Today I made sauerkraut. Actually, today I finished my sauerkraut and put it in a glass container for the day when I make the greatly anticipated meal of sauerkraut, bratwurst and new potatoes. Sauerkraut is so easy to make and is really good for you! My grandmother Frieda claimed she never got sick a day in her life because she always ate a tablespoon of sauerkraut when she felt like she might be getting sick. Back in those days no one knew about probiotics and how they are so very good for your health.
Crunchy yummy cabbage kraut. Not the insipid mushy canned kind. Which is good, too! But this is much better! Photo by Renée Benoit
The fermentation process that transforms the salt and cabbage into sauerkraut increases the vitamins, particularly vitamin C and B vitamins, and food enzymes that are already in cabbage. Homemade sauerkraut is also very rich in beneficial bacteria that help make our immune systems strong and create essential vitamins in our digestive tracts. At any time of year, but especially winter when fresh food can be hard to come by, homemade fermented foods are really good to have.
The key to making sauerkraut successfully is to have a crock or container that can be completely closed off to the air. I have a large stoneware crock that has a tight-fitting plate to cover the fermenting kraut. I put a big bag of water on top of it so the kraut is completely submerged under its juices. Bacteria in the air, which can cause spoiling, cannot penetrate. So whatever does penetrate is neutralized by the salt.
Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe
• 1 head of organically grown cabbage about 3-5 pounds
• 1 tablespoon of pickling or unrefined sea salt (Read labels! You'd be surprised what they put in sea salt these days!)
• 1 teaspoon of caraway seed (optional)
1. Core and shred your cabbage. I used a food processor with the shredding blade.
2. Wash your hands thoroughly. Toss the cabbage and the caraway seed (if you're using it) and salt together in a large mixing bowl and begin to squeeze the cabbage and salt together with your hands, kneading it thoroughly.
3. When the cabbage starts to releases juice, transfer it to your crock. Some people feel better investing in a fermenter. It's up to you. One thing I keep doing during the process is wash my hands. If I go off and do something, when I come back, I wash my hands. We're taking precautions to prevent naughty, inappropriate bacteria getting in with the kraut.
4. Pack the salted cabbage into the crock or fermenter as tightly as you can, eliminating air bubbles. I use a clean wooden mallet or pestle and mash, mash, mash until the juices come up enough to cover the kraut. Sometimes my cabbage doesn't produce a lot of liquid. It just has to cover the shredded cabbage so don't worry. If you don't get enough liquid to cover, mash more. You might have to mash a lot for a few minutes. Put on some mashing music to help make the job more fun! I'd also say make sure that your cabbage has been shredded pretty fine. It doesn't have to be shredded into a pulp but it has to be cut up quite small. Otherwise just mash and mash some more. Keep those hands clean!
5. Then I put my clean plate that fits into the crock—so I almost can't get it out—on top of the shredded cabbage mixture. After that I take a new clean zip lock bag filled half full with water sealed shut and put it on top of the plate to hold the plate down. Juices may leak over the edge but that's OK. The bag will seal it from the air.
6. Cover the crock with cheese cloth or a light cloth, secure it with a rubber band and allow it to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for at least 1 week. You can try some after a few days to see if it is done to your liking. If it's too salty you can rinse it in cold filtered water when it's done. This is good for people who may have high blood pressure. Then eat it right away or put it in the fridge or other cold storage. It should keep for at least 6 months and up to 1 year—but it won't because you'll have eaten it all way before that!
If scum appears on the brine of your homemade sauerkraut, just spoon it off. You won't be able to remove it all but spoon off what you can and don't worry about. The real key to preparing homemade sauerkraut, and any fermented food, is that the liquid covers the cabbage.
I love this project because I get healthy probiotics for a fraction of the cost of store-bought!