Grinders and shredders would have been a staple kitchen tool in many American households prior to the widespread use of electricity. These tools were used to make a variety of food products, and were key to making everything from sausage to coffee. This particular grinder was reportedly used to make sauerkraut, meaning “sour cabbage” in German. Sauerkraut has been a staple food in the German diet since it was brought over from China in the 16th century. The Chinese started eating sauerkraut 2,000 years before the Germans. The Chinese made it by shredding the cabbage and fermenting it in rice wine. When the dish made it to Germany the Germans would shred the cabbage, then sprinkle salt over it and let it ferment in its own juices. It became very popular with Dutch sailors because sauerkraut does not need to be refrigerated to stay fresh and it helped prevent scurvy. Sauerkraut was then brought over to the United States, and Texas, with the German immigrants.
Sauerkraut is usually a finely sliced white cabbage that salt is added to help it ferment. The sugars in the cabbage are converted into lactic acid when it is fermenting, and it is commonly served on Reuben sandwiches or with sausage, or bratwurst. A variety of spices and additional vegetables can be added to create specialty krauts, or even Korean style kimchi.
Before the hand-cranked style grinder, people had to cut the cabbage by hand with knives. This process took a long time; so many tools were invented to make it easier to cut cabbage. One of these tools was a cabbage cutter, which was made of a blade and a wooden box. It was arranged so that the blade would be slightly higher than the bottom of the box. Over time the design of the cabbage cutter was improved upon. It would soon have more than one blade, as many as three, and instead of being inside of a box it would be on a slider with something to catch the cabbage under it. After the cabbage cutter the grinder was invented. The grinder is able to attach to a table and all one would have to do is push the cabbage through with one hand while the other turned the crank and the cabbage again would fall into a container.
You can still find cabbage cutters and hand-cranked grinders today. The designs are basically the same as when they were first created, but they have an updated look. Cutters are now usually made with plastic or metal instead of wood, but one can still find some made of wood. Grinders today are usually powered by electricity. A food processor can be used to shred cabbage, but if you do not want to go through the hassle of shredding cabbage and then fermenting it for 4 to 6 weeks you can easily go to the store and buy some instead. [Illa Bennett edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]