About a year ago I was buying some sauerkraut at the store when I suddenly wondered how easy it would be to make it myself. I figured it couldn't be too difficult. After all, sauerkraut is one of those primitive food preservation methods that has been done for a few centuries. Now, folks growing up in the midwest or those who remember Grandpa making sauerkraut may think this is no big deal. But for a California boy this project was sounding like something great!
I did some web searching and found a great recipe site with complete instructions at Kitchen Gardeners International.
That first batch of sauerkraut is long gone but I got the yearning for another batch the other day and bought three heads of cabbage at the store. For those of you who have never tried this I thought I'd document my progress. Having just started it tonight, the cabbage isn't sauerkraut yet. I'll do additional posts as it matures.
First, we get some cabbages. After cutting them in half I remove most of the core. It's supposed to be ok to eat but tough. I declined to keep it.
Next, the cabbage gets sliced. I went for pretty thin cuts.
After slicing some salt is mixed into the cabbage. Since I had three heads to do and my bowl wasn't big enough for all three at once, I did this step one head at a time.
After the salt is mixed in the cabbage is put into the fermenting container. I'm using a clean bucket. The cabbage should be pushed in pretty tight and thoroughly. Since I couldn't get the potatoe masher at a good angle I decided to just punch the cabbage down with my hand. This packs the cabbage and aids the salt in pushing the moisture out.
Here you can see how much three heads makes. These were fairly small heads, not those really big ones when cabbage is really in season.
Something needs to be placed on top of the cabbage to keep it beneath the liquid that will start to develop. If you're using a round crock then a plate works well. With a square bucket I cut the lid down so it will fit into the bucket.
While the cabbage should make enough liquid to cover itself, it may take a day or so. I generally add a few cups of salt water to raise the liquid level so it covers the cabbage right from the start.
To keep the lid beneath the liquid level I put a gallon jar full of water on top. I'll check tomorrow to be sure the liquid level is right.
It's appropriate that I used this particular jar. It's from kimchee, the Korean version of sauerkraut. Many times I've had to explain to someone what kimchee is and I've fallen back on saying it's the Korean version of sauerkraut. One time I had to explain to a young Vietnamese woman what sauerkraut was, "um... it's German kimchee." That worked for her!
The bucket of salted cabbage now rests in a corner of our kitchen with a clean towel over it to keep out debris, dropped spoons, and curious cats. As the batch progresses I'll do updates to the blog. If you like sauerkraut, I can just about guarantee that you'll be jealous.
Day 2 update: When I looked in the bucket this morning there was more liquid and the bucket definitely smelled like sauerkraut. Pressing down on the bottle brought bubbles out from under the bucket lid. All these are signs that the fermentation process has begun and I'm well on the way to having great home made sauerkraut.
Day 3 update: Things are looking good today. The fermentation process can make a bit of a bloom appear on the liquid's surface so I took the jar out and washed it off, there didn't appear to be anything on the surface that needed to be skimmed off. I pulled the lid up off the cabbage and tried a little fingerfull. It's getting there but it's not yet at the "sour" point. Another day or two should be good.
Day 4 update: Things are looking good! When I looked this morning the liquid has taken on a darker color and the smell is definately getting to that special sauerkraut aroma. As yesterday, I rinsed off the bottle and pried up the lid to take a taste. Eureka! We have sauerkraut! I'd like it a little more sour so I'll leave it about another day before I pack it into that big jar and put it into the 'fridge; but right now it is definately sauerkraut.
Day 5, final update: "If you like sauerkraut, I can just about guarantee that you'll be jealous." Here it is! It tastes great, looks good, smells good (although, that may be a matter of opinion for some folks), and was simplicity itself to make. Give it a try, the link at the beginning of the post has great instructions and there is nothing like eating food you've grown or made yourself. Besides, anyone can grow tomatoes, but not everyone makes their own sauerkraut.
Thanks for reading!