Chef Jay Lovell of Lovell's of Lake Forest makes a corned beef reuben with his own sauerkraut. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
(From Lovell’s of Lake Forest chef/owner Jay Lovell)
5 pounds fresh cabbage3 tablespoons kosher salt
Cut cabbage in half. Remove core with knife, and slice each half into ribbons about a nickel in width. Place cabbage into bowl by layers, sprinkling salt between each layer. Toss cabbage and salt.
Put cabbage into crock. Using the end of a wooden rolling pin, mash down cabbage, packing it as tightly as possible.
Cover cabbage with clean, 24" x 24" cheese cloth, and tuck in the edges. Cover cabbage with a plate or wooden lid that just fits inside the container so cabbage is not exposed to the air.
Sanitize a 46-ounce mayonnaise glass jar and its lid inside and out. Fill with boiled water that has been cooled. Screw on the top and place the jar on top of the plate. (This acts as a clean weight that keeps the cabbage submerged in the brine.)
Cover top of crock with clean, heavy cloth to keep foreign objects out. Place crock at room temperature (68-72 degrees). Formation of bubbles indicates fermentation is taking place.
About one week into fermentation process, remove jar and carefully remove the plate and cheese cloth. Skim the top to remove mold. Replace with a new cheese cloth, then the plate and place jar back on plate and recover crock with cloth.
Three weeks into fermentation, remove sauerkraut from crock and place it with juice into sterilized glass jars filled to the top and seal tightly. Store refrigerated for up to one month.
Updated: February 10, 2012 1:59PM
It’s party time in Punxsutawney.
On Feb. 2, Phil, the world’s most beloved groundhog, will let us know the prognosis for spring. If he sees his shadow when he ventures out of his hibernation burrow for the day, it’s cold and snow for six more weeks. If he doesn’t see it and stays to party, spring, everyone hopes, comes sooner.
But no matter what Phil does, the folks of Punxsutawney, Pa. — and their tens of thousands of guests — will raise a glass to the prophetic critter.
The Punxsutawney Area School District takes the day off, and this year students even get a bonus Friday because Phil’s famed appearance falls on a Thursday.
To celebrate closer to home, head out to Woodstock, site of the classic Bill Murray comedy, “Groundhog Day,” through Feb. 4 for a variety of events, including the annual Groundhog Prognostication at 7 a.m. Feb. 7. See the community’s calendar at www.woodstock-il.com for a complete schedule.
And out in Punxy, as with any festivity, food is a focal point. The bash there will abound in eats inspired by the region’s rich-as-sauerbraten German roots.
As far back as 1841, German settlers in and around Punxsutawney and Gobbler’s Knob, the tiny hamlet two miles away where Phil actually lives, dedicated Feb. 2 to Groundhog Day.
The day is actually “Candlemas,” a religious holiday observant of the presentation of Jesus Christ at the temple.
Churches and municipal buildings in and around Punxsutawney will host banquet-sized breakfasts to herald Phil’s wake-up call. But the most difficult seats to attain will be at tables in Amish restaurants that dot the area, pulling off the phenomenal challenge of serving lunch and breakfast to hundreds without the luxury of electricity.
You won’t find a website or Yelp post for Esther’s, a kerosene lamplight spot about two miles outside Punxy. But you likely will find such regional staples as chicken and dumplings, schnitzel, pork with sauerkraut or Amish chicken soup. Shoofly pies will undoubtedly be on the dessert menu, as well as groundhog cookies. The gingerbread treats are shaped like a groundhog. The official recipe was created by Elaine Light, the noted author of a series of Groundhog Day cookbooks and recipes, including one eyebrow-raiser for cooked groundhog.
Martha Rupert, a chef instructor at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Academy of Culinary Arts in Punxsutawney, will be eating at home in Punxsutawney with a “house full of company” and her husband Randy Rupert, a chain saw artist known for his “Hog in the Log” carvings of Phil.
Eat like Phil
If she were going to plan a menu for Phil’s day, Rupert would design it around local foods and regional favorites, such as spiced apples, roasted Amish chicken and hearty casseroles.
“Phil is an herbivore,” she emphasized “so I would make salads with spring greens and roasted root vegetables like carrots, parsnips or beets.”
But you won’t need to go all the way to Pennsylvania for foods famous in Phil’s region. Right here on the North Shore, at Lovell’s of Lake Forest, sauerkraut will be on the menu, as it is every day. Chef/owner Jay Lovell pairs it with braised corned beef to make his Reuben Sandwich.
“Sauerkraut is really easy to make,” Lovell said. “It’s just cabbage and salt. As the salt draws out the moisture from the cabbage, natural brine is created.”
Plan ahead: Fermentation requires four weeks. Lovell recommended packing the cabbage and salt as tightly as possible, even pounding it down to pack it, at room temperature, 68-72 degrees. “That’s the best temperature for fermenting cabbage,” he said.
Cover the cabbage with cheese cloth, and keep it submerged under the brine to prevent bacteria growth. “If the cabbage is exposed to air, scum will grow on it,” Lovell said.
Lovell’s sauerkraut directions are good, but the question remains: Would Phil, the beloved rodent at the center of Punxsutawney’s perennial spring dance, eat it?
“I have no idea,” Lovell said. “But I’d be willing to talk to him.”