This may sound ridiculous, but cabbage and raw denim have a good bit in common. In fact, I’d argue that a lot of vegetables are similar to their distantly related, cotton-based selvage cousins. Both raw denim and cabbage can teach us a lot about life philosophy. You might be scratching your head, so let me elaborate.
An overview of denim’s aging process:
I don’t think any of us would dispute that raw denim gets better with time; that’s part of its allure. We wait patiently, hoping for beautiful fades and a pair of pants that act less like cloth and more like a second skin.
Raw denim generally starts out as stiff as a piece of cardboard, or sometimes even a bit more like plywood. With dedication and time, that rough, unforgiving fabric molds to your body, becoming the most comfortable thing you can imagine.
The color starts dark, but changes with time. Oftentimes, it’s so dark that you wonder if it’s even right to call your pants bluejeans. Over time, the color of the indigo in your denim fades, providing a beautiful depth of color that is both interesting and unique.
The jeans to the right are the Sugar Cane Lot 724 (SC40724), which was a model that was never intended to release for sale. They started hard and deep, and with time, became vibrantly blue and ridiculously soft. In fact, these were the softest jeans I’ve ever owned. For more pictures, please see this album.
A comparison to cabbage:
Cabbage also starts out crisp, hard and unforgiving. Raw, fresh cabbage is sulfurous, adding to its harshness. By adding a little salt, sealing it up, and storing it in a cool place for a couple weeks, these harsh sulfury crispness of cabbage dissipates, giving way to the amazing depth of flavor that is sauerkraut. With time, its bright green-white fades to a pleasantly soft yellow.
Like raw denim, no amount of processing can replicate the depth of character that an handcrafted, perfectly aged sauerkraut has. Raw denim’s character comes from the hard work, patience, and dedication of waiting for nature to take its course.
In the case of mass-produced sauerkrauts, most manufacturers cheat the system by taking fresh cabbage and putting it in a solution of water, vinegar, and salt. Real sauerkraut has character because the sour characteristics come from lactobacilli, the same genus of bacteria that makes yogurt sour. This process of natural fermentation takes weeks, and the big producers of sauerkraut don’t have that much time to wait, so they fake it.
Any raw denim enthusiast worth his salt will tell you that using artificial techniques to speed the aging of denim is paramount to cheating. The same is true — without question — for fermented cabbages. For a great instruction on making your own sauerkraut, see this link to Sandor Katz’s website on fermentation.
Let nature take its course. Whether its raw cabbage, raw denim, or anything else, the result will show character, patience, and dedication. In an age where society is constantly looking for instant gratification, it’s always good to remember that patience yields superior results.