Early summer, I first began investigating these plucky eyebrow raising bites as lively accoutrements to celebratory fare. By late July I began throwing raisins devil-may-care into vats of vinegar and then I discovered addictive sweet pickles which enlivened my mouth with a scream of jalapeno. A jar of kimchi that had long taken residence in the far corners of my refrigerator, tang-ed just right became steady companion on many an uninspired night of leftovers. But most recently, I have been taken over by juicy exuberant sauerkraut. It has been years since I thought of the pungent matter, wet sloppy shreds of acidic translucent cabbage, ubiquitous side to a fat greasy sausage. Then out of nowhere I bought a bag of kraut probably to accompany said fat greasy kielbasa and now-- I cannot seem to dine without it. I find myself eating straggles of the pickled slaw on salads and sandwiches, strewn through a heaped up hedge of cooked greens. I have even consumed it alongside spoonfuls of cottage cheese and like Pavlov’s dog the mere thought of the sour kraut gets my saliva flowing.
Believing in the vast intelligence of the body and the communication that exists between our inner and outer worlds, I take my sudden craving for kraut seriously, well semi seriously anyways. While stoic boulders of cabbage command a certain kind of solemn respect, they are sulfurous and somewhat antiquated like a formal bust sitting within a poorly lit drawing room. Pickles are funny, seriously funny too. Fermented foods have been around since ancient times. Various civilizations used this preservation process as a means to improve the digestibility of foods, raise the nutritional value, prevent spoilage and alter taste and texture. Somewhere along the way food has been lost and found, discovered in various stages of break down and transformation. These happy accidents proved to be delicious and in time the environments were recreated and refined to create even more desirable flavors. Whether thousand year old Chinese eggs, buried Icelandic rotting shark, caves of Roquefort cheese or Korean hot and spicy pickled cabbage, every culture seems to have their own beloved interpretation of fermented food. Sour bites of food have a way of drawing the juices out of us, riling us up. They tug at our appetites as evident in various foods that precede and accompany a meal: wine and beer, cheese, pickles and chutneys, olives and pickled herring, even catsup. Tart, brisk, salty, pungent foods excite the palate and senses. They can wake us up. But like a good slap in the face or whiff of smelling salts, the bracing flavors can also bring us back down to earth and into our bodies.
Being in a pickle or maybe more appropriately sitting in the brine is synonymous with being in a difficult situation. While stewing and macerating within a salty solution doesn’t sound terribly inviting. It isn’t all bad. My college professor used to say that he welcomed the awkward intersection between two worlds and that the creative response was discovered within the “in between space”. The saline solution nurtures an invisible world of microbes. Suspended within this unseen world is a relationship that feeds and creates waste, composts and then ultimately regenerates. In this microcosmic galaxy creation abounds, culture giving rise to more culture. Perhaps the best advice I can think of if one is “in de pekel zitten” is to hold on tight and …pass the sauerkraut.