Get Cultured With Homemade Sauerkraut

how to make sauerkraut, live culture benefits,

I make raw milk yogurt and fermented pickles, but I’ve never attempted homemade sauerkraut. Until recently. I’m motivated not only because cabbages await in my garden, but because I know there are powerful benefits to lacto-fermentation.

People all over the world thrive on foods of living complexity, as they’ve done for eons. Kimchi, pickles, kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, and many more foods teem with cultures that provide flavor and a range of probiotics. These probiotics make nutrients more accessible, provide helpful bacteria to balance our bodies, and help us live longer healthier lives.

Except commercial versions of these foods have no probiotic life in them at all.  Most products available today are heated to lifelessness by canning, pasteurizing, or other processing methods.

Sure, we can buy yogurt with active culture but there’s much more to probiotics and fermenting. The best fermented foods are ones that are truly alive—raw and brimming with healthy bacteria. Sauerkraut is one of the easiest lacto-fermented foods to make at home.

I’ve held off trying sauerkraut, hoping to get some sort of snazzy fermenting container. For at least a year I’ve had my eye on this TSM Fermentation Pot

as well as fantastic glass airlock containers called Pickl-It

but other pesky spending priorities keep getting in the way, like fixing porches that have been threatening to fall right off our house. I finally realized it was silly to wait. There is, at least here, no Fairy Godmother of Fermentation Crocks.

I followed instructions in the book Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Chop or grate cabbage finely or coarsely. Place cabbage bits in a large bowl as you go, sprinkling the layers with salt. You’ll want to use 3 tablespoons of salt for 5 pounds of cabbage. (The two cabbages I used, one purple and one green, nicely weighed in right around 5 pounds.) The salt pulls water out of the cabbage, slowly creating the brine in which the cabbage can ferment. The salt also inhibits organisms and enzymes that can soften the cabbage, keeping it crunchy.

Katz notes that you can freely add other vegetables at this point such as grated carrot, garlic, greens, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beets, or burdock root. You can also add fruits, apples are commonly included. And you might choose seasoning such as caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds, or juniper berries. I stuck with the plain version.

Mix all the ingredients well. Pack tightly into a container, a small amount at a time, tamping each layer down firmly to force water from the cabbage.

Cover the cabbage with a plate or other lid that fits within the opening of the crock, then weigh it down. This will keep the cabbage under the brine that will soon form. Cover the container with a cloth. Every few hours this first day, press on the weight as you pass through the room to increase the pressure on the cabbage. Within 24 hours the cabbage should be covered by brine. If it isn’t at this point make a solution of 2 tablespoons of salt to 2 cups of room temperature water, and add until the cabbage is covered.

Leave the cabbage to ferment. The volume will gradually reduce. You may see mold or scum on the surface. Just skim off what you can and don’t worry about it, the kraut itself is under the anaerobic protection of the brine.

If it ferments in a warm kitchen the kraut will be done sooner, if in a cool cellar it can keep fermenting for months. Keep removing the plate (rinsing it) and tasting a bit of the kraut. The tang and overall strength will continue to increase. Each time you scoop some out, repack carefully to keep it under the brine and covered by a clean plate. When it gets to the taste you prefer you might use it that very week or pack some in jars to store in the refrigerator. And then start another batch.

I’ve learned a few things from my first foray into sauerkraut making. Next time I’ll cut the cabbage into thin ribbons. Maybe I’ll live it up and get a mandoline slicer or an authentic slaw cutter. And if I want the pickier of my kids to eat it, I’ll make it from green cabbage. But we’re pleased with this batch of sauerkraut. It was just the right flavor for my family after fermenting for less than two weeks. I feel more cultured already.

Resources

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig

The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity by Donna Gates

The Life Bridge: The Way to Longevity with Probiotic Nutrients by Dr. Richard Sarnat, Paul Schulick and Thomas M. Newmark

Patchwork Living and Make Your Own Mondays post

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of "Free Range Learning," a handbook of natural learning and "Tending," a poetry collection. She lives on Bit of Earth Farm where she's a barely useful farm wench. Although she has deadlines to meet she often wanders from the computer to preach hope, snort with laughter, cook subversively, ponder life’s deeper meaning, talk to chickens and cows, sing to bees, hide in books, walk dogs, concoct tinctures, watch foreign films, and make messy art. Blog: lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2/ FB: facebook.com/FreeRangeLearningCommunity FB: facebook.com/SubversiveCooking FB: facebook.com/laura.euphoria Twitter: @earnestdrollery
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15 Responses to Get Cultured With Homemade Sauerkraut

  1. Margaret Swift says:

    Dear Queen of Fermentation, I am so excited by the possibilities that I am hie-ing me off to the kitchen immediately to slice and salt. Wow! I love sauerkraut, and had no idea it was such an easy thing to do. I’m planning to add organic carrots, of which my refrigerator has an inordinate supply. Hurrah, and thanks for the know-how! You rock!
    Hoping to be a Princess of Fermentation Soon, M.

  2. Laura:

    I’m the only member of my family who likes sauerkraut, but I’ve only had the commercial kind. Next time we meet up, can I have a pint of yours to try?

  3. Liz Beavis says:

    I’ve tried to make this recently and now I’m too scared to eat what I made in case its not right! Its in the fridge, waiting for me to be brave enough. I’m relieved that you didn’t need a fancy jar in the end, I was thinking “but I don’t want to buy a fancy jar”! so that’s great that it works in a normal jar, that’s all I used. Also I notice that you didn’t bruise the cabbage before you put it in the jar, the recipe that I used called for bruising, so I hit the chopped cabbage with a meat mallet, which made a huge mess, but meant I could fit more in the jar (I think I was supposed to use mortar and pestle, but I don’ t have one, its all about compromise right!). I also didn’t use anything to weigh down the cabbage in the jar, that’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll try my kraut soon…..

    • Laura Weldon says:

      My family prefers homemade kraut in recipes rather than added raw at the table, probably because it doesn’t taste exactly like the store bought version. But I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised once you taste yours. It’s somehow fresher and tangier. My first batch seemed too salty. I know it needs the correct concentration of salt while it’s fermenting but once it’s in the frig I added a bit of water to keep it covered and I like the taste much better because the salt is diluted a bit. Get a little spoonful Liz and chomp away!

  4. Marcy says:

    I have a jar that looks like that in my fridge! I made it around Easter this year, after using half the cabbage for natural egg dye… I haven’t managed to taste it yet, as I’m not much of a sauerkraut fan. Can you share any of the recipes you use it in, and does using it in a recipe cancel out the benefit of it being raw and probiotic? The best kraut I’ve ever had was in the Czech Republic — a little sweet-tangy, with caraway seeds and a slight nutty flavor.

    Also, a local WAPFer turned me on to another way to seal jars for fermenting — get a ramekin that fits in the mouth of the jar, and put water or marbles in it to weigh it down. Fill the jar enough that when you put the ramekin, a little liquid runs over. That forms a seal that keeps out bad stuff but allows gases to escape.

    • Laura Weldon says:

      I tried weighing down a ramekin too, worked pretty well. I had to resort to that as the volume decreased and the small glass dish that fit down into the jar opening wasn’t working. It’s all about keeping some kind of lid into the liquid.

      As for recipes, so far I’ve used our homemade sauerkraut raw alongside wraps, raw on top of roasted queso blanco https://bitofearthfarm.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/make-the-easiest-homemade-cheese/ and cooked alongside homemade (ridiculously modified) stuffed cabbage for which there’s really no recipe. I’m sure you’re right, cooking it surely cancels out the probiotic benefits. If we were a bratwurst eating family I’m sure we’d get more use out of it raw.

  5. Laura, did you have any trouble with critters? I tried a batch of fermented dilly beans and they were turning out good and tasty – but then I noticed, well, worms around the edge of the jar. Not sure if there were eggs IN the beans before I put them in the brine, or if fruit flies managed to get in around the edge of my weight and lay eggs right on the edge. Suffice to say, it was gross. Next time, I’ll definitely use a weight AND cover the jar with a cloth of some sort.

    • Laura Weldon says:

      Oooh, yuck. I’ve never run into that one. We weigh down a heavy glass dish that fits into the jar opening so that liquid comes up over the dish a bit, then cover the fermenting jar with a rubber banded coffee filter or, when we’re lazy, a dish towel.

      But for some perspective, let’s admit that the insistence that food be flawless, bug free, mold free, and perfectly fresh is pretty new to human existence. Hungry people ate whatever they could. Not that I’m saying I’d eat bug infested moldy food but there’s some fascinating evidence that we may be weakening our health when our bodies don’t have to fight off pathogens. A fantastic book on this is The Wild Life of Our Bodies http://www.geekmom.com/2011/10/the-wild-life-of-our-bodies/

      • I totally agree with you. I actually thought about salvaging the beans that were deeper under the brine, but with evidence of squigglies right there in front of me, I just couldn’t do it. A little mold? I’d have scraped it off.

      • Laura says:

        A friend of mine has a story that’s practically famous with my kids. She used some kind of rice and seasoning packet in soup she made. At the table, her son brought up a cooked larvae on his spoon with evident horror and she knew her family was waiting for her response. She took the frugal thing as far as she dared. She said that it was nothing more than protein. If the kids wanted to take out the larvae they could but they still had to eat their soup. I thought the story was hysterical, but then, I didn’t have to eat the soup. I’d have given the whole batch to our chickens.

  6. Mike says:

    I’m glad I found your blog on Attainable Sustainable’s blogging bee. I also recently made my own sauerkraut and enjoyed reading another’s perspective on it.

  7. Sarah V. says:

    Well, my dear, it seems I’m off to buy some cabbage and make sauerkraut.

  8. Jesse Corley says:

    I just threw out 12 beautiful jars of sauerkraut I made 6 days ago, they were horribly infested with tiny maggots. Gross!!!

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