I started making sauerkraut a few years ago, and I love doing it. This post will give you some info on making your own sauerkraut, but also makes a point to mention this as a very low effort, high reward activity. I like those kind.
Fermenting is fun, nutritious, and best of all, easy. All it takes is a little work upfront, some patience, and an appetite for wonderfully sour, pungent food.
This is a book I read to learn about fermenting and how to do it. I highly recommend it:
Fermenting cabbage to make sauerkraut will be the focus of this post.
Fermented foods have a long history in many cultures, with sauerkraut being one of the most well-known instances of traditional fermented moist cabbage side dishes. The Roman writers Cato (in his De Agri Cultura) and Columella (in his De re Rustica) mentioned preserving cabbages and turnips with salt.
Although “sauerkraut” is a German word, the dish did not originate in Germany. Some claim that the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan brought it to Europe. Others claim that it originally came from China and surrounding areas and that the Tatars brought it to Europe, and improved upon the original Chinese recipe by fermenting it with salt instead of rice wine.– Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sauerkraut
Fermenting is obviously a great way to store food without refrigeration, and that makes it attractive to me. I’m no prepper, but I do think about the possibility of losing electricity at our house. Everything we have runs on electric: our oil furnace, water pump, stove, freezers. Everything. For that reason I making canning our food a priority as well as freeze our surplus.
My mom was the impetus for this batch. Toward the end of summer she texted me:
“Stop over to the house next time you’re in town. I have something for you.”
I had no idea except that I thought she was just going to give me back my deviled egg trays I had left there after the last family dinner. Turns out that was not it. Instead she gave me this:
You can find these new on Amazon (different sizes)! We are using the one like the brown crocks with lids shown below, but we also have white crocks like the white stoneware one pictured in the middle.
My mom is a garage sale frequenter, and often scores awesome deals like this. It had never been used. The woman who sold it bought it and just never did anything with it. The next purchase I made after seeing the crock was two large heads of organic cabbage, one regular, one purple.
Because of the fermentation process, sauerkraut is very nutritious and healthy. It’s low in calories, has probiotics for good gut health, and is full of minerals and vitamins.
If you want to make some, here’s what you will need:
- A crock like the one pictured in this post (crock found here on Amazon – affiliate link) or any jar/vessel large enough to hold your cabbage
- A lid for the jar above (can be improvised)
- Some kind of weights to keep your cabbage submerged (sample weights here on Amazon – affiliate link)
- A bowl large enough to hold all your sliced cabbage
- A potato masher or other instrument (like your fist) you can use to push/compact the cabbage in the vessel
- Canning or kosher salt
- After washing and removing a couple outer leaves, core and then thinly slice the cabbage. I do this by hand. It’s easy, and leaves me with less to clean up later. I don’t recommend using the food processor for this step.
- For each 800 grams (1 3/4 pounds) you will need 1 Tablespoon of salt. I weigh out 800 grams of thinly sliced cabbage at a time, put it in my bowl, and sprinkle the salt on top. When I have all the cabbage and salt added to the bowl, I get in there and squeeze handfuls of cabbage to bruise the leaves and to let the salt start doing it’s job of extracting liquid. Do this more than you think you have to. Within a few minutes you should have a pretty wet mound of salty cabbage in your bowl.
- Transfer the cabbage to your fermenting vessel, pushing it down forcefully with your potato masher or whatever it is you are using. You want the cabbage to be as tightly compacted as possible. When you are done with this step, your cabbage should be completely submerged under an inch or so of it’s own water.
- The crock I have comes with two half-moon crescents made of stoneware. These are used to weight the cabbage down in order to keep it all under the liquid. This is very important. You can’t have any cabbage poking up into the air; it will promote bad bacteria and spoilage. If you don’t have weights like these you can improvise. A plate that fits inside your vessel held down with a water bottle can work. Or you can fill plastic bags with a brine solution and weigh your cabbage down with 2 or 3 of those. (Use a brine solution just in case a bag leaks so that the ratio of salt to liquid will stay the same. How do you make a brine solution? 1 tablespoon kosher or canning salt to 4 cups water will yield a 2% brine solution).
- You’re almost done! Now, find a place where you can store your submerged cabbage for the next 30 days. Luckily, I have space on my kitchen counter. But any room temp area of the house is fine. You will need a lid of some sort to keep any contaminants out of your ferment. Once again, improvise if you need to, but make sure that cabbage is covered. This is a must.
- There is a tiny bit of work you need to do over the next month. Starting on day two, check in on your cabbage. You might see some bubbling or even a little scum developing on the surface of the water. That’s normal. Just skim it off as best you can. Every few days check on your cabbage to make sure water has not evaporated and that your cabbage is still completely submerged. If you need to add water, remember it has to be a salt brine in order to keep the ratios correct.
A couple of notes:
- De-scumming: You will have to do this more or less depending on your circumstances. If you are using an improvised lid, it’s possible you’ll get more floating scum on the liquid, so I would check every couple of days to see how it’s going. The crock I have has a lid that fits inside a channel that is, in turn, filled with water. As the fermenting gases form, they escape by bubbling through the water, and the water acts as a physical barrier to keep any contaminants out of the ferment. I checked my ‘kraut once a week and only ever had to de-scum once in the beginning week.
- Storage: After 30+ days give or take, transfer your ‘kraut to smaller vessels, or if you have space in the fridge, just put your vessel in. The fermentation will continue in the fridge, but will be slowed to almost a stop. Keeping it in the refrigerator will maintain the probiotic benefits. You can water bath or pressure can your ‘kraut if you don’t want to keep it in the fridge. Please consult your local cooperative extension (Google “local cooperative extension and canning”) for safe and best practices on canning or visit Preparing and Canning Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut at the National Center of Home Food Preservation. Do note that canning will kill the probiotic organisms and you will lose their benefit. (But your ‘kraut will still taste great!)
I’d love to hear your experience if you try your hand at sauerkraut!
Thanks for stopping in.
Preparing and Canning Fermented Foods: Sauerkraut – from the National Center of Home Food Preservation