Sauerkraut is one of those foods that you either love or hate…and if it’s the latter, I don’t just mean hate…
I mean REALLY hate. Despise. Blech. WAY bleeech
Well, let’s see if we can change all that.
To start with, if the only sauerkraut you have ever had is that canned garbage stuff from the grocery store, you haven’t had sauerkraut. You have had shredded cabbage with salt and vinegar added, and folks, that ain’t sauerkraut.
Yeah yeah yeah…I know…commercial kraut is a bit more involved than that, but not much, and the additional things are pretty much chemicals for preservation and appearance. It’s still junk not very good.
REAL kraut is made up of three ingredients…cabbage and salt, like the commercial stuff, and TIME, something food processors don’t have. They want to make it fast and get it out the door to stores…and the poor suckers fine folks who buy it.
Anyway, here is how you make REAL, good tasting and VERY healthy kraut. Keep in mind, it takes a long time to make, so I wouldn’t suggest making 1-2 or even 5-10 quarts at the time. Use economies of time. It takes very little more work time to make a large batch than it does to make just a little bit. This is for the size batch I make.
Cabbage, other than at the retail produce section level comes in 50 pound cases. Get one.
Get a large box of salt. I use sea salt, but kosher will work just fine. Do NOT use regular table salt, pickling salt, or rock salt (ice cream salt).
You will need a 5 gallon container. Traditionally you would use a stoneware crock. I don’t because they cost about 50 bucks apiece.
Don’t even tell me I’m cheap. I already know it…and I prefer the term frugal.
I use a food grade plastic bucket. The bakery section of most chain supermarkets is a possible source of food grade pails, but they rarely have ones that big. I use 5 gallon buckets from Home Depot.
Don’t yell at me. The orange ones are food grade plastic, but don’t look appropriate for food. HD does have plain white ones in the paint department though that ARE food grade and look fine. If you are completely anti-plastic you can buy the expensive crocks.
Get the lids for the buckets when you buy them…you’ll need either them or cheesecloth.
Last, you need a weight to hold the cabbage down. Again, traditionally it was a well cleaned flat rock JUST smaller than the crock top opening. I use a dinner plate that barely fits in the bucket.
Now…let’s make some sauerkraut.
First, pull all the outside dried up leaves that have loosened from the heads off.
DON”T THROW THEM AWAY! That just adds to landfills. They go in your compost pile…you DO have a compost pile, don’t you? If you don’t, start one (see my farmsteading section of JuicyMaters). Even if you don’t have a garden, it’ll help your yard and landscaping…or let friends that need compost have it…they’ll love you for it.
Now, shred the cabbage, except for the hard center, or heart. Shred it pretty fine, but not tiny. Think of the lettuce shreds on a fast food burger.
The cabbage hearts go in the compost pile too.
Now you add salt and mix it in the cabbage REAL well. Use 2 ½ percent cabbage/salt ratio, by weight. For a 50 pound case of cabbage, you will have 40-45 pounds of cabbage shredded after removing the outer leaves and heart. That means 1 pound of salt.
Put the salted cabbage in the bucket (or crock), pressing the cabbage down some. It should be packed snug but not real tight.
Put the weight, plate, rock, or other CLEAN object, on top of the cabbage, and pour water in the bucket until the cabbage is covered, leaving at least an inch of air space at the top. Wait 5-10 minutes for the water to seep into all the little air pockets in the cabbage and re-fill the container.
If you are using a crock, cover with 3-4 layers of cheesecloth held in place with a large rubber band (the kind used by the post office to bundle mail is a perfect size. Ask your postman for a few (and reward him with a jar of the finished kraut). If you are using a plastic bucket poke a dozen or so holes, the size of an ice pick, in the lid and put it on the bucket.
The reason for the cheesecloth or holes in the lid is that real sauerkraut is a fermented food, and fermentation gives off gasses. A tightly closed container would explode as the kraut ferments…but you still need to keep out critters.
Now you wait.
While you wait, open the container every 4-5 days to check progress and add water if needed to keep the water level just above the cabbage. You might see a scum forming on top of the cabbage, usually around the edges of the container, if at all. Skim this off. Now…
About 5-6 week total. Actual time will vary by temperature of where it is kept during fermentation…and don’t can the kraut before the fermentation is complete.
Unless, of course, you LIKE exploding jars of kraut. Then, can it anytime.
When fermentation is complete (no more bubbles and no more appearance change over a weeks time), you can can it. I cold can mine and it lasts at least 6 months without refrigeration (once opened though, keep in refrigerator).
A case of cabbage makes about 17 quarts of kraut. Fill the jars, tightly packed, with kraut to within an inch of the top and top with some of the kraut juice in the bottom of the fermentation container. Put lids on tight and store in a cool dark place.