In the mountainous areas of eastern Styria cabbage was once a staple food. It was an important vegetable in the diet as it could be preserved for long periods, and was an important resource of vitamins in a climate that didn’t allow for the cultivation of many types of fruits and vegetables.
In addition to the well-known sauerkraut (produced throughout Germany and Austria), this area has a second cabbage product called grubenkraut. To make grubenkraut, whole cabbages are preserved in pits, without the use of salt.
The largest and most mature cabbages were chosen for sauerkraut, while the smaller heads of cabbage were reserved for the pits. Once produced, the sauerkraut would be eaten first as the pit cabbage was less perishable and could be kept for up to three years.
The first written documentation of this technique dates back to the fifteenth century. There was once also a map of the area which shows the location of all the historical pits. The pits varied in shape (round, oval, square) and could be lined with stone or larch wood. The pits were required to be of a significant depth – around four meters – and the cabbages had to arranged in a certain fashion in the bottom of the pit to ensure they would not freeze.
The bottom of the pit was first covered with straw (traditionally it was cumin scented straw), then a layer of cabbage leaves and then the whole heads of cabbage, turned down and stacked in layers. The cabbages were covered with a wool cloth and topped with more straw, and the pit was closed with a wooden lid, weighed down by large stones (at least 100kg). Before being placed in the pit, the cabbages were blanched in boiling water for several minutes in a large iron pot. This process would change the leaf color from green to white and had several functions: to sterilize the cabbages; to help the cabbage expand a little; and to facilitate the start of fermentation.
When removed from the pit, each cabbage (whose volume reduces by half during fermentation) is stripped of its outer leaves, washed, and sliced finely. They can be eaten immediately or vacuum-packed.
When finished, a production guideline will be drawn up that will ensure the best possible quality. The objective of the Presidium is to create an association of producers that can revive grubenkraut and promote it on the market and at restaurants.
Fischbacher Alps Region and the bordering region of Wechsel, East Styria
tel. +43 3170285/69911350142