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What a Crock…of Sauerkraut!

A large crock of sauerkraut sat in our basement when I was growing up, a round wooden board was placed in the mouth of the crock holding the kraut below the brine level and a towel covered the top of the crock.  How cabbage became sauerkraut was a mystery to me, why didn’t it just rot as time passed?  When sauerkraut was on the dinner menu, my mom would head to the basement and return with a bowl of delicious firm kraut.

As an adult, I wanted to continue the tradition of fermenting sauerkraut in the basement as my mother and grandmother had done.  I was amazed to learn the ingredients are only cabbage and salt, a mixture which will create its own brine (salt water). The foundation of the process is to keep the sauerkraut below the brine level and to allow time for the lacto-fermentation process to happen. 

The list of ingredients in the basic sauerkraut recipe is 5 pounds of cabbage and 3 tablespoons of canning salt (canning salt does not contain iodine or anti-caking agents).  Using a recently harvested head of cabbage is best as the moisture in the fresh cabbage, with the help of the salt, will create a generous amount of brine.  Slice the cabbage thinly using a mandolin slicer or a knife (or if you are making large quantities like my mom and grandmother did, use a large 3 blade cabbage shredder).  Weigh out 5 pounds of the shredded cabbage, add 3 tablespoons of canning/pickling salt and mix thoroughly. 

Five pounds of cabbage and 3 tablespoons of salt is the perfect amount for a 1 gallon container. You can scale up for a larger container by repeating the 5 pounds cabbage/3 TBSP salt mixture.  If you don’t have a crock, a 1 gallon glass jar works great.  You may know someone who buys their pickles in 1 gallon glass jars or who works in a cafeteria or restaurant.  The glass jar has an advantage over a crock as you can see the sauerkraut through the glass sides of the jar.  If 5 pounds is too large of a quantity for your needs, you can scale down the recipe and use a 1 or 2 quart canning jar.  Just divide the 5 pounds cabbage/3 TBSP salt per gallon recipe to determine the new amounts (i.e. for a 1 quart jar use 1¼ pounds cabbage and 2¼ teaspoons of salt). 

Pack the cabbage/salt mixture firmly into your container ensuring that all of the cabbage is fully below the brine level.  Using your hand to do the packing works great.  The mixing and packing will create the brine needed to create a healthy ferment and to inhibit any unwanted microorganisms.  Pack your container no fuller than 2/3 full, leaving room for the brine level to rise and room for your method of keeping the kraut submerged.

 

Making sauerkraut is simple but the last step in the process is important: the salted cabbage must remain submerged below the brine level.  This can be accomplished by placing a weight on top of the salted cabbage, hence the wooden board my mom put on top of the kraut.  I use a different technique. My weight consists of 2 food grade bags, one inside of the other to create a double layered bag (in case of leakage) which I insert into the mouth of the jar.  I fill the inside bag with water or brine, pressing the bags against the inside sides of the jar. Filling the bag with brine made from 1 ½ tablespoons salt to 1 quart water is best, in case the bag tears in the process. I use a twist tie to close each bag separately.  I then place a canning jar full of water on top of the sealed bags to ensure the bags remain fitted along the sides of the jar.  There are many ways to keep your kraut submerged, pick the one you like.  Finally, cover the container with a cloth and put a tray or dish below it in case the brine overflows the container during the early stage of fermentation.

3 jars of sauerkraut in glass jugs
Barb Brenner

How long should you wait for the fermentation process to occur?  That depends on the temperature of your storage area:  3 to 4 weeks at 70-75oF, 4 to 6 weeks at 60-65oF, below 60oF it may not ferment and above 80oF the sauerkraut will become soft and spoil.

Mystery solved, delicious sauerkraut is made from a simple recipe of cabbage and salt.  Last year I made 5 one gallon jars of sauerkraut for a total of 25 pounds.  In our household our favorite uses of sauerkraut are 1) pork loin with sauerkraut and baked potatoes and 2) adding it to our breakfast omelets.

For more information on fermenting your own sauerkraut check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation website.

By Barb Brenner, Cornell Cooperative Extension Certified Master Food Preserver. 

With thanks to Katherine J T Humphrey, Cornell Cooperative Extension Home Food Preservation Expert, for her review of this article.