Tancook Island Cabbage
At one time, Tancook Island cabbages travelled the world as sauerkraut on sailing ships.... these cabbages are now growing at the Albert County Museum in Hopewell Cape, NB.
History: Tancook Island cabbage is the traditional ingredient of Tancook Sauerkraut. Big Tancook Island, only 5 miles long and 3 miles wide, was Canada’s major supplier of sauerkraut at one point in history (according to the island’s tourism association). German immigrants found that the island provided excellent growing conditions for cabbage, which they preserved. Barrels of sauerkraut were sold both to seafaring ships and to logging crews – because the food was considered to prevent scurvy and provide nutrition while at sea or during long Maritime winters.
Tancook Sauerkraut is now produced commercially in Lunenburg County, NS, and sold throughout Atlantic Canada. This lacto-fermented sauerkraut is made from the recipe brought from Big Tancook Island to Lunenburg by the great-grandfather of the company’s current owner, Cory Hatt.
The cabbage seed was likely brought from Germany. The crop thrived on the island, where it was fertilized with seaweed each year. Generations of selection have led to Tancook Island cabbage, a variety well suited to Maritime growing conditions.
Cabbage is a traditional crop in Albert County, NB. It is likely that first German settlers who arrived 250 years ago brought cabbage seeds with them. The cabbages could provide food over the long winters as they could be stored in cold rooms or preserved as sauerkraut.
Culinary uses: To make Tancook Island sauerkraut, according to Slow Food Canada, “the cabbage is shredded by hand, salted and placed into wooden barrels. The cabbage is kept submerged by stone or clay weights. The barrels undergo a cool fermentation for up to four weeks. It is said that the level of the brine in the barrels rises and falls with the height of the island tides.”
Crop description: A green cabbage with a tight round head and long growing season.
Growing: Start inside and plant out in the spring when conditions are cool. Mulch with seaweed to both provide nutrients but also help protect the plants from slugs and snails. Harvest in late fall after the plants have undergone a spell of cold weather.
Seedsaving: The cabbage must be dug up, overwintered in a root cellar (or other cold storage) and then planted out the following spring to save seed. It is possible cut off some of the leaves and use them for sauerkraut in the fall, but keep the core intact. Heel the core with its roots into soil and keep in cold storage until the spring. Keep in mind that cabbage is Brassica oleracea, a species that includes broccoli, European kale, cauliflower, collards and Chinese broccoli. These can all cross-pollinate so the seed cabbage crop must be isolated from any of the flowering members of the species.