Sunday, August 12, 2012

Homemade Sauerkraut

Brassica 'Brunswick'
 There are few things I can think of that are simpler to make than good old-fashioned sauerkraut, and clearly, it far outweighs anything one might purchase at the grocery store, both in flavor and benefit of the healthful lactic-acid bacteria (Lactobacillus plantarum) it possesses, even more than yogurt. It is high in Vitamin C and other nutrients.

Unless you are planning to do this year after year, I wouldn't run out to buy things. There are kraut cutters on the market for shredding your cabbage, but you might have a mandoline on hand, or simply a sharp knife (cut carefully) and a steady hand to thinly slice; it all depends upon the quantity you are making and if it will be a repeat performance as to whether you want to invest further. Fortunately, I still have the same cutter as when I made it in 1970.

my kraut cutter... he's the best


earthenware crock (sterilized)
sharp knife
kraut cutter
wooden mallet (masher)
dinner plate that fits inside the crock
weight that sits atop the plate (jug of water or covered clean rock)
clean dish cloth
cover (i.e. a board) for the crock


Fresh cabbage
Pickling, kosher or sea salt (non-iodized), 2-3 Tablespoons per 5 pounds of cabbage

Notes: 5 pounds of cabbage yield 2 quarts of sauerkraut firmly packed. Only use non-iodized salt otherwise the fermentation will be inhibited 

It is as simple as this: cut and core. Shred, salt, pound... shred, salt, pound.... taste.... then let nature brew.

From the garden we harvested firm heads of heirlooms Brassica 'Brunswick' and 'Early Flat Dutch', removed the outer unusable leaves and discarded them. Heads rinsed, patted dry, and with clean hands quartered the cabbage, removed and discarded the cores, and over a container the slicing begins.

Spread the first shredded cabbage head (about 2-3 inches) into the earthen crock, sprinkle with salt and tamp the cabbage tightly until you see the moisture. Repeat shredding, salting and packing it down. Taste test each layer along the way to ensure the salt amount is correct. Following the mashing in the second and third layer you can see (hear) the brine forming. Take your time and enjoy the process.

By the end the cabbage should be covered in 1 to 2 inches of brine. If there is not enough once you have completed mashing it, add a little water. Just be certain your mixtures stays covered in brine during the fermenting process. Leave 5-6 inches between the cabbage and the top of the crock.

Place a dinner plate over the mixture and a weight atop the plate in order to keep the cabbage submerged. Place a clean, damp kitchen towel over the crock and cover (i.e. a board) over so that air is excluded from entering. After several days, foam will begin to appear; spoon it off and re-cover the crock. Make periodic checks to remove the foam and taste-test. Ours took 3 weeks to ripen (ferment) to that depth of flavor one desires in sauerkraut. We kept the crock in the kitchen and between 70-73 degrees. (Cooler temperature will slow the fermentation process and take longer; just be sure not to have it in hot temperature that will spoil the cabbage.) In addition to tasting the kraut, a thick white ring of mold had formed atop the kraut also indicating it was ready. A piece of this can be dried and saved and added to your fall making of sauerkraut.

Note: Here is a good reference from the University of Wisconsin-Extension.

32 lbs of cabbage yielded 16 quarts of product

Pack the sterilized jars tightly, again allowing for brine to cover the sauerkraut.

Half of the jars were given to friends and the others refrigerated where they will keep for several months. Make a salad, eat it just as is, or combine with a pork roast.  I also froze some in quart bags, something I've not done before. I'll have to let you know how that works out.
PS: We also have a small amount of this beautiful B. 'Tete Noir' brewing.

Brassica oleracea 'Tete Noir'