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.
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”.
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
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.