Spelling is not easy for me. I don’t like the word sauerkraut. If “au” sounds like “ou” at the end of the word, why not the beginning too? Why the extra “e”? We borrow too many words. We should make up our own name for this delicious cabbage treat. How about “liberty cabbage.”

That aside, I love the stuff and grew some extra cabbage this year so I could make a big batch. So a few days ago I made like a famished zombie and harvested three heads…. of cabbage.

The disembodied hand is for perspective. Not that you know how big my hands are. I could be the size of Andre the Giant.

Before refrigeration caught on, foods like liberty cabbage were common everywhere. Preserving foods in a high acid bath was a good way to keep vegetables edible when they weren’t growing in the fields.

We eat the liberty cabbage because it’s delicious, full of vitamin C and generally good for what ails ‘ya. We’re able to do this because bacteria ferment the cabbage for us. Usually when I think of fermenation I think of yeast and alcohol, but this is a slightly different form of fermentation.

All organisms need energy in the form of Adenosine Tri-phosphate (ATP). The most basic way to make ATP is through glycolysis — the conversion of the energy locked in glucose to ATP and pyruvate. In this process another molecule, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), is reduced to NADH. Bacteria do this, plants do this and so do you. Yes you.

In organisms that use oxygen, much more ATP is made using respiration (in this process the NADH is oxidized to NAD+). When deprived of oxygen the cells still have to make more NAD+ so that glycolysis can continue; otherwise it’ll run out of energy and die. To avoid cell death, the cells began making NAD+ through fermentation. This happens if you exercise to the point that your cells can’t get enough oxygen. The cells start making lactic acid by converting pyruvate and NADH (from glycolysis) to lactate and NAD+. This allows them to continue making ATP. In our cells this causes pain.

Many bacteria do this as a matter of course because they cannot respire. It’s called facultative fermentation. Presumably this is some sort of dig on members of faculties who talk too much and use up all the oxygen in a room.

In any case, lactic acid fermentation is what makes liberty cabbage. One of the central mysteries of life: lactic acid fermentation in your cells = bad, lactic acid fermentation in cabbage = delicious. Essentially it’s like real estate “location, location, location.”

By lowering the pH of the liberty cabbage, the bacteria ensure that bacteria from the bad side of the tracks (Clostridium botulinum) can’t grow. Very nice.

All we need to do is give the good guys a little salt.

So I chopped the cabbage:

I weighed it (just about 10 pounds total), added the salt and weighted the top down with a plate and some bags full of salt water.

In two weeks if the bacteria cooperate and it doesn’t get too hot (sort of like “god willing and the creeks don’t rise), I should have some delicious liberty cabbage.

Unfortunately, no one in my house will eat it except me. The boss says something like: “you’re asking me to eat cabbage that has been sitting in a bucket for two weeks with bacteria.” I guess when you put it like that it doesn’t sound so good.