Fermenting foods is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Foods that have gone through fermentation are super healthy for your digestion making lots of probiotics, digestive enzymes and nutrients available. This would be a good type of food to add to your diet.
Sauerkraut- what does it make you think of?
For me it is memories of my family meaning brothers and sister, mom and dad and also grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles gathering at my grandparents house for a day of making sauerkraut and having fun. We usually always made it in late fall when the cabbage was plentiful in the garden. Some would be washing cabbage, some cutting it into thin ribbons and others packing it into crockery churns to get it ready for it’s fermentation time! That time it sits and bubbles and turns into that tangy sauerkraut that is so good for us!
Today it’s not such a big family time and I don’t make as much at one time but just the same it’s still good stuff. Now I make it in a gallon glass pickle jar. I like to use red and green cabbage together to make a multicolored kraut but it really doesn’t matter. You can use either, just make sure that they are fresh, not dried out. You’ve got to mash lots of juice out of them while you are packing it in. It usually takes about 8-9 pounds of cabbage to make a gallon. It doesn’t completely fill the gallon jug but you have to leave some room at the top for the bubbling as it ferments.
First thing you need to do is make sure that you start off with a very clean environment. You want bacteria for the fermentation process but you want the beneficial bacteria that you introduce. Give the beneficial bacteria the chance to get established by starting off clean. Make sure that your jar, cutting board, knives, all tools you are using and your hands are clean and don’t have any soap residue left on them.
Okay the fun is ready to commence. Wash your cabbage well, discarding any dried out tough outer leaves. Take that cabbage and cut it into quarters, cutting out the hard core. Then slice the quarters lengthwise and then crosswise into tiny shreds. I’ve used the food processor and a mandolin to slice it up but to me a cutting board and a good sharp knife work just as well. Make sure that you are chopping it into a large container so that you will have plenty of room for working with it.The general rule of thumb is 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt (not the iodized table salt but a good quality sea salt) to 3 pounds of cabbage. This doesn’t sound like much salt for all of that cabbage but it works out about right. Work the salt into the cabbage using your hands. Keep working the salt in and squeezing the cabbage to help it release it’s juices. Gradually the cabbage will start becoming less crisp and will be limp and watery. It usually takes at least 10 minutes or so of massaging it to get to this point.
At this point you can add onion, carrots, peppers, caraway seed or other vegetables or seasoning that you like. Most sauerkraut purist usually just add salt and maybe caraway but experiment to find your favorite.
Pack the cabbage into your jar. As you add the cabbage use your hands to pack it in tightly. Add all of the liquid that is in your bowl to the jar. After I have packed all of the cabbage into the jar I use one of the outer leaves to put over the top layer of cabbage. This will help to keep the cabbage covered with liquid. (Very important to keep it covered with liquid). To make sure that it doesn’t float up over the liquid I take either a freezer bag or a jar that is small enough to fit inside the jar that you are using and I make a salt brine and fill my bag or small jar, using a teaspoon of salt in a cup of water to make the brine. I then place this inside my larger jar to make sure that everything stays submerged.
Cover your jar with either cheesecloth, a coffee filter or another fabric, securing it on with a rubber band. This makes sure that unwanted insects or dust do not get in and allows the air to escape as your fermentation takes place.
For the first day or two it is a good idea to press down on your cabbage every few hours or as often as you think about it to be sure that the liquid is over the top of the cabbage. If you are having problems with this use the brine recipe to add more liquid as needed. Continue to check your kraut daily to be sure there are no problems.
Some things to be aware of are:
-you may see bubbles coming up and this is okay, just a part of the fermentation process. -you may see a white scum or foam on top of the cabbage-again this is okay. You can skim it off when you see it forming or wait until the fermentation is completed. -if you see mold forming take this off immediately and make sure all cabbage is completely under the liquid -make sure that you put your jar in a plate or bowl because it can bubble over and cause quite a mess, especially if you are using red cabbage.
Your jar needs to be kept in a cool room-ideally 65 to 75 degrees while fermenting. A question that is often asked is how long do I leave it fermenting. That is completely up to you and your taste buds. Smaller containers typically ferment faster. Start tasting it after about 3-4 days. When it tastes like you want it to remove your weight jar or bag and put a lid on it and refrigerate it.
You can keep the fermented kraut in a refrigerator for several months. As long as it smells good and tastes good it will be fine.