Gosh, it was dark and dank. I still remember it perfectly. Back then. I was seven years old. My grandmother had sent me down into the catacombs under our house. I started to panic. I suspected something horrible lurked behind every corner of this underworld. My flashlight flickered, and that only served to scare me more. Completely alone, no one who could hear me, and I had to find some stupid stoneware pot. That is what grandma had told me to do, as she limped and had to use a stick to get around. “Get on with it, go down and get us the sauerkraut, you silly little scaredy-cat! We want to eat something good. No one is about to kidnap you down there,” she said with a laugh. If only she knew all the things I had read and dreamed: Dastardly pirates and cannibals were bound to be down there, waiting for me. Reluctantly I slunk down into the “sinister depths”. However, not a pirate to be seen. Luckily, the barrel was, the one in which my mum put the cabbage she sliced up along with the brine and had then sealed airtight. I had the lid off in a jiffy. “Wow, you were fast. Great stuff!” I brooded over how frightened I’d been. “Embarrassing. It’ll be different!” And it was. From then onwards I always used to enjoy going to get the sauerkraut from the cellar.
My grandma also showed me how caraway seeds – “they’re good against flatulence and irritable bowels” – along with apple or pineapple slices made sauerkraut super-tasty! That was the beginning of my modest prowess as a cook. “Headed off as a scaredy-cat, came back a master-cook,” my grandma used to always recount with a laugh. Yes, I really learned a lot from her. For example, that lactic acid bacteria turn sugar into lactic acid because it gives them energy to go on living. Or that lactic acid bacteria in our intestinal flora – back then no one knew the word “microbiome” – strengthen our immune system and prevent harmful germs from thriving there. “And the good ones, and there are trillions of them down there – are super-happy if you help them with some sauerkraut, for example,” she spurred me on. “Even the ancient Greeks and Romans, or for example the Koreans with their spicy Kimchi pickled cabbage, knew about these curative powers millennia ago. They even trod the sliced cabbage under foot in large barrels!”
I was really gripped by this age-old knowledge about lactic acid and vinegar, what we call probiotics today. Among other things, they include yogurt, pickled cucumbers, kefir, kombucha, miso soup or parmesan, “and they’re an important part of many of the arts of cooking and healing all over the world. The vitamin-C content of sauerkraut is immense,” she explained. “It has hardly any calories, activates your digestion, and is great to prevent and beat germs, not only because of the good bacteria, but also the roughage”, the prebiotics, as I learned from her back then. “Because your intestines help form your immune system!”
Dear Grandma, thank you so much!
© Dietrich Grönemeyer 2021-11-26