Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Boy and his Cabbage




As we weaved through the jungle that is the HEB produce section, I grab a beautiful, green-leafed vegetable.  I whirl to quiz my son.

"What is this?"

I've never questioned him before on this particular plant, nor really explained to him what it is.  My assumption is he will misidentify it as lettuce. He stares, and take a moment.  I give him a hint.

"We make something sour with it."

His eye light up with the answer.

"Cabbage!" he says.

I will admit, I didn't think he would get it right, it goes to show little brains are sponges.  I must be careful not to speak my Xbox password out loud.

Cabbage.  One of the many foes of my taste buds as a young man.  As an adult, I love it.  Not boiled, but raw or fermented.  I've been making sauerkraut for about a year now.  And somehow along the way, my son has developed a taste for it.  So much in fact, he lets me know when we need to make more.  So this has become a way for he and I to bond: Food and Science.

This past week we began a new batch.  Taking one head of cabbage, I sliced it using my superb (I need a mandolin) knife skills.  I measured the salt ~1 1/2 tablespoons and mixed with the cabbage in a large bowl.  I turn it over to the boy to smash, turn, squeeze and bash until he is tired.  We let it set for a bit, and maybe give it a few more squeezes.  Then we, or sometimes just me, as he abandons me, pack the cabbage into a large mason jar and place something into the jar to keep the cabbage submerged.

It's been a little over a week and we are having hotdogs. Mmmmm, hotdogs and kraut! Yes, Please!  So, I pull out this beautiful mason jar of goodness.  I smell it....smells good but not ready.  But ready enough to eat a little.....shhhh.  The boy ask for some as well, so I place a spoonful on his plate.  He takes a bite.

"How is it?" I ask.

"It's good, but not ready.  Needs more time in the salt." he says confidently.

His mother looks to me seeing a huge Cheshire Cat grin on my face.  The pride obviously shows in my face.  I am a proud Papa. Then the science happened.  In the discussion that followed, we were talking about how much longer it needed to sit.

"Do you know why  it is changing?" I asked.

My wife chimed in with an answer and so did the boy.  It was fun to see them work through the logic in their heads.  As a scientist, I knew they were working through the data and observations, trying to determine the exact ingredient or factor that was causing the change.  Maybe she didn't recognize it at the time, but she modeled problem very well by giving her answer and her reason why she thought it was right.  They arrived at the answer: salt.  Salt had changed the environment to only allow certain bacteria to grow, allowing fermentation to occur.

"Good bacteria, right" the boy asked.

"Yes, the good ones." I replied.

He looked at the jar again, and then took another bite of his hotdog.  I hope in that moment he was filing that knowledge away.  And if I can keep adding bits of information, like science (and Star Wars)  to his head, I think I will have done my job as a father.  And it really can that easy to teach science to a 6 year old, for this round all I needed was a head of cabbage.






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