sauerkrautNow that the large late summer and fall Kaitlin cabbages are harvestable my hankering for sauerkraut kicks in. Spring and summer cabbages, like the Farao we grow, will also work, but the later maturing cabbages, like Kaitlin have a higher sugar content and make for better sauerkraut.

I doubled-checked my method of kraut-making before publishing it here, wanting to be sure I wasn’t leading you astray. I went first to my 1978 copy of The Joy of Cooking. Sauerkraut is the last recipe in the book, and I learned that I do it just like Rombauer and Becker did. Except that they say keeping your crock at 60 degrees is optimal for the best outcome. Warmer than that and you lose some of the flavor. Mine is generally fermented closer to 70 degrees, but I’m trying a cooler place this time around.

My second source was Michael Pollen, who has a new book out, Cooked, which is at the top of my reading list, as soon as I finish Barbara Kingsolver’s, Flight Behavior. I’ve been following and reading Pollen since The Omnivore’s Dilemma and his practical approach to eating in Defense of Food (eat food, not too much, mostly plants) is how I’ve been eating for a long time. (All the sudden I’m seeing LOTS of purple on this page…). Pollen gives more detail in his recipe, and suggests options for creating an Old World sauerkraut or kimchee.

Both sources confirmed my method as being a-okay. Some things are just that simple.

Ingredients and Equipment:

6-12 pounds of cabbage
3-6 Tbsp. salt
1 gallon glass jar or fermenting crock (I can fit 9 pounds of cabbage in my gallon jar easily–if you only want to make a little, use a 1/2 gallon size and 4-6 pounds cabbage. The cabbage:salt ration is 1 pound:2 tsp.)
2 plastic bags (or a plate that can fit on top of your kraut and cover it, along with a rock for weight and a cloth).

Rinse and discard the outer leaves of your cabbage.

Half and quarter cabbage, cutting out the core.
Slice about 3 pounds of your cabbage into 1/16-1/8″ shreds and put in a large bowl.
Add 2 Tbsp. pickling salt (for every 3 pounds), mix in with your hands and let sit while you rinse and chop 3 more pounds.

Go explore Pollen’s site on-line, or mine, or go clean out a kitchen drawer or two while your cabbage “wilts” as the salt draws out the water.

After 15-30 minutes go massage/squeeze/bruise the first batch and then transfer it to your crock along with any liquid (salty water) in the bowl. Salt the second batch, do a bit more cleaning, perusing sites, and then do the same to the 2nd batch. If you are doing 6 pounds, you ought to be done slicing cabbage. If not–continue.

Before adding you 2nd batch to your crock/jar, use your fist and press down on the cabbage. The goal is to get the brine above the level of the cabbage. Add the second batch, continuing to press down so the brine rises to the top of the cabbage. Give it some more time if you don’t have enough liquid.

When you are done packing your crock you should have several inches of space left at the top.  There are several ways to do the next step.  I put a plastic bag with water inside another bag and stuff it on top of the jar being sure the bag spreads out and covers all the exposed cabbage and also adds enough weight to keep the brine above the cabbage. Over time less water may be required to do this, but it helps keep the cabbage below the brine and the surface from being exposed to air, to prevent or decrease the amount of bloom that grows on the top.

kraut2If you use the cloth/plate/rock method, put your clean cloth on top of your cabbage, then a plate over that and weigh it down with a rock–or something heavy enough to make the brine dampen the cloth so you know its reached the surface. Rombauer and Becker say to remove the bloom (which they call scum) daily once the fermentation process begins, placing a clean cloth on the cabbage, and washing the plate. This bloom will not hurt you though it looks nasty.  Be prepared for something mold-like, and just skim it off the top. Don’t assume your cabbage is ruined when this shows up. And if the top inch is darker than the rest it’s likely because your brine has not saturated the top inch. Not a problem, that part just won’t be as tasty. Also–expect to see bubbles as this is normal fermenting behavior.

Fermentation takes anywhere from 2 weeks to a month. If your kraut is fermented around 60 degrees it will take the longer end of that. You can speed it up (as Pollen does) at higher temperatures, but  the Joy of Cooking experts say you lose some flavor if you do.

My kraut has been amazing even though fermented closer to 70 degrees, but as I said, I’m going to go for 60 this time anyway.

Once fermentation is done–best determined by tasting it–either put it into clean jars and store in the refrigerator (assuming you’ll eat it in 4 months of so), or bring your kraut to a simmer, pack into hot pint or quart jars, and process in a water bath for 25 minutes (pints) or 30 minutes (quarts). If you aren’t familiar with water bath canning, see the basic directions explained here for dilly beans.

Enjoy bringing some Old World charm into your home this fall and winter!kraut

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