SFC: The Deep Pickle, Part 2

              Well, my classes have dragged on, tests are taken, studies come to a close, finished a trip to Kentucky, the Food Trucks are starting to wind down for the season, and the cold, bitter threats of “before ‘Winter’” are hanging on my mind… but my Sauerkraut has finished its pickling!!

                Okay, so “pickling” isn’t really the proper term, as I came to learn when researching recipes for this fella. There are, of course, multiple “quick/easy” kraut recipes that involve actual pickling of the cabbage, but I just couldn’t help wanting to do the true, original method for this sour treat: Fermentation (… no, this has absolutely no tie in to my interest in alcohol… none at all…).


                This is my favorite site on the method in question, the author going a bit detailed into the process of how to start and control the “Wild Fermentation” (basically making use of the natural yeasts hanging in the air as opposed to introducing a produced, created, controlled product found on a supermarket shelf). If you decide to try making them yourself, it’s a great link to go to for checking up on the little details.


                Overall though, it’s a fairly simple process. We start with a tight, compact head of cabbage, white or red (the author likes to mix the two for a fun, pink-colored product) and slice or chop it up however you want. Can be thing strings, rough squares, shredded in a grater or torn apart with your hands… so long as it can be packed into a bowl later.


                I always like keeping these things thin, so Mandoline it is! Once shredded, mix the veggies with salt: kosher or sea salt works great. Avoid table salt, and though many recipes CALL for special Pink Pickling/Curing salt, it’s not a stringent requirement. What’s important is how much you get in; the main ratio is ABOUT 3 Tablespoons of rough salt to 5lbs of Cabbage (2 heads, ish). Though lead no worries in trying to measure about specific weights and TBs, the author reveals that it’s not too set, and actually changes depending on the season. In summer he’ll add some more, and in winter a little less (most likely due to fermentation speeds with temperature changes).


                From here come the additions! Any sort of herb, spice, aromatic, or veggie you want to customize your own Kraut mix! I kept things simple with a crushed clove of garlic and bay leaves, but one could shred some carrots or peppers, get in some coriander for the classic European flavors, or whatever else one thinks of.


                And that’s it. That’s all the ingredients we need for this. Just need to pack it (tight and HARD) into a clean, sanitized high-sided bowl. The author suggests a ceramic crock, but also any safe plastic bowl should work fine as well.


                Top the vegetables with a flat, firm covering, like a small plate or lid, and place a weight on top of that (I stuck with a bowl of water, though soup cans could work well too). The important thing is that one is sure ALL of this is clean and ideally sanitized; a little dip in screeching hot water a while beforehand should do the trick.


                Cover this with a fine cloth towel, or cheesecloth; making sure to keep out insects or solid matter while allowing yeast particles in.

                No matter what the season, one should start the first day in the warmest section of the house (not HOT), or even outside if the weather is nice enough. Keep this here for 24 hours, occasionally pushing down on the weight. By now, the salt has started to draw out the cabbage’s fluids, while also controlling the yeast’s fermentation once activated.


                After the first day, the ”Brine” SHOULD be covering the veggies in a thin layer at least; it’s hard to imagine once you start with the dry, crunchy bundle, but it will happen. If it doesn’t, could be due to an old cabbage, add some salted water to cover. From here, move to wherever you want so it’s out of the way, should be a stable temperature. Cooler basement temperatures aren’t required, but would work well if one wanted a long, slow fermentation.

                And now we wait. How long depends on kraut, temp, humidity, salt, and other such factors, but at least a week and up to 3 or more. All we have to do is check the stages of fermentation, maybe push the weight down now and then, and deal with “scum.” This is basically a combination of little particles that float up to the surface during the fermentation and possible light, yeasty molds that develop.


                It can look like this depending. Don’t worry if you see it, it’s absolutely safe (despite some smells), you just need to check every couple days and skim it off the top with a slotted spoon or something. It’s only if you start to see the blue or fuzzy mold when there’s a problem…

                But after enough time, it’s done and you’re ready to consume. If the moldy scum was pretty well present, I might suggest rinsing off the top layer of fermented cabbage before storing, otherwise we can eat directly from the bowl.


                A little sour, surprisingly crisp from the salty protection, and aromatized with whatever veggies one chose, this offers a high contract compared to the soft and pungent product found in the green bags and cans. I myself wonder how off I really am from the original recipe’s ideal, but I like the outcome! It went great on this Wild Rice Sausage Brat Sandwich (with Mustard! and yes that’s a pretzel bun… we had leftover).


                Before I finish, there’s one last step in the process for those looking to continue their Kraut-making sessions. After shredding and salting up your next batch of cabbage (I thought I’d see what happens if I used Napa/Chinese Cabbage, since I had nothing else to do with it), pour the already-fermented Kraut on top before pressing. This will hopefully help the new cabbage to begin a steady, controlled fermentation, while also melding the flavors somewhat. If continued for multiple years, the resulting continually-developed kraut should have a deep, complex subtle flavor to it.


                So whether one decides to start their own batch of the European Fermentation (or continue it… apparently I’ve found out there are a lot more people who make this than I thought) or not, I hope this recollection and recipe link helped to inform and inspire your insight (wooh, three i-words) to this product. As for me, I’m starting to think about more Napa Cabbage… I’ve been getting an urge to try making Kimchi… (look for a 3rd part to the Pickle Saga sometime in the coming months)

Ruhland’s Strudel Haus




Main Location: Markets, Fairs, etc

           Inspired to try and make it big at the State Fair, Tom Ruhland, who had been working with pastry at the time, first started to make apple strudel. Though his original plans at the yearly artery-clogger festival fell through, that didn’t stop him in getting behind the wheel to spread the caramelly delight. Now, after picking up a concession trailer in 2002, they can be found trucking around to various events and fairs throughout MN.


          As one can tell, Ruhland’s Strudel Haus specializes in, well, Strudal. Evolving from the original Caramel Apple, they now offer both Sweet and Savory versions, the latter including items such as Spinach-Artichoke, Chicken Marinara, and Brat n Saurkraut. Much like any other Fair-like Trailer, there’s also the generic selection of lemonade, floats, and other drinks.

          Ever growing, Ruhland’s has added various Farmer’s Markets to their venues; instead of the Truck, however, they bring a freezer filled with pre-formed, frozen logs of their various selections to bring home and cook yourself. This makes a fun opportunity for the customer, however it can be difficult differentiate it from the Truck when figuring out their schedule. When looking at their schedule via website, best to stick with the “Concession” for better luck.

         I also hear they have plans to get their Strudels into stores (think they already have a few).


Food: 6


           Let’s start with what I got; to me and my cousin’s extreme disappointment, the Caramel Apple was sold out at the time (you could see Tom working on a whole group of them in the background). So instead we got one of the seasonal specials, a “Triple Berry Cream-Cheese” for our sweet and a Bratwurst-Sauerkraut for the savory test. Let me just start off saying that the fillings were pretty darn tasty and satisfying, just like a good homemade pie.


           The pastry used was good; a bit disappointingly, they use the same kind for both sweet and savory, would have been nice to see an extra element of specialized dough. They also don’t actually make it themselves, but have it specially prepared by “Best Brands” to their specification; which is smart, considering the volume they need (these strudels are pretty big before cutting, and they do have farmers markets to sell to as well) and the difficulty any decent pastry dough can be.

           Despite its craft and tastiness, though, it isn’t real strudel dough; strudel dough is a special, delicate thing stretched over an entire table and carefully rolled into a single, almost braid-like bundle. The pastry here is cut into large rectangles, stuffed, and rolled over simply. I understand this is a difficult, delicate art, which is why I understand and don’t mind if restaurants get away with it; but when one has any business based purely around Strudel, think they may have to rethink their strategy.

           Now… there’s something in particular I REALLY want to say about the food, or at least about a certain item we got. Before I continue, as you can see from this picture, the edge of the order shelf is filled with fun, framed pictures of their menu items. I myself sorta like this, it allows one to see what they’re in store for without wondering if the display is tacky or not. Well, getting on with it, here’s the picture they use for the Brat n Krat:


           It comes time when they are about to garnish it, and ask me if I want the mustard on top or side. Of course, I love any good German flavors (why I ordered in first place), especially with a little Dijon or other stoneground mustard, which this picture quite clearly displays. So, of course I want it right on top, my lips already wet from my tongue in anticipation, and what do I get?


           A big, wet drizzle of cheap, generic, mass-produced yellow crap. Okay, that’s a bit harsh, I don’t mind yellow mustard really, it’s nice in the right situations. But when you have a picture that clearly shows the use of a certain kind of product, then one either uses that, something better, or apologize and serve with nothing at all. Not the most generic thing one can find; which, sadly, doesn’t seem to just ring true for the Brat dish, following this with a big dollop of pasty hummus on top of their Artichoke-Spinach. Not even home-made, I think it was Saba… or some other generic. Ice cream, as one would expect of a truck that feels like it belongs at the Fair, is of similar quality, though at least it’s always good with warm chunks of pastry and pie filling.


Holdability: 6

           Cut into a notable square and placed in a basket with whatever toppings match, this is already not a handheld food option. Add that up to a wrap of pastry that, though flaking nice on top, has a bottom layer that is quite plastic fork-resistant, making for a bit of an annoying struggle. Other than that, it’s not too difficult to walk around with it and stay clean.

Price: 7

            Like this score, all strudels are $7 even; various drinks and such reminiscent also reminiscent to the Fair in price too!

Speed: 3

            This point is, simply and purely, very frustrating. Before I continue, let me say that the wait isn’t actually any longer than the usual wait one finds at a regular truck, such as Vellee or MO. However, considering the fact that ALL they have to do is cut off a piece of the strudel, all the available ones of which are ready to go and kept warm, and then simply top it with whatever (a drizzle of mustard, dollops of hummus or marinara, scoop of ice cream, etc), the few minutes spent just leisurely and casually going about this is unacceptable. Especially when there was a line forming behind me, and no one took another order the entire time, that is until there was trouble with my credit card and the front person passed it onto Tom in the back (finally freeing her hands). And no, this experience wasn’t just limited to me; I had to spend a few minutes behind two women myself, and I think that was midway through the whole thing.

           It’s just unacceptable.

The TOE: 5

           It feels like what it is: a stand that tried out for the State Fair but ended up working the streets. At the very least they retain that fun feeling of specialty, that one goes here for one thing and one thing only (and possibly something to drink), and it’s not something one naturally finds everywhere, increasing the specialty. However, with the design, menu, intent, etc, one wonders if they can’t just go to the fair this year and find some easy substitute.

          Maybe if they fixed the false advertising issue of their pictures and actually work on not taking their sweet time on the order, the other stuff might not matter so much.

                      Tally: 27/50



Final Thoughts

            If you want a strudel, find them at a market where you can just buy a big frozen one to bring home. Don’t have to wait in line annoyingly, can get a lot more for what’s probably a better price, and can top it with whatever you want (like really GOOD ice cream).

            As far as strudels to choose, definitely go for the Caramel Apple; we weren’t able to try it, but it’s the oldest and has the most practice and reputation in it, so I’m positive it’s good. Plus, a fun little substitute for apple pie at home. Though, all of the sweet strudels are of similar deliciousness, them using quality local ingredients in their fillings. As for the savory, the only one that seems worthy is the Brat n Kraut; the other two are probably decent too, but in a generic fashion. At least the Brat really brings in all that rich, sour German flavors that go so well with the pastry dough (like a good meat pie… which reminds me, all meat pies need sauerkraut from now on).

            If one feels they have to visit the stand, all right; I suggest doing it when there’s not too much of a line (unless they fix their speed issue). Though, if you’re lucky, there’s probably better and more suitable dessert trucks around.