20 January 2012

More zoo pix, etc.

The weather isn't very conducive to photography right now. The gray wetness has returned, bring mild temperatures (low this morning just 8ºC / 46ºF) but very dim light. In January, there are two choices: gray and gloomy, or bright and frigid. You pays your money and you takes your choice, comme dirait l'autre.

This kind of weather does move me to cook, but my latest project was choucroute garnie — again. That's Alsatian-style sauerkraut served with boiled potatoes, smoke-cured meats, and sausages.

It's really too bad that the sauer- in -kraut sounds so much like the English word "sour" — it discourages English speakers from enjoying the sweet, mild, fermented cabbage that choucroute really is.

Anyway, I've posted about choucroute garnie so many times that I didn't think it useful to do so again. The sauer in the word must be related to the French saumure, which means "brine" and not vinegar. Sau- derives from sel or sal-, meaning salt.

It's the same prefix you see in the words saucisse (sausage) and saucisson (salami). Such meats, like sauerkraut, are cured in salt, not vinegar. Salt, unlike vinegar, washes away in the choucroute soaking and cooking process, leaving the fermented cabbage tender, savory, and sweet.

Looking at the dictionary, I just realized that the word sauce (same in French and English, with a different pronunciation of course) derives from the same root — salt. Think "salsa." Salt is the spice of life, I guess.

Sorry about this post where the text has nothing at all to do with the images. Some days are like that when you blog every day. You might have noticed something about me: I'm not a very disciplined blogger — or person.


  1. Sauerkraut is a German word. "Sauer" in Sauerkraut, does mean sour. I do not think French etymology should apply in this case.
    Sorry for being a smart ass :)

  2. Exactly, Jan. But sauer in German sounds like sour in English. Therefore the confusion for English speakers, who think sauerkraut must have vinegar in it and taste vinegary. Thanks for the comment.

  3. The animal pictures go well with sauerkraut. To be honest I've never eaten it as 'sour' has turned me off and the usual bucket loads that the white-ish stuff is sold from don't make it look too appetizing. But, in the interests of a New Year and all that, IF it appears as the plat du jour at our regular haunt then I'll give it a go.

  4. Good luck with it, Lesley. Sometimes it can be hard to overcome the idea that it won't be good.

    Jan, maybe I'm missing your point. Is sauerkraut served differently in Germany compared to the way it's served in Alsace and Lorraine? My experience of it comes from a year I spent in Metz in the old Lorraine province. What is the etymology or meaning of sauer in German?

  5. I love those photos!

    Ken, I actually think of you as a very self-disciplined person -- you seem to get so much done, and you plug away at things until you get them done, and you're very consistent with your blog :))

  6. Jan and Ken:
    Both of you are right. Wiktionary says choucroute is slightly sour, and Wikipedia says it is fermented in a brine [saumure].

    (Cuisine) Plat de choux coupés en fins rubans et légèrement acidulés par un commencement de fermentation [...]

    [...] chou coupé finement et soumis à lacto-fermentation dans une saumure.

    As Ken says choucroute is NOT sour, just because before cooking it for several hours, it has to be rinsed thoroughly several times under cold water to remove the brine and therefore that sour taste. In my experience in the U.S., people prepare choucroute straight from the can. I had it at American friends and it was really bad and sour! Being polite [hum!], I didn’t say anything but declined a second helping.

  7. What wonderful photos.
    My favourite is the one of the gorilla sat on his haunches, head slightly turned to the side.......wonder what he is thinking.

  8. Love these word discussions and thanks CHM for your input. I don't think I've ever had authentic sauerkraut . I need to plan a trip to Alsace someday.

    Ken, you have lots of discipline. You wouldn't be retired and living the life you do in France without discipline. Not to mention blogging for your friends and people who love travel, food and wine.

  9. I like the zoo pics. Who cares if they match the commentary?

  10. Recently, there had been an article on the internet regarding eating healthy and it was recommended to eat sauerkraut regularly! I happen to love it, perhaps because I had it growing up and maybe because I spent three years in Germany where it was the norm to get it on a plate when one ordered sausage.

    Your photos of the animals are exquisite; the animals are up close and personal so I want to visit the zoo and see for myself.

    As you can read from your other readers, none of us would consider you undisciplined. Sometimes, when I read both yours and Walt's blogs, I am inspired to put more on my to do list just so that if I was writing a blog I would have something more interesting to say about my daily living!

    Your both excellent photographers so I am eager to open up your emissions to see what is "on the plate today" regardless of the excellent text that accompanies those pics.

    Grey days can turn just about anyone into sole searching once in a while. Don't let it take away from your adventurous personality, Ken!

    And besides, you have a responsibility to continue your quest in assisting us in french and english (and sometimes german)word usage! I love it! Merci, encore.

    Mary in Oregon

  11. Ken

    To pick up on your query about the German word, "sauer" usually relates to acidity (and hence sourness) but for some reason "Sauerstoff" is the German word for oxygen, so there's something else going on semantically, probably related to the fermentation. There's obviously a common source for both "sauer" and "sour", but the simplest translation for "sauerkraut" is just "pickled cabbage" - but of course there are different ways of pickling (and spicing the pickles).

  12. Thanks Patrick. I probably made a leap in thinking the sau- in German sauer had to do with salt. But maybe not. Yes, vegetables can be pickled in salt, brine, or vinegar, I think. I'd call sauerkraut salt-cured or fermented. The fermentation does acidulate the brine and cabbage slightly -- lactic acid forms, I think -- but there's little or no vinegar involved.

    Okay, I just read this in Harold McGee's book On Food and Cooking: Science and Lore in the Kitchen:

    “Fermentation is one of the oldest and simplest means of preserving foods. I requires no particular kind of climate, no cooking, and so no expenditure of fuel: just a container, which can be a mere hole in the ground, and perhaps some salt or seawater. Olives and sauerkraut — fermented cabbage — are familiar examples of fermented fruits and vegetables. An overlapping category is the pickle, a food preserved by immersion in brine or a strong acid such as vinegar. Brines often encourage fermentation, and fermentation generates preservative acids, so the term “pickle” is applied to both fermented and unfermented preparations of cucumbers and other foods.”

    Sauerstoff, eh? Maybe we are all going around pickled in oxygen all the time. It sounds like oxidation was seen as a kind of pickling.

  13. Hi Ken & chm

    Sorry for replying late.

    I am not a Choucroute expert. I was just surprised about the exposed etymology of the word We agree on taste: a good Sauerkraut should be mild. On the German Wikipedia, they introduce the article on Sauerkraut, as it being white cabbage processed using lactic acid fermentation ("Milchsäuregärung"). May be the "sauer" applies more to the process used than the taste. Other comments also point in that direction.When you google up some info on that topic, many German ask in forums how come their Sauerkraut is so "Sauer". May be they named it after what it turns out to be, if you prepare it the wrong way, a bit like "crème brulée" :)

    PS: The "Sauerstoff" discussion is also interesting. "Sauerstoff" means something like acid matter/component. Actually, I was surprised to read that Oxygen does not mean anything else, thanks to a mistake Lavoisier made: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxygène

    Etymology can be a funny thing :)


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