So, I must confess…. I’ve been writing a blog about sauerkraut for a little over 2 weeks now. What?!? The last blog I posted was a self-timed piece on a recipe that took me less than an hour!! What’s the hold up, Rather? Well…. I could give a laundry list of excuses but none of them would mean much at this point. Making your own sauerkraut takes patience, I’ve learned (a couple times now). It takes a couple of hours to chop, beat and pack 2 heads of cabbage, but that’s the easy part. The wait is where I struggle…. depending on how sour you like your kraut it can take up to a month to ferment!
Today, I sit before my computer excited to write. I have my favorite Hawaiian radio show on the radio, a cloudy snow-threatening day outside, house to myself and a big salad made of leftovers in front of me with, you guessed it…. homemade sauerkraut! My radio show only lasts another hour and a half, so I have a time limit. I also must tell you that Nate and I have been doing the Amazingly Alkaline Challenge for the last 4 days (of 14 total) and have been eating really well. I’ve been adding sauerkraut to at least one meal a day for almost 2 years now, and this week has only increased my addiction to this fermented food. It helps (now) that we started our new crock of kraut about 18 days ago so it is getting perfectly sour for our liking. If you don’t have the ability/desire to make your own sauerkraut, there are a couple great ones out there to just buy. My favorite is Bubbies, but whatever you find it needs to be unpasturized and refrigerated. The only ingredients on the label should be cabbage, salt and water (unless they’ve added other veggies, but no vinegar) and of course organic is best.
Sauerkraut is a natural probiotic. Probiotics are a gut’s best friend. They aid in digestion and help the gut biome keep and develop the good bacteria that we need to feel well. You can take pills for probiotcs, yes. I’m just more of a food person (and not very good with taking pills regularly). Sauerkraut is also amazing in that when eaten with a meal, it inoculates your entire meal with nourishing probiotics so that as your entire meal passes through your system it is carrying the good stuff. Wow. I love it. I love the idea of it and I love the taste now. I crave it. So, now I make it. The good stuff is not cheap, although entirely worth it.
We’ve been using up our stock-pile of CSA vegetables since the Farmer’s Market stopped a couple weeks ago (boo), and had 2 huge heads of cabbage that were just begging to be beaten into jars for the winter. We’ve made kraut a couple of times with the jar method and have only been mildly impressed with our results. Making kraut is the kind of thing that is very simple but easy to over complicate. Given the google machine, Pinterest and last year’s Christmas gift, “Wild Fermentation” by Sandor Ellix Katz, we have over thought ourselves into confusion on whether or not we were doing it right. As we were debating over which sized jars we should use for this massive batch, Nate went online shopping and surprised me with an early birthday present – a new crock!! So we waited a few days, thank you Amazon, we now have a beautiful new crock for our fermenting adventures. Sauerkraut recipes are much easier to follow, I’ve found, when you have just the right vessel to ferment in. You need a good seal, but one that breathes out is ideal. also important is a weight, to keep the cabbage below the brine so it doesn’t spoil by being exposed to the air that exists no matter what.
This is where we struggled with our jars, we didn’t have good weights. We would fit smaller jars into the mouth of the bigger jars, but this made sealing the jars impossible, so they were exposed to full oxygen for the first day as the fermentation began. Then, when we had spilled brine all over the counter as it bubbled overnight and put the lids on, we had to remove the weight and trust that there was enough brine to keep the cabbage covered.
Well, this is a living thing, sauerkraut. You need to give it space to do it’s thing, which is bubble, put simply. Bubbles need a place to go and with enough pressure they will pop through a seal on a ball jar. So…. we were constantly wondering if we were doing it right. The most realistic tip I’ve heard is to remember to save a couple of big leaves of the cabbage before you shred it and use them as a cover for each jar. You can tuck the leaf into the sides of the jar like making a bed, keeping the cabbage and the leaf below the brine. You can also add more brine along the way as you loose it. I was on the verge of collecting flat river rocks to sanitize and support the leaf idea when Nate went shopping. There are great ways of making kraut without the pricey crock, and the process is relatively the same. There’s also lots of info out there about fermented foods and their benefits. I encourage you to try making some yourself, or at very least introduce it to your fridge, family and friends. It’s not just for brats, although still great that way too (but don’t heat it, that kills the good stuff!).
What you’ll need:
Cabbage – one head is enough to make apx. 3 qt. size jars
Sea Salt – I use Celtic. About 3 tbsp for a 5-7 lb cabbage
Jars or a Crock, with weighting method and lid(s)
Beating stick – our crock came with a big one, previously we used a muddler that you would find in a bar for cocktails
Cutting board & Sharp knife OR Food processor
Optional: Other veggies are fun to add; I like apples, carrots, red cabbage or Brussels. I also usually add an herb of some sort. This time we used fresh dill from our CSA. Caraway seeds are my go-to.
Shred or finely chop the cabbage and put it into the bowl, sprinkling salt as you go. I put the amount of salt I expect to use into a small bowl so I can gauge how much to sprinkle each time. The salt is what pulls out the water from the cabbage. Every cabbage is different, but they are generally pretty watery and will begin to sweat with the salt. If it doesn’t start sweating right away, don’t add more salt, it will come out more as you go along. Chop your other veggies and either add them to the same bowl or keep them separate and add them as you go.
- Start packing your jars. Place a small handful of cabbage and whatever else
you are using into the jar. Take your beating stick and begin to press the cabbage into the bottom of the jar… beating it to where you are seeing moisture develop.
- Add another handful and continue until the jar is about 3/4 full and the brine is covering the cabbage. The goal is to beat the cabbage so that it is tightly packed into the jar and that a brine begins to form. If your cabbage is particularly dry it may take a little bit of time with the salt to develop a brine. The option to add salt water (apx 1 tbsp to 2 C warm water) is always there. I prefer to go au natural and just beat it until it sweats. It will also develop more brine as it begins to ferment, which is why we used to keep the jar-weights on and the lids off for the first day. You only want to fill the jar 3/4 full so the fermenting process has room to do its thing. If you fill too high you will loose brine and compromise the process with exposure to oxygen.
- Next step is to place the weights. Our new crock came with two handy weights that fit perfectly through the opening of the jar and cover the majority of the cabbage. We also used the leaf technique, so I like to think of it as a tucked in sheet and a heavy comforter keeping the cabbage immersed in all of that lovely brine.
- For a crock – Close the lid and store in a dark, cool-ish space preferably 65-72 degrees. We can keep the crock on the counter because our house stays that cool and it is ceramic. The glass jars go in the pantry for minimal light. The warmer the environment, the faster it will ferment. The cooler the environment, the longer it will take.
- If you’re using jars as your weight – Place the full jars with jars inside on a
kitchen towel on the counter out of the way and place another kitchen towel over the whole thing to keep out dust and bugs. Leave the jars there for a day for the brine to begin fermenting. When the brine begins to overflow because the jars are there, take them out and press the cabbage down good with a fork. Close the lids, but not tightly, and move to the pantry or your chosen dark place. You might want to keep the towel underneath if your brine is really close to the top.
- If you’re using jars but have cabbage leaves and/or river rocks (or whatever else you can think of) – you can skip straight to closing the lids loosely and placing the jars in your cool dark space.
- Check the kraut every few days and begin to taste after about 10 days. After about 14 days I usually find I can start eating it. Feel free to start on one jar and leave the others to ferment longer (but still taste them occasionally!). When your jars have reached your desired sourness, store them in the fridge. Close the lids tightly at that point and always be sure that there is enough brine to cover the kraut.
With the crock – we removed a medium sized jar’s worth for the fridge once it was worthy of eating. We carefully packed the rest back down, replaced the cabbage sheet and weighted comforter and are keeping it on the counter until we either need more or it gets sour enough. When we either get close to the end or it is as sour as we can handle we will jar up the rest of it and start over again.
Whalaa! You’ve made Sauerkraut!! It can be a really fun project, especially with kids (I’d imagine). We take turns beating and both help with the chopping (probably let the adults do the chopping).
It’s usually pretty easy to get dinner done at the same time once the cabbage is going into the jars. We’re really happy with our new crock and it was such a treat to taste fresh, perfect kraut this week when it was finally ready. Making your own kraut is special because you know it has a lot of Vitamin L, the most important kind of Vitamin to keep up on…. LOVE!
Just in time for 2 whole weeks of cleansing before off-season vacation. Hope you enjoy making it yourself! If you ever have any questions leave them in the comments. I love to hear from you!
To your Health and Happiness!