Six weeks ago the ‘other two-thirds’ (OTT) and I harvested our cabbages and spent a couple hours shredding, salting, pounding and layering it all into crocks. We then sat it in the corner of the kitchen and forgot about it. Now, it has been transformed into sauerkraut, and I have spent the better half of the day–without the aid of the OTT–canning it. Three big crocks makes a whole lot of sauerkraut. It is now nearly 4:00 pm and I’m still canning, and I’ve been at it now for a few hours. The good news is, I have friends that like it so I’ll give a bunch of it away as gifts. The bad news is, there is still another crock to deal with sometime later this week!
Actually, it is all good. It is a lot of work, but useful work, real work. Not only that; it is tasty work. I never liked sauerkraut until I made it the first time. It is amazing the difference it makes when you not only make it yourself, but also grow the cabbage that you make it from. Home grown cabbage is nothing like the hard, bitter, wax-laden ball that you buy in the store. When you grow your own cabbage, you are introduced to a completely different vegetable: they are sweet, crisp, crunchy, and they squeak.
Not until I grew my own could I eat cabbage that wasn’t drenched in mayonnaise and vinegar, and disguised by a whole host of spices. The ones you grow are crisp, sweet, and smell nice when you chomp into them. Consequently, the final product that you are left with after 6 weeks of fermentation is equally different from the slog in the jars you may be used to purchasing in the stores. It is still not something I go wild about, but for those who really like sauerkraut, home made stuff is to die for–apparently.
While I’m not a huge fan of the kraut in general, I am a big fan of the cabbage rolls made with fermented cabbage leaves in particular. In fact, I crave it. Because I only make sauerkraut once a year, I only get to enjoy the fermented cabbage leaf rolls once or twice per year as well. If you’ve never tried it, I encourage you to do so. It transforms an otherwise so-so meal into the culinary equivalent of high art. I should probably look into figuring out how to preserve those fermented leaves so I can have that more often. In the meantime, I’ll make do with the occasional ‘lazy’ cabbage rolls, layering the ingredients with my sauerkraut.
You will need a very large crock, glass or enamel container
Minimum of 2 heads of cabbage
Kosher salt (I use pickling salt)
Heavy duty food-grade plastic bags or 2 gal freezer bags (unless you have a Harsch Crock)
Wooden spoon (or something to pound the kraut with)
Some tips here to prevent problems with your sauerkraut:
Never use aluminum utensils!
Absolute cleanliness is necessary for a healthy brew!
I have a very old 5 gallon crock that I use to make my sauerkraut and cover with plastic bags and a plate to keep air out. I also have two Harsch crocks that were specially designed for kraut making and have an airtight seal incorporated into the design. But you can use a glass or enamel coated container. Clean and scald the container well by pouring boiling water into the container and swishing around for no less than 30 seconds.
If you use a Harsch crock, follow the directions that come with the crock; it uses less salt that this recipe does.
To prepare the cabbage, remove and discard the outer leaves. Wash and drain, then cut the cabbages into halves or quarters while removing the core in the process.
Step 1) Shred Cabbage – I use my food processor for speed and ease. If you shred by hand, make sure the shreds are no thicker than a nickel or dime!
Step 2) Mix, with wooden spoon or very clean hands, 5 pounds of shredded cabbage with 4 tablespoons of Kosher salt (pickling salt will do but changes the flavor a bit – do not use table salt) and toss and mix thoroughly until kosher salt dissolves. (You can make as much as you wish as long as you use the ratio of 5 lbs. cabbage to 4 Tbs. salt.)
NOTE: If you plan on refrigerating and not canning, use 3 tbs of salt, not 4.
Step 3) When juice starts to form on cabbage from tossing, pack the cabbage firmly and evenly into a clean crock, glass or enamel container. Press firmly to encourage juice formation. Fill the utensil no closer than 5 inches from the top.
Step 4) Make sure juice covers the cabbage completely (this does not always happen unless the cabbage is fresh from the garden). Prepare additional brine by putting 1 1/2 Tablespoons of kosher salt into 1 quart of boiling water. Dissolve salt and cool brine to room temperature, before adding to the pot of cabbage.
Step 5) Once cabbage is immersed in brine water, place a large food-grade, plastic bag filled with brine water and lay it on top of the cabbage. (I use 2 large bags, one inside the other–sometimes a 2 gal freezer bag–with a couple of quarts of cooled brine water inside. If the bag breaks, it will not water down the cabbage into a tasteless mess.)
The cabbage must be well sealed all around with the bag, so no air can get in and contaminate the sauerkraut with unwanted yeasts or molds.
Step 6) Now cover the container with plastic wrap, then a heavy towel or cloth, and tie securely into place. Do not remove this until fermenting is complete.
Step 7) Put in an area where the temperature will not be above 75 degrees. Fermentation will begin within a day, depending upon the room temperature. If room temperature is 75 degrees, allow 3 weeks for fermentation. If temperature is 70 degrees, allow 4 weeks. If temperature is 65 degrees, allow 5 weeks. If temperature is 60 degrees, allow 6 weeks.
NOTE: If temperature is above 75 or 76 degrees, the sauerkraut may not ferment and could spoil!
Step 9) Once fermented, taste to see if your required tartness exists. Tartness will weaken as you process in canning, so make sure it is a wee bit more tart than you like!
Can be eaten immediately, or can it if you desire.
Hot Pack: Pint jars………..10 minutes Quart jars……..15 minutes
Raw Pack: Pint jars………20 minutes Quart jars…….25 minutes
I have tried both, and prefer to use the cold pack–it makes a crisper sauerkraut.