Until recently, sauerkraut showed up at my house only slightly more often than Ed McMahon and the film crew from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes.
But now, in my culinary arena sauerkraut has ascended to the status of “staple.” It’s always on hand, in a big container in the ‘fridge, usually toward the front because I eat at least a couple bites of it (or its close cousin kimchi) nearly every day. Why this sudden reversal of roles for what’s nothing more than fermented cabbage?
It all started with an off-the-cuff comment from my wife after she returned from a weekend with some college friends.
I’d been making icebox dill pickles the last few summers from cucumbers I’d grown to keep the tomato plants company, so she knew I was not averse to making our own food on occasion. The last few years she and I had braved the sweltering early summer heat to crawl between rows of luscious, vine-ripened strawberries in order to pack the next year’s worth of strawberry preserves; once you go fresh you just don’t want to return to the old ways of eating chemical laden, mass produced spreads for your Sunday morning toast.
“I thought you’d find it interesting that Jenny gave Sue her sauerkraut recipe,” Joan told me. Interesting indeed. You see, Jennie is an inspiration to me. She posts pics on Facebook of huge quantities of produce she grows in her own garden as it is being prepped to become delicious, canned, home-made food.
I post similar images without caring one iota who sees my ruby red ripe tomatoes, or jars of my jellies and jams-except for Jennie. I like her, have for decades. And I figure I’ll gain her respect and admiration if I display my own efforts, however meager, at preserving food for my family to enjoy. Hence, if Jennie is making homemade sauerkraut (and Sue), I’m going to be making it too.
I wrote to Jennie and asked about her recipe and she guided me to a website, http://www.wildfermentation.com/making-sauerkraut-2/. The author is quite knowledgeable about turning cabbage into ‘kraut and for many, his thoroughness will border on TMI. But I extracted the information I needed and proceeded to successfully produce my first batch of homemade sauerkraut.
Good question, as there’s not much to sauerkraut and your local grocery store has several brands/varieties patiently sitting on the shelf waiting for you to enjoy. But trust me; homemade sauerkraut is better.
I find my ‘kraut to be crisper and more flavorful than the store-bought variety. And there’s no additives involved, just water, salt, and cabbage. Commercially produced krauts typically have another ingredient or two but honestly, they too are mostly water, salt and cabbage.
Any sauerkraut is a good source of probiotics, those helpful little bacteria that are great for digestion and elimination. And that’s about where its nutritional value ends. The final reason “why” I make my own sauerkraut is that I’m a creative kind of guy-I like to make things and then enjoy them, share them with others if they care to partake.
How to Make Homemade Sauerkraut
I’ve made up to 15 pounds of sauerkraut at a time (shoot me a response and I’ll tell you where to find a big ol’ bucket for making those quantities). But for this recipe I’ll teach you how to make about a quart of ‘kraut in a glass jar. Here’s what you’ll need:
- 1 head of green cabbage.
- 1 ½ tbs. pickling salt (pure salt, no additives).
- Water (maybe).
- A big, sharp knife.
- A cutting board.
- A 1 quart, sealable container.
Lay cabbage head on cutting board with the round, white core flat against the surface. Carefully cut the head in half, then cut each half in half. You now have 4 quarters, each with a big chunk of the core in it. Cut the core out and remove any outer leaves that look nasty.
Shred the cabbage, a quarter head at a time. You can do that with your big knife (see photograph) or if you prefer, you can use your box grater or a mandoline (my preference).
Place each quarter of shredded cabbage in a large, non-reactive (metal) bowl and sprinkle with a quarter of the salt.
When you’ve finished all four pieces, start squeezing and tossing the cabbage. You want to distribute the salt as evenly as possible throughout the cabbage strands so the fermentation bacteria reach every nook and cranny of your newborn homemade sauerkraut.
Now it’s time to find a new home for your ‘kraut. I’ve used a glass Mason jar but any non-reactive container large enough to hold the sauerkraut will work. I’ve used the mixing bowl you see in the pictures above and I’ve also used a food grade plastic bucket to hold seven heads of cabbage I fermented for Christmas presents last year. (It’s true what they say; “Nothing says Christmas like sauerkraut!”)
When you’re finished squeezing and tossing,tightly pack the cabbage into your fermentation container. You’ll find some “juice” at the bottom of your mixing bowl; make sure to add that to your container.
If there is not enough liquid to completely submerge your kraut, make a brine by dissolving 2 teaspoons salt in two cups water and add to fill. Packing my Mason jar and topping off with brine nearly to the rim accomplishes this submersion nicely.
Now It’s Time to Wait…
…and let the fermentation run its course, turning your humble cabbage shreds into crisp, delectable sauerkraut. But you cant’s just walk away and do nothing. You see, a byproduct of fermentation is carbon dioxide gas and your container, if covered tightly, is going to fill with it. And if it fills with too much-KAPOWEE! Sauerkraut container becomes sauerkraut bomb!
I counter this by leaving the cap loose on the jar-loose enough for the gas to escape but covered enough that dirt, germs and other unwanted airborne pollutants have no chance to spoil my ‘kraut. Unscrew the cap and check every day or two to make sure nothing bad is happening inside. You may find a ‘scum’ on the top; if so, just spoon it off and throw it away-it isn’t going to bother you a bit. When checking, feel free to sample the fruits of your labor because the next big question is…
How Long Will It Take to Become Sauerkraut?
It will probably start tasting pretty good in a couple of days but give it a week-at least. I find that CO2 bubbles stop forming after 4 days or so, indicating that the fermentation process has ended. That’s not to say that more time will not lead to a more complex-flavored product, but I wouldn’t know as I eat mine too fast! So when you’ve given it 7 to 10 days and are ready for your ‘kraut to report for duty, stick it in the fridge (which will halt fermentation) where it will keep safely for a couple of months, maybe more.
Next batch, let your creativity be your guide. Bavarian style sauerkraut adds a few caraway seeds to the mix. Who says your cabbage needs to be green? Why not try a batch of purple? Or a mixture of purple and green? Throw in some shredded carrot for a real color blast!
Ever seen Napa cabbage in the produce department? That’s what is used in Korean kimchi, and one of my favorite ‘kraut concoctions was made with Napa cabbage, chopped green onion and a couple of crushed garlic cloves-WOW! If you like heat, try adding some red pepper flakes.
Be creative. Have fun. Enjoy. And share!
(The following is from another great source for homemade sauerkraut, http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-easy-homemade-sauerkraut-in-a-mason-jar-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-193124).
How is Homemade Sauerkraut Fermented?
Sauerkraut is made by a process called lacto-fermentation. To put it (fairly) simply: There is beneficial bacteria present on the surface of the cabbage and, in fact, all fruits and vegetables. Lactobacillus is one of those bacteria, which is the same bacteria found in yogurt and many other cultured products. When submerged in a brine, the bacteria begin to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
Why Should Sauerkraut Be Fermented?
Lacto-fermentation has been used for centuries to preserve seasonal vegetables beyond their standard shelf-life. The fermentation process itself is very reliable and safe, and the fermented sauerkraut can be kept at cellar temperature (around 55°F) for months, although those of us without cellars can make do with storing the kraut in our fridges. Besides preserving the cabbage, this fermentation process also transforms it into something incredibly tasty and gives it additional health benefits — fermented sauerkraut contains a lot of the same healthy probiotics as a bowl of yogurt.