What were 10 gallon crocks used for?

Answered by Robert Flynn

The 10 gallon crock was an essential tool in the kitchen of many German farm families, including my own. It was primarily used for fermenting sauerkraut, a traditional and beloved dish in our household.

During the cabbage growing season, which typically lasted from late spring to early fall, we would harvest a large amount of cabbage. Once the heads reached their full size, we would gather about a bushel of them to make sauerkraut for the upcoming year.

To prepare the cabbage for fermentation, we would first core out the heads using a sharp knife. This involved removing the tough inner core of each cabbage, leaving only the tender leaves and outer layers intact. This step was crucial for ensuring that the sauerkraut would have a pleasant texture and taste.

After coring, we would move on to shredding the cabbage. This was done using a specialized tool called a cabbage cutter. The cabbage cutter consisted of a large, sturdy wooden board with a set of sharp, curved blades attached to it. By placing a cabbage head on the board and sliding it back and forth, we could easily shred the cabbage into thin, uniform strips. This process required some strength and coordination, but with practice, it became second nature.

Once all the cabbage was shredded, we would begin the fermentation process. The 10 gallon crock played a crucial role in this step. We would layer the shredded cabbage into the crock, sprinkling a generous amount of salt between each layer. The salt acted as a preservative and helped draw out the moisture from the cabbage, creating the brine that would facilitate fermentation.

After each layer, we would use a wooden tamper or our hands to firmly press down the cabbage, ensuring that it was tightly packed. This step was important for removing air bubbles and creating an anaerobic environment, which encouraged the growth of beneficial bacteria responsible for fermentation.

Once the crock was filled with cabbage and salt and tightly packed, we would cover it with a clean cloth or a wooden lid. This allowed the fermentation process to occur while still protecting the sauerkraut from dust and insects.

The crock would then be stored in a cool, dark place for several weeks to months, depending on personal preference. During this time, the cabbage would gradually ferment, transforming into tangy, flavorful sauerkraut. The longer it was left to ferment, the more complex and intense the flavors would become.

When it was time to enjoy the sauerkraut, we would simply open the crock and remove the desired amount. The remaining sauerkraut could be stored in smaller containers or jars in the refrigerator, where it would continue to ferment at a slower pace.

In addition to sauerkraut, the 10 gallon crock could also be used for fermenting other vegetables, such as pickles or kimchi. Its large capacity made it ideal for preserving large quantities of produce, ensuring that our family had a steady supply of fermented goodies throughout the year.

Looking back, the 10 gallon crock holds many fond memories for me. It was a symbol of our family’s connection to our German heritage and the traditions we held dear. The process of making sauerkraut was a labor of love, requiring patience and attention to detail. But the end result was always worth it – a delicious and nutritious staple that brought warmth and comfort to our meals.