I bought myself a belated birthday present.
It was not completely unplanned. Ever since I made the red cabbage kimchi, I had been eyeing the 2 and 3 gallon crocks by Ohio Pottery at my local food coop, the Three Rivers Market. My largest bowl was literally filled to the brim with that kimchi, and intend to make it again, as well as try my hand at other things, including sauerkraut and a similar Japanese pickle using napa cabbage. I also knew I needed at least a 2 gallon crock, but wasn't sure it would be enough, so I waffled.
On Friday I was at the store and I intended to buy a crock. I actually found the crock lids before I found the crocks. There were lids for the 3 gallon and 1 gallon crocks, so I thought my decision had been made for me, but when I went to the table where the crocks were located, I saw that they had a bunch of the standard crocks, and one fermentation crock with the water seal. I didn't have to think twice. I'll still need a smaller crock or two, and I'd love one of the crocks made by Californian Sarah Kersten. But they are smaller, the big one is slightly smaller than my biggest bowl. Although I would probably use it less frequently than smaller containers, I would still occasionally need a large crock like this. The main question in my mind was whether I was jumping the gun, or in other words, when would I use it.
Then I went to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. It was my first trip to the Market Square Market in a month, what with my mother's visit and travelling hither and yon and all that. Before I'd even made my first pass through the market I saw these cabbages. I bought three, three huge cabbages. I had to take them directly to the car and get a new shopping bag they were so big, 13 pounds total. I had a crock. I had cabbage. I always have sea salt and kosher salt in the house. It was time to make my first batch of sauerkraut.
I guess there is still a bit of the Texan in me, the old "go big or go home" part of me. I had a big crock after all. Saturday afternoon I shredded thirteen pounds of cabbage, massaged it with salt and mashed it down into my new 3-gallon crock. The mashing was actually the hardest part. It takes a lot of effort to compress 13 pounds of cabbage in a crock until the liquid extruded from the salt and cabbage rises up over the cabbage. Considering the amount of Farmhouse Culture Sauerkraut I buy, if it works I am ahead by a large margin. If it doesn't I'm out $12 and an afternoon. But I can chalk it up to a learning opportunity.
I like the water seal aspect of the crock even as I recognize that it is not absolutely necessary. In fact, if one opens up the crock to check and taste daily, the water seal may even be pointless. So far, however, I am being daring and skipped a couple of days between checks, with no apparent harm being done. One advantage to the water seal is that I can hear progress without opening the lid to check. There is something simultaneously thrilling and calming to hear the regular bubbles and gurgles as gas escapes the crock, through the water, a sure sign of fermentation in process.