Making sauerkraut is an excellent way to utilize and preserve a bountiful cabbage harvest. This fermented food, typically made in the fall, has been passed down through generations, is simple to make and, like all live-cultured foods, has numerous health benefits.
“We all need live nutrition,” says Sandor Ellix Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2012). “Our digestion relies upon the activity of bacteria inside our bodies.”
The beauty of a homemade sauerkraut recipe is its simplicity.
“It doesn’t require sophistication at all,” Katz says. “That’s one of the misconceptions: That it requires scientific precision.”
A Place to Ferment
Specialized fermenting crocks can be used to make sauerkraut, but you can also use nearly any food-grade glass or plastic containers. Katz prefers glass and makes sauerkraut in a quart-sized canning or mayonnaise jar for demonstrations.
Fermenting crocks typically come with stones to weight down the sauerkraut. If you use a different container, place a plate overtop of the cabbage to compress it. A jug or jar filled with water works well placed on top of the plate as a weight. It’s fine if the cover doesn’t fit edge to edge within the container because the brine will cover the fermenting cabbage.
What Is Brine?
Brine is the most critical aspect of making sauerkraut. This salt-and-water solution is used during the fermentation or pickling process to cure the cabbage.
“The vegetables have to be submerged under liquid,” Katz notes. The beneficial bacteria present in fermented foods grow acid in the absence of air, and by covering the cabbage with the brine this will occur.
Typically the cabbage-salt combination will produce enough water to form a natural brine, but if the liquid doesn’t rise above the plate or stone level, make a brine by dissolving 1 tablespoon of salt in 1 cup of water.
Waiting It Out
After the sauerkraut is packed and submerged, replace the lid on the fermenting crock or place a cloth over the container and set it in a secluded spot in the kitchen or pantry. Check on it periodically to track progress. Fermentation of the cabbage varies upon temperature and how much salt is used. The hotter the weather or the less salt used, the more quickly the sauerkraut will be ready.
“In hot weather it’s very common for surface mold to develop,” Katz says. Simply skim off this “bloom,” which is not harmful because, according to Katz, it’s impossible for food-poisoning organisms to grow in the acidic environment of the fermenting process.
Use the simple sauerkraut recipe below to but your cabbage to use right away.
Recipe: Homemade Sauerkraut
1 gallon sauerkraut
- 5 pounds cabbage
- 3 tablespoons sea salt or pickling salt (Do not used iodized salt because it inhibits fermentation.)
Shred cabbage to preferred level of coarseness. Pack layer in container, and sprinkle with small amount of salt. Tamp layer firmly to press water out of the cabbage. Continue layering cabbage until container is filled to within 1 inch of top of crock or container. Cover crock or container with lid or cloth, and set in secluded spot. Make sure to check periodically.