“Sour Crout” or Pickled Cabbage

“Sour Crout” or Pickled Cabbage

Distaff Days Outake

18th Century "Sour Crout" or Pickled Cabbage

In German Kraut is the word that describes the stem and leaves of a plant or used to help describer herbs. Most Americans know it as a description for cabbage that has been made into sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is cabbage that has been put in a brine and preserved.

Cabbage was a common food throughout the colonies. It was preserved by thinly slicing the cabbage and then putting it in saltwater, vinegar or a combination of both. Other herbs and spices could be added for flavor.

Every Woman Her Own House-keeper Or, The Ladies' Library EWHOH 18th century John Perkins

There are many mentions of cabbage being preserved using vinegar or salt and vinegar in 18th century cookbooks. Although this is not sauerkraut in the purest sense it was a common British and American form of preserving cabbage, and was referred to as “crout”.

The Whole Duty of a Woman, Or, An Infallible Guide to the Fair Sex by T Reed. 1737

"My good republicans wanted everything in the English style; our great sauerkraut dressed in the prussian style, they all wanted to throw it out of the window. Nevertheless, by force of proving by Goddams that my cookery was the best, I overcame the prejudices."
Friedrich Wilhelm Steuben
Major General of the Continental Army

Sauerkraut was generally stored in barrels. 

Pickled cabbage and sauerkraut were found throughout the world thanks to cabbage’s ability prevent scurvy. Scurvy was a very big problem for sailors. It was caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet. It was also found among soldiers. The most striking description I have seen was that of a chaplain explaining what he had seen man after man die of on a long sea voyage.

“those affected have skin as black as ink, ulcers, difficult respiration, rictus of the limbs, teeth falling out and, perhaps most revolting of all, a strange plethora of gum tissue sprouting out of the mouth, which immediately rotted and lent the victim’s breath an abominable odor.”

At the time they did not know that a lack of vitamin C was the cause of scurvy. They had a very different understanding of health and medicine. it was not until Captain Cook’s voyage to the South Pacific in 1768 that the British were sure preserved cabbage was a way to prevent scurvy. One of the items brought with Cook on his famous voyage was 7,860 pounds of Sauerkraut. I have a clipping with a better description of their use of the Sauerkraut attached here. It is from the Leeds Intelligencer from March 18, 1777.

There were several instances of making political comments lightly masked with references to the Kraut. Above  is a clipping from the Public Advertiser, an English Paper, 20 March 1777, it mentions General Washington.

Some Fun Citations

Century News


4 Oct. 1775 Public Advertiser

20 March 1777 Leeds Intelligencer

18 March 1777 Leeds Intelligencer


Head Quarters, Boston, 27th Feby 1776
Sower Crout will be deliver’d to the Troops at the rate of 1/2 pound a man pr Week. The Commanding Officers to deliver it to the Officers of their Corps, in such Quantitys as they shall think proper. It is recommended that the Soldiers shou’d eat the Sower Crout Sliced, with Vinegar.”

General William Howe

Sauerkraut was not only used in the home. The British adopted it as a standard issue item for their Army as well as their Navy. 

George Washington gave orders for it to be issued to American troops,

Food preservation was a necessity. However with the invention of modern refrigeration it is less and less necessary. However, whether in the 18th century or in modern times sauerkraut is on the menu. 

Whether in the 18th century or in modern times sauerkraut is on the menu. 

More Mentions of Sauerkraut

  • The allowance of sauerkraut in Howe's army in 1776 was 1/4 lb. per man per diem. Report on Army Extras, 1778. Cf. T. 64:103, Phillips to Day, 6 Sept. 1777; ibid., 64:103, Mure, Son, & Atkinson to Howe, 14 Sept. 1776; T. 29:45, p. 259.
  • Spoiled sauerkraut in the southern heat. T. 64:120, Paumier to Robinson, 20 June, 7 Aug. 1779.
  • Thanks to Steve Rayner for the following mentions of sauerkraut.
  • Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, 23rd (Royal Welch Fusiliers) Regiment of Foot. “28th Decr. [1777, Newport, Rhode Island.]... A puncheon of Sour Kraut has been ordered to be delivered weekly to each Corps. The troops are very fond of it.” Mackenzie, p.227
  • General Orders. “Head Quarters, Philadelphia, 21st. March, 1778. “Each Battalion or Corps may have a Butt of Sour Crout by applying to the Commissary Store.” Kemble, p. 559-60.
  • Kemble, Stephen; “Journals of Lieutenant-Colonel Stephen Kemble - Order Books of Lieutenant - Colonel Stephen Kemble, Adjutant General and Deputy Adjutant General to the British Forces in America, 1775 - 1778.” Collections of the New York Historical Society for 1883. New York. The New York Historical Society, 1884. Reprint, Gregg Press, Boston, 1972.
  • Mackenzie, Frederick, “The Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of his Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fuziliers During the Years 1775 - 1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York.” 2 vols. Cambridge MA; Harvard University Press, 1930. reprint The New York Times and Arno Press, NY 1969

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