Friday, July 9, 2010

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut

A couple of weeks ago, I scored some really nice cabbages at the farmer's market. They were very heavy, but only about the size of a human head.

Thanks to the movie, Jerry McGuire, we now know the head weighs approximately 8 pounds.

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

The sweet lady that I purchased my cabbages from assured me, repeatedly I might add, that she did not use any chemicals on her garden. That is good to know when you are planning on fermenting the food. I have tried to use store bought cabbages in the past (before I knew any better), and they did not ferment gracefully.

They rotted.

And it stunk.

I don't know what kind of science is behind that, but I'm just telling you what happened to mine.

And I won't make that mistake again.

Making sauerkraut is very easy. It consists of cabbage, salt and patience.

Did I mention that it is a great way to take out any aggression you may be feeling? Try making this after a long shoe-shopping-take-all-the-kids-to-town day.

It's very therapeutic.

To make sauerkraut, you will need a ceramic crock, or gallon sized glass jar. I prefer the crock because it's easier to get into, but have had good success with the jar too. For smaller batches, you can use a quart jar, but I figure that if I'm going to make kraut, I may as well make enough for the whole family.

I'm very giving that way.

Besides the crock/jar, you will need good sea salt and a large, heavy-duty wooden spoon for tamping the cabbage down. There is a special kraut tamper that you can buy, but with my memory, I'm afraid I would forget what that gizmo was for.

I have a whole drawer of gadgets just waiting to be identified.

Start with a heavy head of cabbage. The lighter the cabbage, the more chances you have for finding cabbage dwellers. Fill up your kitchen sink with cold water and add about 1/2 cup of sea salt to the water. This will cause the dwellers to abandon ship. I let mine soak for about 20-30 minutes.

Even with the soaking, sometimes you will still find a surprise.

For me, it was proof that chemicals were not used!

Before you start cutting the cabbage, let it drain in a colander for a few minutes.

Remove the outer leaves from the cabbage. Cut the cabbage off of the core. I just go around and cut off all four sides, then take a little off the top of the core area. It makes it much easier to handle.

Cut the cabbage into "shreds". I would not use a shredder attachment on the mixer because it makes the cabbage too mushy. I have an old-fashioned kraut shredder that works great for large batches, but for small, it's best to just cut it yourself.

Now it's time to layer the cabbage. I don't like to measure, it takes too much time and dirty's up too many dishes. I like to cut up 1/4 of the head, place in the crock and sprinkle about 1/2 teaspoon of salt over it. You will want to do a little finger-dip taste testing along the way to check the saltiness of the kraut. Too much salt and nobody will eat it, too little salt and the cabbage will not ferment correctly. My rule of thumb: If the salt is pleasing to the tongue, you do not have enough. If it causes you to pucker and drag yourself across the kitchen to the nearest water source, it's probably too much. If you use too much, don't worry, you can add filtered water to it towards the end, just adjust the amount of salt as you continue to layer. I probably used about 3 Tb. of salt for the entire crock.

Layer another 1/4 of cabbage and salt it. Then let it sit for a few minutes. This will allow the salt to pull the moisture out of the cabbage.

Now is the fun part. With an up and down motion, start pounding on the cabbage in the crock. Not too hard or you can crack the crock and find fermenting cabbage juice dripping down your cabinets.

Or so I've heard.

See how the juice is rising? This is a good thing.

Continue adding shredded cabbage and salt and pounding down every layer until the cabbage is gone. By now you're crock should be about 3/4 of the way full (more or less), which is perfect. Make sure that the juice is covering the cabbage by about 1 inch. If it doesn't, you can add some filtered water, just make sure that you taste and adjust the salt.

To cover your crock or jar, get a heavy duty freezer bag, open it and place it inside the jar with the opening out. Fill the bag with water until the sides of the bag are creating a nice seal over the top of the crock. Seal the bag. My grandmother used to place grape leaves right on top of the cabbage and then set a plate over it all. I've tried it, it works, but is a little more messy.

Place a dish towel over the top and move your crock to a secure location.

i.e. Where children and dogs will not disturb it with a football that is not supposed to be thrown inside the house.

I'm just sayin'...

The crock should be in an area that does not get too warm or too cold. Room temperature is good.

In about 4-5 weeks, you will have sauerkraut that has all of the healthy beneficial enzymes in it without the vinegar.


*The sauerkraut should smell pleasantly sour at the end of the fermentation process. It will not smell nice during the first 3 weeks or so. If the kraut just smells rotten at the end of 5 weeks, then it probably is. Throw it out and try again!
This is part of Fight Back Fridays over at the Food Renegade.


Farmgirl Cyn said...

Can't wait to try this again this year. Last year all we had left at our CSA was Chinese cabbage, which works, but I think a regular head of cabbage will hold up better.
Tomorrow I am trying my hand at lacto-fermented pickles, which, coincidentally, also calls for a grape leaf like your grandma's. The grape leaves help keep the pickles crunchy. Or so I've been told.

Kim said...

I think your right. Grandma's pickles were always crunchy!

Anonymous said...

I tried this once earlier this year, but found I had put too much salt. I like your comments about determining the amount of salt to use. :D

Wisconsin Girl said...

I put my cabbage and salt in quart jars and with canning lids and rings, recipe is to let sit on kitchen counter for 3 days and then transfer to frig. There is no fermenting taking place as at other times. What is wrong? Not enough salt? Can I open the jars and add salt? 4 quarts have been sitting there for 5 days. I hate to throw it all out after all that work. Thanks!

Kim said...

Is the cabbage covered with liquid? Does the cabbage smell rotten? It may be that the jars are too air-tight...mine has a bag of water sealing the kraut, but it can still breathe. If your kraut doesn't smell rotten, finger dip and taste the saltiness. If it's not enough, add more. But I doubt that that's the problem. It may just need more time to ferment. Good luck~having to throw out kraut isn't any fun!