Sally Fallon in her book, Nourishing Traditions*, gives some excellent background as to why unpasteurized, brined foods are an important part of a diet. We highly recommend this book as a great source of info on healthy eating. In short, brining makes foods easier to digest, at the same time adding valuable enzymes that are required for a healthy digestive system. Homemade sauerkraut is far better than storebought, and easy to make.
We bought a crock** for the purpose- a specialty item that has a water seal. It came with a pair of weights so we don’t need to use stones. Sauerkraut can be made just as well in canning jars if you don’t have a crock. Last year we had too much to fit in the crock so we did some in jars. It all came out the same.
You will need canning jars or crock, a scale, a mechanism for making thin slices (ours is a well-sharpened chef’s knife with a cutting board), bowls or kettles for holding sliced cabbage, a tablespoon measure, and something to pound the sauerkraut with (we used a potato masher and Gil is thinking of rigging up a sawed-off baseball bat for next year- this being his first year of doing this). The only food ingredients are cabbage and salt. We had bought two 5-pound organically grown cabbages at Common Ground Fair and combined these with some red cabbage from the garden, totaling about 12 pounds of cabbage for this batch.
We use 1 tbsp of salt to one pound of cabbage. You might want to search around and see what other recipes are out there, to have something to compare to. I don’t remember where we came up with these numbers, but it worked out well last year, so we’re doing it again this year.
Wash the cabbage, removing the outer leaves. Set aside two of the largest leaves to cover the sauerkraut with later. Other outer leaves if they are useable can be thinly sliced and used. Chunk up the cabbage- this five-pounder is cut into quarters. A kettle is on the scale and the scale is set to zero.
|Slicing the cabbage- the bowl holds a measured amount of sliced cabbage and the kettle on the scale is being filled.|
|Gil is still pounding away.|
|Here he's using his fist to push hard. This is also an acceptable method.|
|Here we are looking down into the crock. Gil has worked hard and you can see the moisture forming.|
|These leaves will cover the sauerkraut. When all the cabbage is in and pounded and there is plenty of moisture, the leaves are placed evenly over the top. This keeps small bits of cabbage from coming to the surface|
|Voila! We did it! Marsha sliced and Gil pounded and we now have a crock of sauerkraut.|
The shapes inside the crock are the weights that came with it. About an inch of water must be covering the weights. If the cabbage didn’t produce enough moisture, then boil some salted water, let it cool and add to the crock.
Cover the crock. If you have one like ours put some water in the moat-like area that the lid sits into.
If you are using canning jars leave an inch or more of space at the top and seal tightly. I did not use weights nor did I top the cabbbage with a leaf. Fermentation creates a layer of gas above the sauerkraut, preserving it. Moisture may bubble out of the jar as fermentation begins- that is ok, keep the jar sealed and place in cool storage after a few days.
The next step is to leave the crock sit in the kitchen for two to three days. If you shift the lid slightly and some bubbles come out with a big “glub” sound, this means it is fermenting. Haul the crock down to the root cellar for cool storage. It will continue to ferment, although more slowly. Keep the crock closed and in cool storage for about 4 to 6 weeks (some people insist on waiting for 6 months but we’d find that awfully hard to do).
To remove sauerkraut from the crock, take off the lid and set it aside upside down on a clean surface (I use a clean towel). Carefully take off the weights and set them into the lid. Carefully pull aside the leaves. Use a tongs to dig out as much as you will use in about a week, placing it into a clean container. Put the leaves back into place, put the weights back in, and check that there is enough moisture to cover them. Replace the lid and check that there is enough water in the moat (if your crock has one).
Heat the sauerkraut very slowly on very low heat to barely warm it through. Do not boil or cook it or the good enzymes will be lost. Some recipes will say to put it through a canning process, but, again, why destroy those good enzymes? -jmm
*Sally Fallon. Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook the Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats, Revised Second Edition. 2001, New Trends, Publishing, Inc.
**Harsch Stoneware Fermentation Crock