Frazee man is king of kraut
Dallas Flynn of Frazee shimmies up a chair to the 30-gallon Red Wing crock, lays what looks like the world's first mandoline cutter across the top and begins sawing a half head of cabbage back and forth across the blades.
"If you have a big belly, it helps to keep it in place," he explains, showing how he uses his impressive girth to steady the vegetable cutter.
All hail the King of Kraut. Flynn is a retired business owner and renaissance man whose sauerkraut has sweetened the pantries of many Frazee-area homes.
The secret to his success: a recipe from his Bohemian mother and equipment that looks like it belongs in a museum, combined with a microbiologist's eye for cleanliness.
"My sisters say it's the best, but that's because they just want me to make more," he says. "It doesn't have that real sour taste."
The result is a slightly crunchy dish with pleasantly mouth-puckering top notes.
Flynn grows about 100 heads of cabbage a year on a bucolic, tree-filled farmstead by Rice Lake, south of Frazee. Those heads can yield 40 pints of kraut, which Flynn likes to give away to others.
Flynn acknowledges he could probably sell his kraut but cringes at the notion of turning a beloved hobby into work. At 69, Flynn says he was happy to re tire from his work running factories in the 1980s.
Now his sharp mind and considerable energy are funneled into a dozen different hobbies. He doesn't drink, but has a wine cellar filled with 800 bottles of vino he made.
He makes his own cheese and sausage, designed the 5,000-square foot home he shares with his wife, Dr. Mary Leone-Flynn and raises a handful of Scottish Highlander cattle.
He also cooks most of the couple's meals, bakes bread and cans the produce from his solar-powered high tunnel -- which he says is the first of its kind in North America.
"I've already written my epitaph," quips Flynn, displaying a wit as zingy as his kraut. "Here lies Dallas. He didn't do all he wanted to do. He ran out of time."
A Bohemian rhapsody
Flynn recalls coming home from school in Lowry, Minn., to snack on the dense, briny cabbage core that his mother fermented alongside her sauerkraut as a special treat.
In the Flynn home, sauerkraut played a supporting role in most family meals. His Irish dad grew the cabbage; his Bohemian mother turned it into kraut.
Like his mother, Flynn doesn't use a recipe. But he's got her process down pat. He swears by Stone Head cabbage, because it's dense and small enough to fit perfectly into his mother's mandoline. The cutter may be from the old country, but it slices cabbage into perfect ribbons.
He stirs in a handful of sea salt -- he guesses about 3½ tablespoons -- per 5 pounds of cabbage. Flynn won't use iodized salt, which can slow fermentation and discolor the kraut.
Flynn then uses a hand-carved, wooden "stomper" to tamp down the cabbage. This breaks up the cell walls of the vegetable so the cabbage produces liquid. The combination of cabbage juice and salt triggers the lactic-acid fermentation that preserves the kraut.
While the cabbage ferments, the crock is covered with a sheet of glass or plywood, weighted down with a brick.
The live mixture bubbles and fizzes in the cool of a pole barn. At 60 degrees, it takes about six weeks to become a credible kraut. That location not only keeps the probiotic stew cold enough, it also saves human nostrils from the pungent aroma of fermenting cabbage.
"I don't like to keep my sauerkraut in here," Flynn says from his home's basement canning kitchen. "It stinks, oh my god."
Old method, new spin
Flynn may make his kraut the old-fashioned way, but he's updated the process with modern hygiene practices.
He sanitizes the stomper, crock and all equipment with a solution containing 10 percent bleach.
His mother kept her sauerkraut all winter long in a crock in the root cellar. But Flynn uses a hot water bath or pressure cooker to can his kraut in sterilized pints or quarts.
He prefers his kraut right out of the jar, but he sometimes also cooks it long and slow to serve with pork or bratwursts. In those cases, he'll stir in some finely chopped Granny Smith apple or a little caraway seed, which adds a delicately anise flavor to the finished dish.
Some of his favorite recipes -- like a concoction of kraut, chicken, potatoes and sour cream -- come from the 2001 book, "A Passion for Sauerkraut," written by Samuel Hofer.
In the book, Hofer shares dozens of recipes along with claims of the food's health benefits. Because kraut creates beneficial flora in the digestive system, Hofer says the vitamin C-rich food enhances nutrient absorption. In the process, he claims it will reduce arthritis symptoms, fight anemia and even suppress the appetite.
At nearly 300 pounds, Flynn quips he "probably should eat more kraut." But he also believes he's a walking, talking testament to the fermented food's healthful qualities.
"I'm never sick," he says. "Cold? What's a cold?"
Even if sauerkraut wasn't touted as a health elixir, Flynn would still eat it. One day last week, he opened a pot of simmering sauerkraut and ribs to fork up big helpings for visitors.
As the kraut-y steam filled the kitchen, he took an appreciative whiff.
"It's just like roses," he says. "I have a lot of people wanting me to show them how to make it. I'm not bragging, but this sauerkraut is good."