Take a walk on the wild side with Fermenting your own sauerkraut
I’ve been receiving these jolly green giant cabbages in my CSA boxes lately. (CSA stands for “community supported agriculture” which is a subscription service to receive a glorious box of organic veggies weekly) These cabbages are awe inspiring and a bit daunting on what to do with them, but I have discovered that when life gives you cabbage you make sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is one of the most well-known foods that are naturally fermented to get the distinctive tangy flavor this food is celebrated for. Genghis Khan is credited with introducing it far and wide but it was an art form born in China. (He ripped it off from them, so to speak) The Germanic tribes of Eastern Europe went wild over it and made it one of their national foods. It’s probably why they grew so healthy and strapping as sauerkraut is a wonder food.
Sauerkraut, that is made the old school way by lacto-acid fermentation, is filled with communities of beneficial micro-organism that are largely devoid in our modern food that is so fixated on everything being sterile. Beneficial micro-organisms work symbolically with us in so many ways that is hard to explain in a weensy article, but they are critically important for our immune and digestive system. They protect us and nourish us, and we do the same to them.
Most sauerkraut is made by fermenting with a microbial called “Lactic Acid Bacteria” (LAB) that are found on all plants and in the soil. You simply cut the cabbage up, give it a nice salt rub, then let the LABs do their magic at fermenting the cabbage and preserving it all at the same time. The LABs do the same thing to cabbage that they do with us, protect it. Then we eat it and we get protected. Genius.
Amazingly enough fermenting vegetables is super safe and a powerful way to take control of your health. Fred Breidt of the US Dept of Agricultural once said, “Risky is not the word that I would use to describe vegetable fermentation. It is one of the oldest and safest technologies that we have.” He went on to say, “As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food-borne illness from fermented vegetables.”
So with that in mind, give this wild ancient art a try. I explained a lot of it in the recipe but if you have more questions there are lots of resources online and the book called “The Art of Fermentation” by Sandor Katz tells all. Feel free to add some other flavors to the mix like beets and ginger or carrots and cumin. Turn fear into curiosity and take a walk on the wild side!
Homemade fermented classic sauerkraut
1 large head of cabbage, preferably green or Savoy
1.5 tablespoons of salt
1 tablespoon of caraway seeds
Equipment that you need;
2 large mouth quart jars, washed in the dishwasher
A large mixing bowl
2 small skinny jelly jars full of clean rocks
Clean cheesecloth or muslin
A couple rubber bands
A muddler or something to tamp down the cabbage
Okay dokay, ready to ferment? Here we go. First off peel the droopy outer leaves off your cabbage then cut it into 4ths, de-core it, then finely slice each wedge crossways to make thin ribbons. Toss the cabbage ribbons into a large mixing bowl, separating the ribbons as you do. Sprinkle the salt over the mix then begin to rub the salt into the cabbage by massaging it all. At first it seems you are getting nowhere but after about 4-5 minutes you will begin to notice that the cabbage is breaking down and getting wetter and smaller. After somewhere between 5-10 minutes of massaging, when your cabbage is reduced to half the size you’re done. Massage in the caraway seeds for a few more minutes and it is ready to go.
Next, get out 2 canning quart sized jars and stuff them with the cabbage mix. Tamp the cabbage down as you go to tightly pack it in the jars. I used a canning funnel and a muddler and it worked great. You can pack it down with a large wooden spoon too. When you have the mixture evenly divided between the two jars and squished down tight, pour what fluid is left in the bottom of the bowl over the cabbage. Take an outer leaf you pulled off from the cabbage and tuck it over the to-be sauerkraut to keep the oxygen from getting to it. Tamp it down again.
Now place your rock filled (I know, it’s high tech here) jelly jars on top of the cabbage to keep it submerged. Cover with the clean cloth, put a rubber band around each of the jars and place in a quiet room, out of direct sunlight at the temperature of 65-75 degrees consistently, to do its magic. If the temperature rises above 75 degrees, move it to a cooler location as hot fermentation can make the whole thing go off. It will taste and smell bad. Cold temperatures just slow down the process but no harm done.
Press the cabbage down every few hours the first day to get the juices flowing. (I just pressed down and the rock filled jar to do this with no need to remove the rubber band and cloth.) The liquid will begin to seep out of the cabbage and cover it. This is your brine. Allow the cabbage to ferment for 3-10 days, pressing it down daily under the brine. ( I found that 7 days was just about right)
While it is fermenting you will see lots of bubbles and activity, which shows it is alive and well. As long as the cabbage stays under the surface of the brine, fermentation will occur perfectly. If any mold or scummy stuff grows on the surface, remove it immediately and then re-submerge your cabbage. The sauerkraut under the brine is fine.
Begin tasting it at day 3-4 and then every day until it reaches the perfect tangy-ness for you. When it gets at your preferred flavor, remove the cloth, the jelly jars and the top cabbage leaf and fluff it up into the liquid. Store in the fridge with a lid on it and it will last months. As long as it still smells and tastes good, it’s good. Put on your salads, with your hot dogs, or anywhere else you can think. It is GOOD for you!