My first mother-in-law was from Oklahoma born in the late 1800s. They fermented food to save the harvest during the coming year.
When she taught me … we made it in quart mason jars. Simple process. Place the shredded cabbage in a jar. Stomp it down. Add a tsp. of salt. Screw on a cap and lid then sit on a shelf in the basement until ready.
That simple process would cause the National Center for Food Preservation as well as the CDC go into a dead faint at the thought today. That being said in all the years of canning and the hundreds of jars of sauerkraut I made I never lost a jar. OR DIED!
I have moved from that method today. Well sort of
Today I use a fermenting crock. A really good one made in Poland.
Yes but safer and easier in my opinion.
The reason is for goodness. Fermented fruit and vegetables lose their nutrition when heated. Heat kills all of these great organisms that are so good for you.
I shred with a Chef’s Choice 615 into a flat tub. I do about 2 heads then stomp with a wooden stompper until the juices are released from the cabbage.
I was finally willing to invest in some equipment other than mason jars which I have an abundance of at my house.
So here is what I have for this purpose.
2 fermenting crocks. A 5 liter and a 16 liter.
Understand these crocks are heavy empty. But by the time you fill them with veggies and liquid they are REALLY REALLY heavy. My small one weighs about 25 lbs filled … not that bad but the 16 liter?? Heavy empty. So think ahead if you decide to get one of these where it will sit until your kraut is done.
First I sprinkle salt over the cabbage then stomp in the tub since it is flat on the bottom and much easier than trying to stomp in the crock. The cabbage is then layered into the crock and pressed as tight as I can with the stomper.
My recipe is the no frills German kind. Cabbage, Salt and time.
The time is according to your taste. You do however need AT LEAST 2 weeks for the fermentation to happen properly.
There are those who can not wait … OH WELL … but they are not getting the pro-biotic benefits if they do not wait at least 2 weeks. You can taste then and maybe you want it to go longer before eating it all up.
So what amounts do I use for this little crock?
8 lbs of cabbage
4 Tbsp Sea Salt
The shred, salt, stomp then layer in the crock is repeated until the crock has about 3 inches left at the top. You must leave enough room to get the weight stones into the crock. Once they are in place you will see if you need to add brine to cover the stones and reach the top of the crock
If I need added brine I boil 1 qt of water with 1 tsp of salt.
You want your kraut and weights covered with about an inch of liquid. If it does not make that much on its own then add it to the top of your crock.
When your fermentation starts you will hear the little “plerp” from the lid of your crock. Very satisfying since you know you did it right
Many credit the Germans with sauerkraut but it was actually the Chinese about a 1,000 years before them that used it daily. They fermented their cabbage in rice wine … so perhaps that is where Americans picked up the vinegar addition.
Here I have added the cooled brine to almost the top of the crock. Then the lid was placed on the crock and the trough was filled to keep the crock air tight. Fermentation gas can escape but no air or contaminates get inside your crock.
Fermented sauerkraut is an excellent source of vitamin C as well as of some of the B vitamins. Homemade sauerkraut is so rich in beneficial bacteria … you know those friendly microorganisms which help to colonize the gut, train the immune system and manufacture vitamins in the digestive tract. The Chinese believe all disease starts with a screwed up digestive tract. So does much of the Holistic community here in the USA.
Fermentation is an anaerobic process and when your fermenting foods are exposed to air, you run the risk of having contamination by airborne mold, yeast, and stray microbes.
If you want to ferment more than just sauerkraut because of the health benefits, the time saving and safety factors will probably make it worth while to invest in a good crock.
A tip to remember … Keep your hands, out of the crock. Use wooden spoons, wooden stompers, and glass or crockery for dipping and weighting. It is amazing how quickly mold will form on the brine atop of fermenting crocks when hands dip in for the goodies inside.
For those who think they hate sauerkraut they probably have never had real old fashioned fermented cabbage heated in its own juice with bacon grease added and served with German or Italian Sweet sausages.