I’ve only just put the lid on and popped it in the fridge.


Now to get my hands on some good ‘wurst to eat this with!

Next up: lemon curd!!!

cumquats two ways

Nothing makes me more excited than home-grown produce. I’ve not had much luck with my own various attempts at a veggie patch, so when someone offers me produce from their own garden I’m at once delighted, honoured…and slightly envious.

This week (probably last week by the time I post this) I was lucky enough to be offered some end of season green tomatoes, and to my surprise they came bundled with a whole lot of cumquats! Green tomatoes are a favourite at my house and I already have a plan for those, but cumquats! New ingredients mean new skills, WHOO! I’m a sucker for a good learning curve…even at the risk of those tomatoes turning red in the mean time.

little beauties

little beauties

I went straight to my food bible, Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion, and decided on two classics: brandied cumquats, and cumquat marmalade.

Brandied Cumquats

Brandied cumquats are a bit of a treasure if you’re keen to do some old lady style preserving but don’t have much time or experience. But they do require at least 2 months to “mature”, so patience is key.

Stephanie’s Brandied Cumquats:

  • 500 gm cumquats washed
  • 600 ml brandy
  • 2 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
At the time of making I forgot about my perfectly large, swing top, “lightning closure” (who knew, right?) jars and opted for two smaller screw tops. I also didn’t have any vanilla bean in the house (sacre bleu!) so just left it out. I’m pretty sure I could have substituted any whole spice in there: cinnamon, star anise, clove but I was too excited to get cracking to think about these things.


Something you’ll learn early on in the “art” of preserving is the importance of sterilising your jars (and also any other utensils you use!). A few of my friends learnt this the hard way after their batch of pickles literally started exploding in their pantries (hello lovely ladies if you are reading this)!


There’s a lot of info on sterilising on the net but my preferred method is as follows:

    • Wash the jars and lids in fresh, hot soapy water, then rinse and stand them in your sink or draining board
    • Place the lids in a clean bowl (any old bowl, just not plastic)
    • Pour boiled water (I do it straight from the kettle) into each jar, right up to the brim (let it overflow if you must) and over the lids so that they’re completely covered
    • Let the jars and lids stand for a few minutes (at least 10 I’d say) then carefully tip out the water making sure you don’t burn yourself* or touch the rims as you go
    • Allow them to air dry, upside down on your dish rack
    • Be sure to avoid touching the rim or inside of the jars as much as possible
hot tamales!

hot tamales!

If you’re really pedantic (like me) I suggest that you sterilise your utensils too if you haven’t used them in the cooking process, but need them for bottling. I do this with the pyrex jug and spatula I use for scooping, pouring and scraping into jars. You can never be too safe!
* Lots of proper preserving people suggest you use jar tongs, which are great if you have them. I’m pretty ad hoc about most things and I have a great pair of little silicone mini mitts which I picked up at Aldi for about $3. Best buy ever! They’re heat proof and grippy!

Once sterilised, it’s just a matter of filling your jar (or jars in my case) with the cumquats (and vanilla bean) pouring in the sugar and finishing with the brandy. My sugar created a bit of a plug about half way through my brandy pour so, with the lid securely on, I gave it a bit of a jiggle and shake to loosen it up then poured in the remaining brandy.


Do I get anything for product placement?

do I get anything for product placement?

Stephanie suggests that you give the cumquats a stir every few weeks (with a sterilised skewer) to help dissolve the sugar and rotate the cumquats through the brandy. I’ll probably just give them a shake every now and again.

Et voilà! 

cumquats two ways

Now all I have to do is wait 2 months till I can taste those little brandied orbs!

Cumquat Marmalade
Marmalade. It’s one of those things that reminds me of old British people, like my nanna and Dad (hi Dad!).

Stephanie’s Cumquat Marmalade:
  • 2 kg cumquats, washed
  • sugar
I only had 500 grams of cumquats left after my first batch of brandying, but the recipe is written in such a way that it’s easy to adapt to whatever quantity of fruit you can get your hands on. In the end my 500 grams made 3 large jars of marmalade.

Even though Stephanie’s recipe is pretty straight forward I still googled a few more recipes and tips on marmalade making because I’ve never made it before. And because it’s my natural inclination as a food nerd.

Most recipes call for the fruit to be very finely sliced so that 1) the rinds aren’t chewy and 2) to maximise the pectin. Pectin is the gelling agent which has to be added to most jams and jellies to give them their familiar texture. Marmalade is different because citrus fruits already contain high levels of pectin, found in the skins and pips, so adding extra is unnecessary.

Stephanie’s recipe stands apart from the few other recipes I read in that it calls for the chopped fruit (she leaves it up to you to decide whether you want to finely slice or just quarter the fruit) and muslin encased pips to be left soaking, overnight, in water (enough to just cover it). My theory is that this draws out the pectin and probably cuts down on the cooking time. Thanks Stephanie!

remember to keep the pips!

remember to keep the pips!

The next day you need to measure and count (and remember) the number of cups of cumquat/water mix as you scoop it into a heavy based pan for cooking (fruit, water, pips…everything!). Cook the fruit and pips (still in the muslin) in the soaking water over medium heat until tender, then add 1 cup of sugar for each cup of mixture you counted before. So if you measured 10 cups of cumquat/water mix, add 10 cups of sugar. Yeah. I need to go buy more sugar now too!

Soaked fruit (pips are hiding), measured into a well loved Le Creuset

Soaked fruit (pips are hiding), measured into a well loved Le Creuset

Five cups of sugar for 5 cups of mix

Five cups of sugar for 5 cups of mix

BBC GoodFood’s Seville Orange Marmalade recipe suggests that you turn the heat right down after you’ve added the sugar and allow it to completely dissolve before bringing it up to a rolling boil; completely resisting the urge to stir or scrape the edges down (something I failed to do…oops!). Some more reasearch reveals that this process minimises crystallisation which is only apparent once the ‘lade has cooled. I’ll have to report back to let you know if my pot scraping made much difference.


Cooking before adding the sugar

Bubbles galore after adding sugar

Bubbles galore after adding sugar

Different recipes suggest different cooking times after you’ve added the sugar. Stephanie suggests 25 minutes and BBC says 10. I was a bit lax in my timing, but I think it was closer to 25 mins; you need to get the mix to setting stage (a bit of science!).

To test whether the mix is ready to set, stick a couple of small plates in the freezer after you’ve added the sugar. After boiling for a while (let’s say 15 minutes), remove the pot from the heat and allow the mix to settle then put a blob of liquid on your frozen plate. Stick it back in the freezer for a minute then get it out and drag your finger through it to see whether it remains in 2 distinct halves. If not, put your mix back on the heat and test every couple of minutes. You can also test for setting stage using a sugar thermometer (setting stage occurs at approx 104/105 degrees celcius), it’s probably way easier…but I don’t have one.

First setting test, not quite ready

First setting test, not quite ready

Second test, two distinct blobs means it's ready

Second test, two distinct blobs means it’s ready

After a successful “setting test”, turn the heat off and allow the bubbles to subside. Pluck out the muslin and squeeze it out with some clean rubber gloves (or something else that’ll protect your hands!). Around the edges of your pan you’ll notice quite a bit of scum that will need scraping out. Again…resist the urge to scrape the edges down to avoid crystallisation.

Scrape as much of the white scummy stuff off as you can

Scrape as much of the white scummy stuff off as you can

Allow the mix to cool for about 10-15 minutes then gently stir the mixture before pouring into sterilised jars. Allowing the mix to cool slightly before bottling will help prevent the fruit sinking to the bottom of your jars!

Almost too pretty to eat!

Almost too pretty to eat!

A perfect jar for the occasion

A perfect jar for the occasion

Oh. P.S. Look at the pips I rescued from the muslin. Gorgeous!

cumquats two ways