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“Quick, Nurse, Fetch Me The Sauerkraut!”

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“Quick, Nurse, Fetch Me The Sauerkraut!”

Not long ago, cabbage was seen as an almost worthless food, fit for consumption only by the poor. That wasn’t always the case, though. Once, this leafy vegetable was held in the highest esteem.

In fact, Ancient Greeks and Romans attributed almost magical healing powers to the cabbage, and believed it could cure just about any illness. None other than Hippocrates, the “Father of Medicine” from whom we got the “Hippocratic Oath,” swore by the merits of cabbage, and often prescribed the plant, boiled with salt, as a remedy for various afflictions.

Greek mathematician Pythagoras, best known as the father of the “Pythagorean Theorem” in geometry, composed entire books about the virtues of cabbage. An old anecdote relates that the philosopher Diogenes ate cabbage every day on the recommendation of Pythagoras, while Aristippus, another Greek philosopher, refused to allow cabbage in his kitchen. Diogenes lived to the ripe old age of 90, while Aristippus died when he was only 40. Coincidence? Maybe …

If so, though, the ancient Romans weren’t taking any chances. They used cabbage, both internally and externally, to treat various illnesses. Roman soldiers even applied cabbage leaves to their wounds.

Around that same time, the Egyptian pharaohs customarily ate large quantities of cabbage before a night of heavy drinking. They believed it would allow them to drink alcohol without feeling the effects. Perhaps this is why, to this day, many consider cabbage with vinegar a good hangover remedy.

Closer to our own times, British explorer Captain Cook — best known for making the first European contact with Newfoundland, Hawaii, and Eastern Australia — swore by the medicinal value of sauerkraut (cabbage pickled in brine). In 1769, his ship doctor used it for compresses on soldiers who were wounded during a severe storm, a move that has been credited with preventing gangrene.

Whether or not you believe in the healing properties of cabbage, this tasty and nutritious plant has plenty going for it. Raw cabbage can improve digestion and reduce constipation, protect against colon cancer, stimulate the immune system, kill harmful bacteria, soothe ulcers, and improve circulation. It’s also rich in vitamins C and E.

5 pounds cabbage
3 tablespoons sea salt

Chop or grate the cabbage, and place it in a large bowl, sprinkling salt on it as you go. When all cabbage is shredded, pack it tightly into a large ceramic crock or food grade plastic bucket. Cover the cabbage with a plate, or another flat-bottomed item that fits snugly inside the crock, and place a gallon jug filled with water on top. The weight will begin to press moisture out of the cabbage, which will mix with the salt to create a brine solution. Press down on the weight, to help force out additional moisture, and cover the crock with a clean towel. After about one day, the brine should be level with, or higher than the plate. If it isn’t, add enough salty water to cover the cabbage (one teaspoon of salt to a few cups of water). Leave the crock to ferment in a cool, dark place. Check the kraut once every couple of days. Skim away any mold that appears on the surface (don’t worry, this is normal and won’t affect your kraut, which is safe below the surface). Taste test after a few days. When the kraut is to your liking, you can either place it in a sealed container and refrigerate, or leave it in the crock to continue fermenting. If stored in a dark, cool place, fermenting sauerkraut can keep for a couple for months.

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If you notice a hole in the upper left-hand corner of your Farmers' Almanac, don't return it to the store! That hole isn't a defect; it's a part of history. Starting with the first edition of the Farmers' Almanac in 1818, readers used to nail holes into the corners to hang it up in their homes, barns, and outhouses (to provide both reading material and toilet paper). In 1919, the Almanac's publishers began pre-drilling holes in the corners to make it even easier for readers to keep all of that invaluable information (and paper) handy.

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