One of my earliest memories of food as a six-year-old living in Seoul, Korea was the countless hours of my day spent watching my maternal grandmother cook meals for our extended family. There was the prevalent smell of roasted soy beans wafting out of the kitchen for what would become fermented soy bean bricks, soy sauce or jangs (fermented pastes) for daenjang and gochujang nestled in our backyard in various sizes of earthen ware onggi clay earthen ware pots which would become fermentation vessels for curing the essential pantry ingredients for cooking.
But my most memorable moment in my young life was kimjang, which was an annual kimchi making event during the last two weeks in November to prepare for the long winter months ahead. On a cold November day, my grandmother would gather with neighbors, ajumas (a respectful term for maternal figures) and aunts to make kimjang poggi (stuffed) kimchi which were days long events that felt like a kimchi block party.
First day would be dedicated to brining cut halves of cabbage with sea salt overnight, the next day of rinsing, making of the toothsome stuffing made with the gochugaru chile flakes, then layering of the cabbage halves into the onggi clay earthen ware pots dug into the ground in our backyard to protect from the snow and bitter cold ahead. Each family reserved of about 100 heads of cabbage for the long Korean winters until spring time when vegetables would grow again. This was the seasonal cycle long before the availability of produce year round or refrigerator in every household.
My favorite day was the making of the stuffing and watching the ladies carefully slather the mixture of stuffing between each cabbage leaves. The smell of the briny kimchi stuffing with long shredded radishes mixed with crimson red gochugaru chile flakes, tiny salted fermented shrimp, pungent fish sauce, garlic and ginger left a strong impressions of taste memory. From time to time, I'd run up to my grandmother, and she'd give me small pieces of the perfectly brined small inner cabbage, its salty and sweet leaf, with the rolled-up stuffing in them. It was always so special to me––a bond of love between us and a preview of the kimchi we would be eating all winter in the anticipation of spring when vegetables would grow again.
Photo credit: Family photo. Lauryn is pictured in Seoul, Korea on her grandmother’s balcony wearing her new year Korean dress holding her most prized possession, a year before she would immigrate to the U.S.
Lauryn Chun is the founder of Mother-In-Law's which began in 2009 with a mission to share the craft of artisanal kimchi, placing it along the ranks of fine wine and cheese in the specialty foods traditions. She was born in Seoul, traveled throughout Europe, lived in New York City and grew up in Southern California, where she currently resides with her family.