MAKING SAUERKRAUT AT HOME
Stone crocks are excellent containers for making sauerkraut. If you are buying one second hand, examine the inside carefully for cracks and other blemishes. If it has a permanent whitish stain, it has been used to store eggs in waterglass, and this makes the container unsuitable for making sauerkraut as the waterglass residue inhibits fermentation.
There are recipes for making sauerkraut in jars or other large containers. You can purchase specially made “fermentation pots: which can relieve you of some of the work involved in keeping the air out of the fermenting cabbage.
All cabbages will make sauerkraut, but each has slightly different properties. Cabbages are roughly divided into types according to the number of growing days from transplantation to maturity. Early cabbages take from 56 to 70 days: mid-season from 70 to 76 days; and late cabbages from 76 to 99 days. Red cabbage is not generally used to make sauerkraut, neither are the savoy types.
Choose firm heads of cabbage. Chose firm, unblemished heads, but split heads, or those too deformed for sale or storage may also be used as long as they are firm and can be trimmed clean.
Do not wash the heads, but trim off the outer leaves until the head is clean.
EARLY CABBAGE: Early cabbage is the most tender, and the heads are the best to cure for use in making cabbage rolls. This cabbage also makes the most tender sauerkraut, but one that does not keep long in storage.
Unfortunately, early cabbage matures so early that you may not be able to make use of it. Other disadvantages are the heads split very quickly in the garden, often beyond redemption, and they do not keep well in storage.
MID-SEASON CABBAGE: This is still a tender cabbage. It matures later than the early cabbage, but is a couple of weeks earlier than the late. It does not split readily in the garden and it will store for a fairly long time. It makes good sauerkraut.
LATE CABBAGE: The heads of late cabbage keep well in storage for most of the winter, but they make the least tender sauerkraut, and they require more cooking. In spite of this, late cabbage is often made into sauerkraut because it is ready about the time that the garden work is slowing down.
It is the least desirable method for curing whole heads, but it does tenderize them somewhat.
SOME ESSENTIAL EQUIPMENT:
Some sturdy, sharp knives for splitting the cabbage.
A shredder is a boon if you are making a larger quantity of sauerkraut. Although shredders are not easily available these days, they might be found in country hardware stores, especially around harvest time. If you are making a small quantity, any utensil that will help you shred the cabbage quickly and easily would be useful.
A stamper or pounder is essential. It is most important to pound or mash the cabbage as this will make the differences between success or failure. If you are making sauerkraut in a barrel you could use an oak staff about 36 inches long and 4 inches in diameter, which allows you to pound a barrel full of cabbage. A stout wooden mallet would serve the same purpose. If you are making your sauerkraut in jars, use a potato masher.
Make sure that the containers, the utensils and your hands are as clean as you can make them. Cleanliness is essential for successful fermentation.
A clean cloth big enough to fit over the shredded cabbage and the container.
A plate or board that will fit snugly inside the container.
A heavy weight to place on top of the plate or board. This makes sure that the brine rises above the plate or board. . You may use a large stone which has been scrubbed clean and used year after year.
Choose mature, firm heads of cabbage. Remember that the heist concentration of vitamin C is in the green leaves.
Remove only the soiled outer leaves, and do not wash the cabbage as the wild yeast on the unwashed leaves helps with fermentation.
Set aside some of the clean outer leaves to top the shredded cabbage in your crock, then cut the heads in quarters and remove the cores.
Shred the cabbage on a shredder or with a strong, sharp knife or other utensil. Lately, I have discovered that my meat clever works beautifully. The shredded cabbage should be as fine as coleslaw or the thickness of a dime.
The cabbage should be quite salty, but pleasantly so. REMEMBER TO USE ONLY PICKLING SALT OR SEA SALT.
Here are some measurements to use.
2 TSP. PICKLING SALT TO 1 LB. CABBAGE OR 10 mL salt to 500 g cabbage.
1 POUND PICKLING SALT TO 40 LBS. CABBAGE OR 500 mL salt to 20 kg cabbage
1 ½ CUPS PICKLING SALT TO 40 LBS CABBAGE
3 TABLESPOONS SALT to 5 QUARTS CABBAGE or 45 mL salt to 5 L cabbage
Pack from 2 to 4 inches of shredded cabbage in your container, sprinkle the cabbage with salt, and mix the cabbage and salt thoroughly. Pound the cabbage/salt mixture with a mallet until you hear squishy sounds. Add more cabbage, and repeat the salting, mixing, and pounding until you have the desired amount of cabbage in the container. You will find that all your pounding efforts will have created a briny liquid which has come to the surface of the cabbage.
Cover the shredded cabbage with some of the whole cabbage leaves, and spread a clean cloth over the top of the leaves.
Place the plate or board over the cloth to keep air from the mixture, and weight the cover with a heavy stone. You should see the brine creep over the cloth onto the plate or board.
The stone crock or container should be placed in a warm spot—temperature between 68 F. and 72 F. (20 C and 21 C) is about right for good fermentation—and left there for between 2 to 6 weeks. At lower temperatures the cabbage will take longer to ferment; at higher temperatures, the process will be faster, but the finished sauerkraut will be of inferior quality.
During fermentation, a scrum will form on the surface, the cloth, and the board, and this scum should be removed daily. Skim the scum off the surface, and wash the cloth and board in hot water before replacing them.
When bubbles stop rising to the surface of the cabbage and brine mixture, active fermentation has stopped. However, slow fermentation will continue, and the sauerkraut will become much stronger in flavor over a period of time. To stop this action, the sauerkraut must be frozen or canned in glass jars, following the manufacturer's directions.
VARIATIONS: Not everybody makes their sauerkraut plain without additions, although this is my favorite way. Many other vegetables may be included or prepared separately, and very tasty they are too.
Each country has its own favorite additions; for instance, the French like to include juniper berries. Some like to mix in a quantity of pickling spice; others like the tang of peppercorns. Any single whole spice can be added to your liking, or you can mix them in any combination.
If you are in the mood to experiment, add a few pieces of ginger root and lemons.
HERE IS A PARTIAL LIST OF WHAT YOU CAN ADD:
Any of the root vegetables
Most garden vegetables may be preserved by lactic acid fermentation, either separately or in combination. Unlike the cabbage which can be preserved saltless, all other vegetables must be salted. Use all vegetables raw, with the exception of green or yellow wax beans, which must be cooked for at least 5 minutes before being pickled.
Dill is a favorite herb to use, although others may be used also. Whole apples, unpeeled, and often included in a batch of sauerkraut. They are excellent to serve with pork.
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Last updated November 30, 2004