Dave and I decided to try making homemade sauerkraut this year. Okay, Dave did all the heavy lifting but I was very supportive and he worked on this while I was freezing and drying peppers.
We looked at dozens of recipes before settling on the method we are going to try this year. Before leaving Michigan, I bought 3 Very Large cabbages at Cargills vegetable stand for a buck apiece. These ranged from 5 – 7 lbs each and resulted in about 3 gallons of packed cabbage. You don’t need to experiment with this much. You could start with one small head of cabbage if you like. Here is the method:
• Canning Salt or Sea Salt
- Crock or food grade plasctic bucket (we used a 6 gallon bucket) (The food grade part of this is important. If you decide to line a non-food grade bucket with a plastic bag, make sure that it’s a food-grade plastic bag! The sauerkraut will sit in this crock or bucket long enough that it could start to leach toxins out of non-food grade materials.)
- Potato Masher or other heavy kitchen tool (Dave found his very large fist worked better).
- Plate or other item that just fits inside the crock or bucket
- Weight (We used a 1 gallon wide mouth plastic jar filled with water) – needs to be clean
- Clean cloth
- Quarter the cabbage(s) and remove the core. Slice/chop as finely as you like. We did this by hand.
- Add 1-2 lbs of cabbage to the bucket/crock at a time. Layer with Salt. One recipe we referenced suggested 3 tablespoons of salt per 5 lbs of cabbage. We didn’t measure. Hard telling how much salt we ended up adding. Add a second layer of cabbage.
- Use the potato masher or your fist to pack in the cabbage. Do this after you have added a layer of cabbage and before you add a layer of salt. Dave found that doing this after adding a layer of salt was more than a little abrasive on his fist. After packing each layer, sprinkle salt on that layer. Add another layer; pack; add salt, and so on. Using the potato masher or your fist to pound on the cabbage is breaking up the fibers of the cabbage, releasing the juices. This is necessary to the process of becoming sauerkraut. (I’m sure there’s some life illustration in that.)
- Fill to the top of the container if you have enough cabbage. We read recipes ranging from 1 quart to a 55 gallon drum. Container size doesn’t matter in this case – the method is the same.
- Cover with plate (or whatever you came up with). Place weight on top. Cover with cloth. The weight will help force the water out of the cabbage as the salt is drawing it out. The salt water becomes the brine in which the sauerkraut ferments without rotting.
- Leave the bucket to ferment. We put ours out of the way (by the fish tank in the dining room) so we won’t trip over it but it is still in line of sight so we will remember to take care of it. Disclaimer: this is as far as we have gotten. We will publish some updates as we progress. Here is what we will do next:
- Check on the sauerkraut every couple of days. Sooner or later a scum or mold will form on the surface. This is only a surface thing and will not affect the product. The cabbage is out of the air and protected by the brine. Scoop off what you can and don’t sweat what gets away. Rinse off the plate and whatever you are using for a weight. (over the long haul this should be in a cool place, not a heated room but for starters, we will leave it inside.) Sandor Katz of www.wildfermentation.com says, “Taste the kraut. Generally it starts to be tangy after a few days, and the taste gets stronger as time passes. In the cool temperatures of a cellar in winter, kraut can keep improving for months and months. In the summer or in a heated room, its life cycle is more rapid. Eventually it becomes soft and the flavor turns less pleasant.”
- The Sauerkraut should be ready in anywhere from a week to 8 weeks. Most people seem to average 4 weeks. When it is done, some people stop the fermentation process by putting it in the fridge, bagging and freezing it, or by canning it. Others, like Sandor, let it continue to ferment and scoop a jarful at a time to keep in the fridge. We will let you know how ours turns out in a few weeks!
BK (with vast assistance from DK)