Now that I've covered why people traditionally made Kimchi and why I'm interested, here's how it's done.
1) Plant some cabbage (probably around September, after you've finished your summer harvest).
(Actually, this is a different kind of cabbage, but it's closest thing I have a picture of.)
2) Pick said cabbage, probably around mid-December.
3) Recruit some friends and experts to help you work.
4) Chop the cabbage in half or quarters (along the vertical axis) to increase surface area.
5) Leave the cabbage in saltwater overnight. This softens it up, opens the pores (for maximum spice absorption), and probably also kills some bacteria.
6) Using several different bowls, rinse the saltwater off of the cabbage. Stack it all up and leave it to drain for 12 hours or so. I suppose if you apply the spices while it's too wet, it'll be runny and less tasty.
7) While it's draining, mix up the jang (spice paste). Lots of anchovy paste, garlic, and red pepper paste and powder. Definitely wear gloves. Definitely don't breathe in.
8) When everything is ready, divide into slatherers (to apply the jang to the cabbage, one leaf at a time) and gophers (take away slathered cabbages [wow! my own soggy effigy...], refill emptied jang tubs, deliver other cabbages, scratch itchy places). My friends and I were slatherers.
9) Sit around and chat while you work work work. Try not to look at the pile.
10) Put it all in huge tupperware containers. Divvy it up. Go out for dinner. Sleep on a heated floor. Go mountain climbing. Get hugged by a tree.
All in all, it was a really cool weekend. There were 4 generations present! The woman (elder sister) who invited me is actually a grandmother. The great-grandmother (in the picture with the big cabbage pile) was there, probably 70-something, healthy and cheerful and working harder than any of us. The daughter, a few years older than me, was also helping out, but mostly tending to Yun-jin (I think that was her name), the great-grand-toddler.
I mentioned in my previous post that our understanding of jam, indeed, of almost all food, has changed profoundly over the past few generations. That understanding ha probably changed more in the last seventy years than in the seven thousand before it. I had a little chat with elder sister about just this topic. She learned to make Kimchi by helping her mother to make it, but as she went to school and became a professional (she's a nurse, but that's just incidental), she understandably got into the habit of buying her food rather than making it. Thus, for a good 40 years, including the time during which her own daughter was growing up, she didn't make any Kimchi. The daughter, then, had no direct experience with Kimchi as a non-industrial product, related to certain times and seasons and rythms. Nor would the grand-daughter, had elder sister not started making her own again about 5 years ago.
I see this as an instance of valuable knowledge - about our relationship to nature, about how to produce what we need, about how to remain independent and self-sufficient and secure - coming to the brink of disappearing before being reclaimed. If you know how to make what you eat, then you will have an alternative when you realize that one of the most important foods you eat, produced as it is by on large scale by large corporations, results in environmental degradation as well as low-quality, hardly-nutritious food. Yun-jin (the fourth generation), who will probably have to deal with the mess left behind by preceding generations, is lucky to have a family smart (and yes, also comfortable and wealthy) enough to take an active interest in such matters. For every family like this, though, there are hundreds or thousands more that let that knowledge slip away, leaving their fate in the hands of others. The evidence is mounting that this is a risky, if not downright reckless move.