I’ve been working hard to build my food preservation knowledge this year. I’ve talked a good deal about canning on this blog already, but I want to spend a bit more time in the realm of fermentation, specifically, on making sauerkraut. This was my first real foray into fermentation (other than my dandelion wine, which is coming along nicely)! I’m glad to say that it was a huge success, and I’m excited to share the process with you.
The Lessons of Fermentation: I think a lot of us in present-day America resist fermentation. Your milk starts to spoil, your fruit rots, your spinach wilts and gets slimy…entropy sets in. Planned fermentation, however, can lead to excellent things–yogurts, wines, hard ciders, krauts, miso, shoyou or soy sauce, and so much more. I am finding that when you begin to guide fermentation (rather than let it guide your food to the compost heap or garbage) you can grow to appreciate these natural processes even more. Its part of the cycle of life–bacteria and enzymes form a critical part of the cycles of life broadly on this planet, and we can use those to help us preserve our food. The spiritual dimensions of fermentation should also be noted–I have begun to see my kraut fermenting away on my counter as an alchemical process, a transformative process where niter and salt are combined to create something new and incredible.
How to Make Kraut
These instructions require very little in the way of expensive equipment–you really only need something to pound your cabbage with, something to put your cabbage in (a quart or 1/2 gallon mason jar works well), something to hold your cabbage down as it ferments (like a smooth stone, washed clean), and something to keep dust/bugs/etc out of your kraut (like a cloth). I’ll walk you through the simple steps of making kraut, and provide a few recipes along the way.
Step 1: Obtain cabbage. A friend gifted me with a huge bag of over a dozen heads of purple cabbage. I like cabbage, but there is only so much one can eat at once! So I decided to make some kraut. You can use pretty much any kind of cabbage that you want; different kinds of cabbage give you slightly different flavors of kraut. You can also mix red with green.
Step 2: Determine other ingredients. The only other thing you *need* for cabbage is salt, however, you can also add a bunch of other stuff to make things interesting. A few combinations I really like are:
–Red cabbage, ramps, and dill weed (if you don’t have ramps, you can use garlic or leeks instead)
–Green cabbage, carrots, and caraway seed
–Ginger and red cabbage (also try this with little slices of apple for a sweet/tangy ferment!)
You can also try different kinds of salt, pepper, and other spices for unique blends. The typical ratio of salt to cabbage is 3 tablespoons salt to 5 lbs cabbage, so you don’t need as much as you think!
Step 3: Cut up your cabbage and add additional ingredients. You want to slice your cabbage fairly thinly; you’ll be pounding it down, so if its too thick, it makes it more difficult to pound. If you are using red cabbage, you’ll also delight in the beautiful patterns you can find on the inside of the cabbage as it grows.
Step 4: Mash, mash, mash! Now you will need a large pot or pan and some kind of mashing tool. I found my wooden masher at a thrift store for $1.00. You want to mash up your cabbage quite well–as you mash the salt into it, it will start producing juice. This is good–keep mashing it till you see that its no longer stiff and goes a bit translucent. It usually takes about 10 minutes of mashing to get to this stage.
Step 5: Transfer into Jar. Once you’ve mashed it up well, you can transfer it into your jar – use your masher to press it down a bit. You can use a canning funnel to get it in there easier.
Step 6: Make Sure Cabbage is Below Water Line (use that rock!). The idea is that the cabbage should have produced enough water at this stage that it can be completely submerged by the water. Push it down with the masher, and then add the stone so that it holds ALL the cabbage below the water line. This is important to prevent mold on the cabbage as it is fermenting.
Step 7: Add Towels and wait! Add towels to the top of your jars to allow air to pass through freely. Now you just have to wait a few weeks till the kraut gets to the taste that you want. Every few days, check your kraut. If it starts to get any mold (which is quite common) skim the mold off of the top (taking the rock out if necessary to clean it and replace it). In a few weeks, you’ll have amazing kraut! You can keep tasting it till it ferments down as much as you want it to (less will result in a crisp kraut, more will result in a softer kraut). Once you get it where you want it, refrigerate it to keep it from fermenting further.
Step 8: Enjoy. This stuff is better than what you can get at the store!