|Sauerkraut, drained, rinsed and ready to eat!|
My family made pickles, but never sauerkraut. We ate it though: a regular weeknight supper at my grandparents' house was "weenies and sauerkraut". Paul's mother, Thelma, made her own kraut when he was a baby. She said when he was toddling around, he would reach into her crocks and get handfuls of kraut to eat! Cabbage in any form is still one of his favorite vegetables. We have sauerkraut fairly often, cooked in lots of different ways or on hot dogs (Hebrew National, thank you!).
The health benefits of fermented cabbage or cucumbers are huge. But we don't get the same benefits when the pickles are made with vinegar or the kraut has been processed to death and treated with all kinds of "preservatives". The Lactic Acid that turns cabbage into kraut, makes it sour, and prevents it from spoiling once it is fermented, comes from the action of lactobacilli. These little friendly bacteria keep our digestion working properly, help remove toxins from the blood (sauerkraut was an old staple in hospitals that treated alcoholism), and now it looks like sauerkraut can even help prevent cancers. AND fermenting the cabbage bumps up the Vitamin C content tremendously (is there nothing Vitamin C can't do? ;-))!
Usually by the time I think of doing things that require time to ferment, it is already the height of summer and too hot for things to "bubble" properly. But one day in April, I took advantage of the very cool Spring we had this year and tried my hand at it.
For this batch, I used a gallon glass jar. Next time, I am going to use one of Big Grandmother's crocks - I am sterilizing it in the dishwasher right now. You could easily use one of the old style "crock pots" without plugging it in. You would still need to use the plate or bag method to weight down the cabbage to keep it under the brine. Be sure to read up on how to use various containers and weights BEFORE you get started. The National Center For Home Food Preservation is a reliable reference for safe canning and preserving methods.
[July 5, 2013 UPDATE: Second batch completed, as easy to make as the first, and we enjoyed some of it yesterday. But I learned I cannot use antique crocks. They have crazing that absorbs the liquid and that would also prevent them from being sterilized. Stick to glass or modern options such as the crock pots mentioned above, or brand new crocks. Thanks to everyone who has stopped in to read this! I hope it has been useful to you :-) ]
I got my recipe from here, and they also detail the method: it is originally an Extension Service recipe from the University of Georgia. It is the same recipe that is given in many cookbooks and other websites, but I chose this one because it is very simple and the instructions are complete and matter-of-fact. I've added my notes within it, and given the lower portions for making a small batch.
I loved that there is also a recipe for making sauerkraut out of Collard Greens! It is too warm here in Texas for cabbage to do well, but we can grow some collards. Collards are one of those biennial vegetables that you can keep alive all through the year, making it possible to have fresh home-grown veg even in the dark of winter. The Collard Sauerkraut Recipe is just below the one for cabbage. I haven't tried it yet.
Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
1 head of cabbage or about 5 pounds
3 tablespoons of canning or pickling salt (you could use kosher salt but not sea salt or iodized salt, the iodine will interfere)
Discard outer leaves. Rinse the whole head under cold running water and drain. Do not use disinfectants or vinegar rinses on it, just a simple wash with plain tap water.
Cut the cabbage in quarters and remove cores. Shred or slice to a thickness of a quarter (about 1/8"). You can use a knife if you don't have a mandolin but don't chop it into little bits. Long shreds are what we want. I used one head of cabbage, and shredded it fine with a mandolin (be REALLY careful with those and always use the safety guards, make sure someone else is in charge of the kids while you are using it, etc. Most important: THINK and pay attention - don't get distracted by anything.).
Add 3 tablespoons of salt. If the weather is very warm, you may need to use a little more salt. Toss well and mix thoroughly with your hands, then pack it all into your fermenting jar or crock. Leave space at the top, maybe 4 or 5 inches, for the brine to cover the cabbage completely.
Here is the hard work part: beat it down firmly to bruise it and start drawing the juice out. I used a wooden meat pounder, or you could use a jelly mortar. I hammered on it a while until I was tired. Then I made a brine of one quart filtered water and 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, brought it to a boil, and let it cool to room temperature. After it had cooled, I poured it over the cabbage.
I added a round piece of plastic that was the diameter of the jar and sealed weights inside a freezer bag and put them down in the brine to hold the cabbage down under the brine. This time I used brine in a gallon freezer bag (actually two of them in case one leaked) and put it inside the jar to seal
the whole thing. You use brine in the bag in case it leaks because plain water would dilute the sauerkraut causing it to spoil. If you use a crock, you can put a plate inside it instead.
"Add plate and weights; cover container with a clean bath towel. Store at 70 to 75 °F while fermenting. At temperatures between 70 and 75 °F, kraut will be fully fermented in about 3 to 4 weeks; at 60 to 65 °F, fermentation may take 5 to 6 weeks. At temperatures lower than 60 °F, kraut may not ferment. Above 75 °F, kraut may become soft. If you weigh the cabbage down with a brine-filled bag, do not disturb the crock until normal fermentation is completed (when bubbling ceases). If you use jars as weight, check the kraut two to three times each week and remove scum if it forms."
I set my jar back in the floor in the guest room. That part of the house, on the south side, is always shaded so it stays pretty cool back there, especially down at the floor level because that room, one of the originals from about 1895, is on pier and beam foundation so cool air can circulate below.
It took right at 4 weeks for mine to be done, and I could tell it was done because I started smelling it! Mine did form some scum (scary looking stuff) but I just scooped and wiped it out before moving down to the good kraut.
I transferred the kraut and its juice directly into sterile pint jars, and stored them in the refrigerator. My head of cabbage made 3 full pints of sauerkraut. To can for pantry storage, you would need to process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, just like any acidic food - there are specific instructions at the original link.
As promised above, here is the recipe for fermenting collard greens!
Collard Kraut Recipe
A big bunch of fresh collard greens, about a gallon when cleaned.
2 or 3 Tablespoons of canning or pickling salt for each one gallon of collards.
Procedure: Wash the greens well, and shred. Use the same process as given for Cabbage Sauerkraut above. Store at 70 ºF for fermenting. At this temperature it will take approximately 3 to 4 weeks to ferment. If any scum forms above the plate or weight, remove it about 2 to 3 times a week. Taste in about two weeks. Allow collards to ferment until desired flavor is reached.
Store in refrigerator or process in boiling water bath, as directed at original link or at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.
If you try making the collard kraut before I do, or the regular cabbage kraut, please post and let me know how it turns out!