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.
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig
The Life Bridge: The Way to Longevity with Probiotic Nutrients by Dr. Richard Sarnat, Paul Schulick and Thomas M. Newmark