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Fermented Whole Cabbage in Romanian Pickle Town Milișăuți

Fermented Whole Cabbage

The small town of Milișăuți is known as the “motherland” of sauerkraut in Romania

Located on the banks of Suceava River, in the historical region of Bucovina, Milișăuți is unique in Romania. This small town is famous, not for its tourist attractions, but for its townsfolk’s diligence. The people of Milișăuți are peaceful and hard-working, with moral values and respect for the law. Despite living in a town, agriculture is their main occupation.  But what makes them unique is the way they pickle anything: from cucumbers to green tomatoes, sauerkraut, and fermented whole cabbage.

People in this town have huge wooden barrels in the backyard. You would be amazed how much stuff can get in there. At full strength, one barrel can house up to 6000 pounds of pickles. For this reason, the town is also known as the “motherland” of sauerkraut. Every time we drove through this town, I wondered how do they manage to fill these large barrels.

Fermented whole cabbage in large wooden barrels

The tradition of preserving vegetables by fermentation has been passed down from father to son. In Romania, the method for making sauerkraut, or sour cabbage involves preparation through the Lacto-fermentation for several weeks of whole heads of cabbage, not separate leaves. It’s made this way so the leaves remain whole for wrapping the stuffed cabbage rolls, one of the Romanian’s favorite dishes during the wintertime. The pickled cabbage from Milișăuți has always been prized for its flavor.

„Pickles stored in wooden barrels have a distinct, better taste. The wood has an impact on the flavor”, explains Șorea Toader, a farmer who learned pickling from his father-in-law. He and his wife, Șorea Cristina, have continued this tradition to this day.

“Tons of sour cabbage were loaded onto trains and transported throughout the country. My father-in-law used to sell sour cabbage in Bucharest.”, he continues while he climbs up to the top of the barrel. I watch with amazement, eager to see what’s next.

“A barrel is 7 ft tall and is made by hand from oak wood. It takes about 3 tons of cabbage and 3 tons of saltwater to fill it up.” His older son joins in to help to load cabbage into the large barrels. It takes a couple of hours to finish loading.

Then the fermenting liquid is prepared: one ton of saline water in two tons of pure fountain water added manually, with a bucket. “I could make use of a pump, but it would get damaged by salt”, explains Mr. Șorea while spilling the salted water into the large container. „In the end, we put the cover on top.” By cover, he means a large round wooden top with a heavyweight on it. His wife climbs up to give a hand with placing the weights. In one week, the salt gets into the cabbage, causing it to soften and reduce in volume. The juice of the cabbage soon forms a brine. No vinegar or boiling is required.

When fermentation ceases, they transfer the sour cabbage in smaller barrels inside a storage room. The result is amazing. The leaves are so thin you can see through. It is crisp and crunchy, with a prominent sour flavor.

In the Romanian culture, sour cabbage is served with many meals. Not only is sour cabbage eaten as a side dish, but it is also used as an ingredient in a variety of dishes, like the mouth-watering cabbage rolls.

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