Autumn is the time for harvesting cabbages. Not only do they roll off the land in large quantities, which can be seen in the many offers at greengrocers and supermarkets, but the vegetable garden is also generous with cabbages. At least, it is with me.
Late September, early October, a big bin of cabbages comes into the kitchen almost every day. Green-, white-, red-, oxheart-, Savoy-, lacinato cabbage, you name it. There’s so much that it can’t be consumed right away. Thus, preserving is the solution. But how do you do that? With the following general information and some tips for each type of cabbage, you too can get through the winter with a deliciously varied supply of cabbage.
Freezing, wecking or pickling and fermenting cabbages
Of course, cabbages are also the tastiest when they come fresh from the land and can be processed and eaten right away. For example, a cauliflower harvested in the afternoon and on your plate in the evening doesn’t need much processing, it’s so full of flavor and such a fresh homegrown cabbage. Boiled or roasted as a whole cauliflower from the oven, I’ll be there.
But when the harvest is greater than the appetite and number of mouths to feed, it’s nice if you can store the cabbages well and flavorfully. Most cabbages are excellent for freezing, even cauliflower. The texture does usually change slightly – the cabbages become a bit weaker – but if you’re incorporating them into soups or stews, it doesn’t matter.
The time-honored wecking process works well for all cabbages. The procedure is always basically the same: blanch the cabbage for a few minutes. Fill a wecking jar with the cabbage and top off with boiled and possibly slightly salted water and let the closed jars vacuum in a special wecking jar or in an ordinary pan with water around the boiling point in about an hour.
Most cabbages also do well pickled or fermented. Think sweet and sour cauliflower florets or sauerkraut. Again, the basics are always similar. Pickling is done in a mixture of vinegar, sugar and some salt and fermenting is done by sprinkling the cabbage with salt, misting it to release the moisture and then being patient for some time to let the fermentation process do its work.
I’ll briefly outline the best options for each cabbage below and also list my favorite storage method. And whatever you end up doing, it’s a treat to start winter with a full freezer and a pantry full of jars of cabbages, home harvested or otherwise.
Although the past few years have shown that it is quite difficult to grow nice mature cauliflowers on the vegetable garden ourselves, this year we had a nice harvest. Since the cabbages could all be processed, I took advantage of the abundance of supply at the farmland stores in my area for winter stock.
Cauliflower can easily be well preserved through wecking. The taste remains fine and the structure is also preserved. The stumps and other pieces that remain are made into soup. That too goes into a wecking jar. I never add cream to soup for the ‘wecking’. I season the soup highly and don’t add any cream until I’m about to use the soup.
Sweet and sour cauliflower (recipe)
However, I find that cauliflower from a jar tastes best when it has matured for some time into spicy sweet and sour florets. For about 800 grams of cauliflower florets (enough for two or three pots of half a liter), I use about 300 ml of vinegar, 200 ml of water, 150 grams of (cane) sugar, turmeric, curry, ginger and possibly a red pepper for some extra spice.
- Blanch the florets for 3 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water.
- Put them in the well-sterilized jars with a red pepper or a cinnamon stick.
- Heat vinegar, water and sugar until sugar is dissolved, add spices and bring mixture to a boil.
- Pour the hot liquid over the florets so that they are all covered, close the jar and turn it upside down for a moment. If you turn the jars upside down they will create a vacuum which will increase the storage time. After a week or two the pickled cauliflower is ready to be enjoyed as a sweet and sour accompaniment to oriental dishes or simply as an appetizer.
Storing red cabbage
The good old red cabbage has lost some popularity in recent years, but it is and always will be as versatile as the white cabbage and can be processed in similar ways.
Sliced and blanched red cabbage freezes well, but actually I think that’s a waste. The structure of the cabbage gets a lot weaker anyway. Besides, a nice red cabbage can be kept for four to six weeks in a cool place outside the fridge. Such fresh red cabbage is easy to process into a cabbage salad or deliciously traditional boiled or stewed cabbage.
Also, red cabbage ferments excellently into ‘red’ sauerkraut’ (for the sauerkraut recipe, see the article on fermentation), although some people find the intense reddish-purple color does not match the sensation of sauerkraut. Let’s just call it conditioning, because the flavor is no less.
Old Fashioned Braised
My favorite red cabbage dish is quite old-fashioned, but the “upgrade” makes it a fantastic festive dish that, with a nice puree of, say, potato and parsnip, will do well at an autumnal dinner party with friends.
- Take a medium-sized red cabbage and cut it into thin strips. Cut a large onion into half strips and gently fry the cabbage and onion in some margarine or sunflower oil.
- Add five tablespoons of brown sugar and after about 10 minutes, pour 200 ml of red port and 100 ml of red vegan wine over the cabbage and add some lemon juice, a few tablespoons of red balsamic vinegar and some apple cider vinegar.
- Simmer for an hour (if too dry, add some more wine, port or water) and then add three firm sweet and sour apples cut into small pieces. Simmer for another half hour until the cabbage is tender.
- Season with salt and pepper. The cabbage can be eaten immediately, but it is tastier to make it a day in advance and reheat it the next day.
The leftover stewed cabbage (and you can bet I make way more than I need) goes into a wecking jar with enough stewing liquid. After half an hour of wecking at about a hundred degrees, the cabbage is sterilized and vacuum trapped and you can enjoy such a jar from your own supply all winter long.
Storing oxheart and white cabbage
Oxheart cabbage and white cabbage are two different cabbages, but they are related. Although the oxheart cabbage is somewhat thinner, lighter and less pronounced in flavor than the white cabbage, they are interchangeable in many cases.
For example, I reprocessed the abundance of oxheart cabbage and white cabbage into sauerkraut. I have a separate barrel of sauerkraut made from white cabbage and a barrel of sauerkraut made from oxheart cabbage. The oxheart cabbage barrel goes empty first because the cabbage does get a little weaker over time than the white cabbage fermented into sauerkraut, the last of which I only recently processed from last year’s stock.
Making Atjar (recipe)
At least as popular as the sauerkraut from my own barrel is my homemade atjar which, once in a sealed jar, can be kept for at least six months (the stock has not yet lasted any longer).
- Take about 500 grams of white cabbage or oxheart cabbage cut into thin strands, a large onion cut into thin half rings and about 100 grams of carrots cut into julienne.
- Heat 300 ml vinegar, 150 grams water, 75 to 100 grams sugar and about two teaspoons turmeric. When it boils, add the vegetables and blanch for 2 minutes. Drain and collect the liquid. Let the vegetables and liquid cool separately to room temperature.
- Put the vegetables in the sterilized jars and fill with the liquid. Seal the jar tightly and wait. The atjar is edible the same day, but will only get tastier after a few days.
Chinese cabbage storage
The sweet crunch of raw Chinese cabbage makes this vegetable a true snack in the kitchen garden. As soon as the cabbage forms, it’s hard to stay away from the leaves and pick a single leaf to eat just like that. Because it might come close to that crunchy sensation, Korean kimchi made from Chinese cabbage is my favorite.
You can freeze and weck the cabbage well, but this lightly fermented cabbage in a bath of spiciness also makes the cabbage long-lasting and transforms it into at least as much of a snack as the raw cabbage leaves.
Despite videos featuring Korean grandmothers testifying to a laborious process, there is also a quick version that produces delicious results.
- To do this, cut a Chinese cabbage into 3 by 8 cm pieces (it doesn’t have to be very precise).
- Bring over a liter of water to a boil and dissolve 75 grams of salt in it. Pour this over the cabbage and leave to stand for at least half an hour.
- Meanwhile, mash five firm cloves of garlic, 5 cm of fresh ginger and 75 ml of vinegar. Add two tablespoons of sugar, two tablespoons of sesame seeds, two tablespoons of gochugaru (Korean coarsely ground chili powder), well replaced by two tablespoons of paprika, and two tablespoons of sriracha sauce or a (vegan) sambal oelek.
- Rinse the cabbage under the cold tap and mix with the ‘marinade’. Put everything in one or more jars and seal tightly. The cabbage becomes tangy fresh mildly acidic and remains good for quite a long time due to the fermentation process.
Preserving green and Savoy cabbage
Green and savoy cabbage also lend themselves very well to kimchi. It remains a bit stiffer, crunchier, but that can be solved with blanching a bit longer and eventually leaving the pot untouched a bit longer.
But first, let’s resolve the eternal question: what is the difference between green and savoy cabbage? The simplest answer is that there is no difference. The well-known green cabbage is often called savoy cabbage, and that’s true. It is a green savoy cabbage. There is also a yellow savoy cabbage. This one has slightly less bobbly leaves and the color is light yellow to blue-green. The head is denser and the cabbage is often much larger than the green cabbage. Also, the largest outer leaves are softer, especially after blanching, which makes this yellow savoy cabbage perfect for the so-called stuffed cabbage rolls, which, depending on the filling, are excellent for immediate freezing.
Braised cabbage with chestnuts
The green or savoy cabbage can be frozen just like the other cabbages. The fact that the cabbage loses some firmness is not a problem in this case, because I like it when it is a bit softer. My favorite green or savoy cabbage recipe (the inspiration for which comes from Petra Casparek’s book “Inmaken & fermenteren”) includes a well done braised cabbage.
- Sauté the sliced cabbage briefly in some oil or vegan butter, then braise for about twenty minutes in a mixture of half white wine, half vegetable stock.
- Add lightly sautéed red onion, a scoop of sugar, some fresh thyme, some lemon juice, possibly some cayenne pepper for a little spice, sliced and sautéed mushrooms or ceps, and cooked and halved sweet chestnuts (these are readily available vacuum-packed online) and braise for another 15 minutes.
- You can now put the cabbage in jars and soak for three quarters of an hour to enjoy it for the rest of the winter. If you use sun jar, warm it up a bit and add some cream if necessary. Delicious with a nice coarse mashed potato with parsley and chives or lightly spiced rice.
Tip: cook chestnuts yourself – buy vacuum packed – buy chestnuts in a jar
If there’s one cabbage I prefer to freeze, it’s kale. I wash the leaves, unzip them from the thick veins and, with care, cut and chop the kale into very small pieces. This goes raw per 300 grams in a freezer bag that I suck as vacuum as possible with a straw.
Because I usually use kale in a traditional way in a stew (with a big spoonful of curry masala and a ditto amount of Zaanse or Dion mustard) it doesn’t matter that the cabbage is softer and weaker after thawing. Although it must be said that this cabbage can also survive outside for a long time and is not afraid of a little frost. So you can also just leave the cabbage in the vegetable garden and always break off the lower leaves for use.
Lacinato cabbage storage
The same goes for its still lesser known ‘Italian’ brother, the beautiful lacinato cabbage or cavolo nero. The plant grows with long slender leaves like a palmtree and is truly an ornament to the garden in winter time between the kale and the last Brussels sprouts.
This cabbage is the main ingredient of Ribollita, the traditional hearty Tuscan vegetable soup with beans, carrots and potato in the basic recipe. Of course, this soup is also excellent for freezing or wecking.
- Pan dish with potato, mushrooms and palm cabbage (recipe)
Storing Brussels sprouts
Small but beautiful and yet truly related to cabbages. After all, every Brussels sprout is a cabbage in miniature. Now, in early October, they are not yet fully grown in the vegetable garden (they are late this year), but Brussels sprouts can take some frost as well.
As long as the weather is not too changeable, they grow quietly. But do buy a supply when they are on sale. When blanched, they are easy to freeze and to weck. Although I am most looking forward to the pot of fermented Brussels sprouts.
- For a one-liter pot, you’ll need a little less than a pound of Brussels sprouts. I cut the Brussels sprouts into ½-inch slices. Put them in the pot with some dried thyme or oregano in between.
- Dissolve about 20 grams of salt in 700 ml of cold water and pour it over the sprouts until they are submerged.
- Leave the jar at room temperature for four to six weeks and then taste to see if the sprouts are nice and mildly sour. A delicious flavor enhancer with a grilled portobello, for example.
Reward of preserving cabbage
All in all, it’s a bit of work to freeze, pickle and transform all the cabbage into storable dishes, but the reward is a full pantry and freezer of healthy cabbage and cabbage dishes with a wide variety of flavors. So yeah, let that cold dark winter roll in.
Do you store cabbage, and if so, what are your favorite ways? Which cabbage are you most fond of? Let us know in a comment at the bottom of this page.