Monday, January 3, 2011

Making Sauerkraut

If you enjoy sauerkraut and don't already make your own, you should. It is a simple process, and the results will most likely be tastier and healthier than if you buy it. Traditionally sauerkraut is a fermented food, cabbage and salt fermented to make a vitamin rich food that keeps well. If you buy sauerkraut at the store, look for key words like RAW, and KEEP REFRIGERATED, PERISHABLE, NO PRESERVATIVES etc. Otherwise the sauerkraut either hasn't been fermented or has been heat treated to kill off all the healthy bacteria. The ingredients should be simple, cabbage and salt. Of course you can add other spices, herbs and other vegetables which will give you a variety of lacto fermented sides dishes or condiments.

The process is simple. Shred cabbage with a knife or whatever, food processor, mandoline, etc. Toss with salt. 3 TB. of salt to 5 Ib. of cabbage fills a one gallon crock. I just guestimate, as you can see above, my cabbage must have been a couple pounds.  When I put the shredded cabbage into the clean crock, (use glass or ceramic, not metal)  I add a few handfuls and then pack it down with my fist, and continue on until all the cabbage is packed in. Then I weight it down with whatever fits on top. I'd rather avoid using plastic, but this  lid in the above picture fits just about right. In the past I've used a gallon freezer bag filled with salt water (in case it leaked, but it never did) to weight down the cabbage. The goal is to have a layer of brine over the cabbage to prevent mold from forming in the sauerkraut. However, it often happens that a little mold grows on a piece of stray cabbage on the inside of the jar or at the edge of the brine. I just scoop it off. The sauerkraut remains untainted. I cover the crock with it's weight with a clean flour sack, or dish towel and set it somewhere in eyesight but out of the way. You don't want to forget about it, as I have. 

It is recommended that you check on your cabbage the following day to make sure that there was enough liquid from the cabbage that, mixed with the salt, it created its own brine. I must say that I rarely do this and tend to just trust that all is going according to plan. If you've used a cabbage in good health, sprinkled it with salt and packed it down firmly, the salt should draw out the moisture from the cabbage and produce a sufficient brine. However, if you notice the following day that the liquid does not cover the surface, make a small batch of salt water brine to add to the crock. Or, pour in just enough purified water to cover. Or try pressing down on your weight and often that does the trick.

Usually I find that I can forget about the crock for the first week. Unless your house is really warm, you might want to check on it sooner. Otherwise I take a nibble at a week and then every other day till it is to my liking. I prefer a slightly crunchy sauerkraut. This summer I let a batch go too long. It had nice flavor but was a little mushy. My last batch went ten days and had both good flavor and a bit of crispness to the texture. When it is done fermenting I pull it out of the crock and pack it into glass jars and put it in the fridge. If you have a basement or root cellar that stays cool, you can probably store it there. It keeps almost indefinitely, especially if you don't reach into the jar with dirty utensils.

I think Sauerkraut is the introductory for many of us into the world of fermented foods. Other fermented adventures you may want to explore are kimchi, sauerruben, pickles, pickled veggies and other veggie ferments. I've bought and attempted to imitate a fermented salsa they use to carry at our health food store that was fabulous. I wrote about making lacto fermented or pickled veggies last spring, a fairly detailed post so here is the link if it was before your time. If you are interested in knowing more about fermented foods I highly recommend the two books that first got me started: Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. I should mention that the first book has a salt free recipe for sauerkraut along with different herb/spice combinations you may want to try.

Wishing you all an enjoyable January filled with relaxing kitchen projects.


Michaele said...

I have read other posts on sauerkraut making, but this one actually made me want to try. Thanks. I love reading about your life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I am harvesting my cabbages right now here in Tidewater, VA, and make kraut every year. Ran into your site and browsed.Made a gallon last night using plenty of caraway seed, mustard seed and juniper berries, a new recipe to me. Tonight another gallon with just cabbage and salt. Ejoyed reading about your lifestyle. I am a farrier and cant quite remove myself quite far enough from a client base to get as backwoods as I'd like to. (And dont have the time!)