Grow your own
Steal the show and make sauerkraut
Everything in the Made in Zvizzchi project involves food and drink.
21 September 2013, the third day of the Moscow Biennale, the Zvizzchi villagers arrive laden with vegetables, apples and schnapps. Twelve of them tumble out of the mini-bus – after a four hour trip. Apparently, the four hours on the way back are passed amid singing and merriment. Just like old times, they tell me later. Though Autumn has already crept into the school garden and the vegetable plots, the villagers fill three tables with beetroot spread, carrots, conserved summer vegetables and other local fare. A fourth is reserved for drinks. Baskets filled with apples testify to a bumper crop.
Mid-October and the trees in Zvizzchi are almost bare. One night the temperature hits minus ten and puts paid to the few remaining leaves. I’m worried that the frost will kill off the cabbages and carrots in the school garden, but the teachers are unperturbed. “We should harvest this week”, they say. All the produce has to be stored safely before the snow arrives. The day before the harvest, Arkadiy Nesterovich drops by and talks to us about brassica for a whole hour. The younger children fidget but there’s no stopping them when it comes to guessing the types. They want to know all the names. The adults ask questions and talk for a long time on the subject. In Russian. So I get on with the job of taking photos.
The teachers, pupils and nursery kids collect the harvest in 25 minutes. We separate the white cabbage, carrots and beetroot and place them on sheets of corrugated cardboard.
The idea is to make sauerkraut in Sergey and Nathaliya’s café on Sunday. I need help. I never learned to make sauerkraut in my youth and no-one has shown me how in my adult life. I know lots about gardening. My mother had green fingers and we had a huge kitchen garden that fed the whole family all year round. Food was pickled, blanched and frozen. Stored for the winter in a silo or cellar. But never sauerkraut, because my mother hated it. I was a student before I discovered how good it tasted. Sauerkraut fresh from the vat in the health food store. Cheap and healthy. My German colleagues, Kathrin Böhm and Antje Schiffers, say that making sauerkraut is a lot of fun. In the autumn of 2012 they made buckets of it in Franken with international guests and women from Kathrin´s home village. All according to a secret recipe of Heidi Böhm, Kathrin’s mother. This recipe is shared generously with me and the procedure explained; I pack fennel seed, juniper berries and peppercorns, because I haven´t a clue what you can and can´t get in Zvizzchi. I´ll have to buy the wine there, although Franconian wine is actually the best. Antje catches a flight and joins us. I want to introduce her to the locals because she will be taking over from me. And anyway, I need her help with the sauerkraut. She brings some dill seed from Berlin. That seems to be the local favourite too, everyone turns up with freshly plucked home-grown dill.
We do six recipes that afternoon, learning from one another. I try to learn a Russian song about a potato harvester at the same time, but it´s a bit too ambitious for me. The chopping and kneading resurrects some interesting snippets of folklore. It is said in these parts that the consumption of cabbage gives you wonderful, shapely boobs. But there are a few here who know from experience that it doesn´t help at all.
So, by way of consolation, here´s the – no longer secret – recipe of Heidi Böhm:
- 10kg white cabbage
- 100g Salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 20g fennel seed
- 20g juniper berries
- 20g cumin seeds
- 200ml dry white wine
All six sauerkraut recipes will be published along with action photos in a Russian booklet. The project in the Russian village of Zvizzchi was one of the activities in the Netherlands-Russia Year (2013). Work has now been put on hold for the winter. In the coming years we will be making a product specially for the ‘Made in Zvizzchi’ shop. For the latest news visit www.internationalvillageshop.net