Who would’ve thought that I’d ever make from scratch such a hard-core Germanic food as sauerkraut (which by the way, in German just means sour cabbage). But it turns out that sauerkraut is amazingly easy to make, and filled with those special bacteria that are so good for the tum-tum.
Before I go into the recipe, I’ve got to explain the color. You see, this is my second home-made batch of sauerkraut. I made the first batch with purple cabbage. This one is made with all white cabbage, but I used some of the deep purple liquid from the first batch to kick-start the fermentation process. Aside from giving this batch it’s interesting pinkish color, it worked great, and that nice sour flavor matured much more quickly in this batch. However, after a quick google search I found out that pink sauerkraut is usually a sign that the cabbage growing something called leucoanthocyanidin, and should be discarded. So if you’ve actually heard of leucoanthocyanidin, or just knew anecdotally that pink sauerkraut is bad, DO NOT BE ALARMED!!! …the sauerkraut is just fine. Delicious, in fact!
Now, on to the recipe.
I found the basic recipe at Wild Fermentation, a website by Sandor Ellix Katz discussing and selling his book of the same title. The book is definitely on my wanted list, as it has recipes and instructions for making all things fermented, including yogurt, sourdough, vinegar, and mead! The website just explains how to make basic sauerkraut, which is VERY simple. I found other recipes online, but they all called for cooking the jars of sauerkraut after they’ve been fermented, which I would do if I needed the stuff to last through a winter in the backwoods with no refrigeration, but which I find totally find totally missing the point of sauerkraut otherwise. (The point being that it’s filled with live beneficial bacteria, which promote healthy flora in your digestive system.)
Here’s the recipe:
- You have to have a large wide-mouth crock, urn, or jar to ferment it in. About a gallon capacity will hold one medium head of cabbage.
- A plate or something with a flat bottom that will fit inside the mouth of the jar, and cover as much surface area on the top of it as possible.
- Something heavy to weigh down the plate in the top of the jar.
- One medium head of cabbage
- A whole bunch of salt
- Some water, if needed
The basic instructions are to chop up the cabbage, mix it with the salt, weigh it down with the plate and something heavy, wait a few weeks, and voila! Sauerkraut!
Here’s how I do it, in considerably more detail and with not exactly the called-for materials. I don’t have an appropriate container, so I commandeered a large, cylinder-shaped flower vase that was made of heavy glass (thoroughly disinfecting it first), and I used a little ramekin-type ceramic dish with a flat bottom in lieu of a plate. And for the weight, I simply filled a large pickle jar with water, which I balance on top of the ramekin.
You can apparently ferment any size cabbage chunks you want, even whole heads, but I like fine shreds so I chop mine in thin slices so that it ends up as close to shreds as possible. When you’re chopping a cabbage, you discover how much vegetable matter is really packed into a cabbage as it seems to grow and grow as you chop. Rather than measuring the salt carefully, I follow Katz’s advice and toss a handful of cabbage into a large bowl, sprinkle salt all over it, chop another handful, throw it in, sprinkle salt, etc. When the bowl starts to get full, sprinkle some more salt on the whole thing and toss it all together to make sure the salt is well distributed, and then start packing the cabbage down into the jar. Using a wooden spoon, tamp the cabbage down so that there isn’t room for air bubbles. As the cabbage sits, the salt will draw the water out of the cabbage, which will form the liquid. Continue the process of chopping, sprinkling, tossing, and tamping, till all the sauerkraut is in the jar. If the liquid is not yet enough to cover all the cabbage, add some water to just cover the top of the cabbage.
Now, place the plate on top of the cabbage and use the weight to press it down. Throughout that day, I continue to press down the cabbage whenever I think of it.
After that, I drape a cloth over the whole thing to prevent dust falling it, tuck it into a dark corner of the kitchen where it won’t be forgotten, and check it once a day to make sure no pieces are sticking up out of the brine.
With a fresh batch from scratch, you should have a very mild sauerkraut in about two weeks, and you can continue to ferment it for about 6 weeks total. Whenever the taste reaches the strength you prefer, jar it up and put it in the fridge, where the flavor will continue to develop, but much more slowly.