There are useful things that I like to make purely for the pleasure of it, to have just what we want at a higher quality than one can buy, and to enjoy the thing knowing it’s homemade. Sauerkraut goes a step further, being so strikingly economical. As a health food, it succeeds in making me feel better immediately upon eating it. I love that it will balance stomach acid, whether you’ve too little or too much, but mostly I just love to eat it. I figure that fermenting sauerkraut is worthy of becoming a habit for life. Here’s how I’ve been making it.
Begin with a cabbage, sea salt, and a very clean, very strong glass kilner jar, (we like Le Parfait or Fido), with a rubber seal. A small clean glass jar is useful later, too. If you’ve got it, ½ cup of brine reserved from a live storebought kraut will jumpstart the process.
All set? Weigh the cabbage. Ours was conveniently a full kilogram.
Calculate how much 2.5% of the cabbage’s weight would be, then measure that amount in sea salt. (In our case, 25 grams, about a tablespoon.)
Reserving a nice big leaf, slice the cabbage as finely as you like it (or grate it on a traditional kraut grater if you’re lucky to have one!) and throw it in a clean, sturdy bowl with the salt sprinkled over, and the kraut brine starter added if you have it. I like to be sure to hone my blade, now there’s a useful skill, before slicing and during, too.
Now, bash it. We found this old muddler at a favourite antique shop, how easy would it be to turn one on a pole lathe! It works brilliantly – but the flat end of a handle-less rolling pin or similar object you find around would function.
We like making kraut with friends, taking turns having a bash. The goal is to see a good deal of liquid emerge from the cabbage. Sometimes we leave somewhat muddled kraut under a towel and plate overnight to get the juices flowing, depending on what the day is like.
When you pack the cut, bashed cabbage firmly into a clean, strong kilner jar, you want to see enough liquid to submerge the cabbage. Don’t worry, you can add more brine later if necessary, depending on the type and the age of the cabbage. To make brine, mix water to salt at 2.5% or so – or follow the simple traditional rule our friends the Bairds over at Ecosense use – salt it to taste like the ocean!
Tuck the cabbage leaf that you saved all round the top of the chopped stuff, putting it to bed so nothing is floating, nothing exposed to air. Place a small clean jar or glass with some water in it inside the large jar, to weigh down the big leaf, and close the large jar up tight.
A dark cupboard will be an ideal place for the sauerkraut to live while it ferments.
In a while – my friend waited a few days while I waited two weeks – open it, pull back the cabbage bedding, and sample your wares. Tuck it back in and leave it be if it isn’t ready. When you figure it has fermented to your liking, eat it. I move it to the fridge -some folks say there’s more probiotic action before refrigeration, and some folks are a little nervous of things like this and trust the fridge- and use it up in your own good time. This time I shall set a reminder to make some more before we run out! Ben Hewitt of the wonderful book Nourishing Homestead makes a ton of it in jars and stores it cool all year.
We are very much impressed with the flavour. The texture of this batch was a shade crunchy for the smaller folk, so the verdict is to try a different cabbage, and experiment with how thinly to cut the veg. No mold, no burping the jar, no airlock required, no special crock, nothing to do but be patient.
Ah yes, you’ve caught us. Now we’re eyeing other people’s prize cabbages, and plotting to grow our own kraut-cabbage.