Firecracker and Cabbage

I knew little about Andrea Chesman before the 2013 NOFA-VT Winter Conference. After enjoying her lecture at the Fermenting the Harvest intensive I can give this short description: Andrea Chesman is a firecracker and she makes the best kimchee I’ve ever tasted. Chesman, author of several cookbooks, presented a demo on sauerkraut preparation at the 2013 NOFA-VT Winter Conference. She candidly spoke with the audience, serving up tips and stories of her early days in Vermont all while nonchalantly slicing a head of green cabbage on a mandolin. We watched with baited breath as if she were walking a tight rope. The tips were useful (use sanitizing powder instead of boiling water to limit jar breakage but the stories were fantastic. While the air in the auditorium filled with the scent of freshly sliced cabbage Chesman transported us to a time when she and the other “hippies” were encroaching on the old timer’s Vermont farmland. She spoke of bad batches of pickles, awful crop harvests and the helpful hints that the farmers provided that she still uses to this day. While fermentation is a delicious and healthy way to preserve food it is clear that traditional pickling is still near and dear to Chesman(and most other Vermonters as well). By the end of her stories the cabbage had been sliced, seasoned, and stuffed into a half gallon mason jar, sauerkraut could be enjoyed in a few days or weeks depending on temperature. I must say she made the whole process seem effortless. While Chesman took questions from the audience to wrap up her presentation, she began to scoop up little bowls of brightly colored kimchee she had made earlier that week. As I made my way up to taste my sample I wasn’t exactly excited. The Korean condiment has never been my favorite; it always feels a little slimy and the swaths of cabbage too large and soft to enjoy. This was not the case with what Chesman had presented to me. The cabbage and carrots were crisp and tender, briny and bright, spicy and sweet, they were delicious. I decided to try jarred kimchee from the store again just to make sure I had been mistaken all along. I wasn’t, it was the soft slimy cabbage I had always had before. So kimchee like so many other things is better made with great local ingredients in your own kitchen. I’ll be looking for Chesman’s latest book The Pickled Pantry for that kimchee recipe. Guest blogger: Tucker Wright