Friday, October 1, 2010

Fermented Sauerkraut according to Me

I wanted to share with you how I go about making sauerkraut, a food that we hold near and dear in this household. It's good and so good for you.

These are the six huge heads of cabbage my husband snagged from a local gardener. They weren't raised organically, but they weren't raised with all sorts of chemicals, either, plus they were raised locally. I like to buy local when I can. It's important that whatever cabbages you use to make sauerkraut, that they are of highest quality. If they are nutrient-deficient, it will result in a very low-quality final product.

And that thing in the middle of the picture? THAT, my friends, is an old-fashioned kraut cutter from my grandparents. They used it to make sauerkraut back in the day, before there were food processors. Interesting tidbit of how my forebears used to make sauerkraut... my grandma said that they used to set the jars to ferment outside in the shade of the lilac bush.

With these beautiful heads of cabbage, we made sauerkraut. And not just any
sauerkraut. Fermented sauerkraut!

How do I make it? It's is really quite simple. Surprisingly so.

When we first started a couple years ago, it was very small scale, and the way to go for anyone starting out with the fermented sauerkraut endeavor. The basic recipe can be found here.

But this summer we've evolved into doing more at a time, especially since we've been able to acquire more cabbage heads at a time. AND we have honest to goodness crocks!

The process:

1. Shred cabbage, allow about 1 small-medium head to 1 quart of space. Food processor is easiest. I had to have my husband do the shredding with the manual shredder because it required someone stronger than me to use! But boy, it shredded cabbage really great, got the juices flowing a lot better. I don't like to shred it too finely, but whatever you like.

Here's a pile of shredded cabbage.

2. Put into big bowl with whey, salt, and caraway seeds, and pound with a wooden pounder until the juices start to pool in the bottom of the bowl. Allow about 4 T. whey, 1 T. real salt, and 1 T. caraway seeds (opt. but recommended!) for 1 quart. If you don't have any whey, here are directions for making some. Otherwise, you could skip the whey and substitute an additional tablespoon of salt. Why even add whey? In the cookbook, Nourishing Traditions, whey is recommended because it helps to ensure "consistently satisfactory results," and also supplies lactobacilli (this helps improve digestibility of food and increases vitamin levels, as well as producing helpful enzymes, and antibiotic and anticarcinogenic sustances, and promotes the growth of healthy flora in the gut... simply put, GOOD STUFF!) and acts as an innoculant (reduces the time needed for sufficient lactic acid to be produced to ensure preservation).

I use a nifty wooden pounder my husband made. You could also use a meat pounder, too. It also helps to mix it all together and let it sit for 10 minutes or so, the salt starts to draw out the juices.

We strayed a little from the directions as we used crocks this year. We were going more toward the directions in Wild Fermentation, which recommends to just layer the cabbage and salt, and to not worry too much about pounding. I think the pounding is really just to bring out the juices so you can push the cabbage below the salty brine, which is what keeps the cabbage from spoiling.

One of the crocks we threw in a few garlic cloves. Wow does it make a smelly kraut, but it doesn't taste bad at all!

3. Press pounded mixture beneath liquid and put a plate and weight on top of it. Cover with towel and let sit anywhere from 3-14 days. We fermented for 9 days. If you're going small scale with this endeavor, you can put a lid on the glass quart jar and just ferment for 3 days then put in the fridge. In the open crock, we made sure to skim the "bloom"(aka mold) that formed on the top of the liquid about every day. If you don't have a plate the right size, you could use a glass or plastic food-grade lid that fits inside the container you're fermenting in. If you're not using a crock, you could use a plastic food-grade bucket, or a larger glass jar. The weight we use is a smaller glass jar filled with water.

4. Put in jars and keep in a cool place. We filled about 15 quart jars from this ferment. Make sure to push the kraut below the brine. You may have to skim some mold off the top if you keep it for several months, but the kraut is still good, so don't throw it out! We will be keeping all our jars (I've lost count now, but we must be between 30-35 jars of kraut, plus all the pickles we've done) in the crawl space beneath the cabin, they should keep nice and cool on the cement floor.

Here's a bowl of the end result... sorry for the dimly lit picture.
And here I am, concentrating very hard at filling the jars. That wooden thing I'm holding isn't the wooden pounder I described above. THAT thing would make pounding anything pretty difficult. But it works well to push it through the funnel. And in the background you'll see two gallon jars half full of kefir soda fermenting! But that is for another post...
So you see, it's really pretty easy to do, just takes a little time. The longest part of it is the waiting, and that's not hard at all! Okay, maybe a little, if you're excited to eat some kraut. I know we're all strapped for time, but it's amazing how many people watch a lot of TV but say they don't have time... Okay, I'm off my soap box now.

I encourage you to try fermenting sometime, and sauerkraut is a great way to start.

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