For those interested in trying fermentation for the first time, sauerkraut is the perfect way to start! Sauerkraut (salted and naturally fermented cabbage) is high in probiotics, full of nutrients, tasty, and a great way to preserve local cabbage each autumn. Best of all, it is easy to make with the great starter recipe (see below). Once you’ve mastered basic sauerkraut, begin experimenting! Spice up your kraut by adding any herbs and spices. Some great combinations with cabbage include: caraway seed, garlic, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and hot peppers!
Find more ideas with these great basic fermentation books you can purchase from our book section: Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten & Christopher Shockey and Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
Get ready to fall in love with making and eating sauerkraut!
How is Sauerkraut fermented?
Sauerkraut is made by the natural and traditional process of lacto-fermentation. Lactobacillus are one of many bacteria that are naturally present on the surface of all vegetables, including cabbage. When these bacteria are put in the optimal environment for their growth (i.e. with salt, under a liquid brine) they break down the sugars in the vegetables and produce lactic acid, which naturally pickles them. Thus, sauerkraut is a lacto-fermented food.
How do I know my sauerkraut won’t kill me?
Memorize this fermentation mantra: “If it is underneath the brine, you’ll be fine!” According to the USDA Microbiologist Fred Breidt Jr., there is not a single documented case of food-poisoning from people eating properly fermented vegetables.* The key word is “properly.” In the case of making sauerkraut or any other lacto-fermented veggies in a proper way, the key is to keep them under the brine and Lactobacillus bacteria will thrive. This bacteria produces so much lactic acid as it breaks down the carbohydrates in the veggies, that harmful bacteria (e.g. E. coli and botulinum) can’t grow because the environment is too acidic. At the same time, sometimes things can go wrong. Maybe you didn’t check your sauerkraut often enough and the cabbage was above the brine and started to mold. Use your judgement and your senses when fermenting. If something seems off, just be safe and toss the batch.
Do I need a crock to make sauerkraut?
No. The best way to get your feet wet in the world of vegetable fermentation is small-batch fermenting. All you need is wide-mouth quart mason jars as your fermentation vessels and regular mouth ½ pint mason jars as your follower weight–and you are in business!
Where can I learn more?
Attend a class from the local nonprofit Driftless Folk School! They have a variety of instructors that teach classes on basic vegetable fermentation. Be sure to click the button for VFC Owners when you sign up so you can get a $10 discount! These classes are a fantastic way to get hands-on experience with skilled fermenters. Here is the next upcoming class:
Beyond Cabbage: Fermentation for the Season
Instructors: Heidi Krattiger & Bjorn Bergman
Class Date: Saturday, November 11
*Resources: www. foodsafetynews.com/2014/03/fermenting-veggies-at-home-follow-food-safety-abcs/#.WWetUIjyuUk
Prep time: 30 minutes (+5 to 20 days fermenting at room temperature)
Makes: ~1½ qts
- 1 medium (3 lbs) green cabbage (remove outer leaves and core, then slice thinly)
- 3-5 tsp sea salt
- In stainless-steel bowl, mix sliced cabbage and 3 tsp sea salt thoroughly. Let mixture sit at room temperature for ~20-30 minutes. The salt will draw brine (liquid) out of cabbage. If short on time, massage mixture vigorously with hands to form brine in 5-10 minutes.
- Sample mixture (should taste salty, but not salty like the ocean). If saltiness is to preference, move on to next step. If saltier sauerkraut is preferred, add another tsp of sea salt, mix well, and repeat tasting.
- Once layer of brine forms in bottom of bowl and saltiness is to preference, tightly pack cabbage and cover with brine in one ½-gallon (or two 2-qt wide-mouth) mason jars with hands or tongs.
- Once mixture is in jar, some brine should be present on surface. Weigh down using ½-pint regular-mouth mason jar filled with water (as weight) to keep cabbage covered in brine. If not covered – see “mantra” in article above!
- Place mason jar in bowl or pan to catch any brine that might overflow out of jar(s). Ferment should sit out of direct sunlight on kitchen counter for 5-7 days. Check sauerkraut every day and press down on mason jar weight to remove air bubbles from within ferment in order to keep all veggies under brine.
- After 5-7 days, remove mason jar weight and sample using fork. Ask yourself: How does it taste? Do I like the level of sourness and the texture of the ferment? Is the cabbage crunchy or soft? If you like the flavor and texture – put lid on jar(s), place in fridge and consume within 1 year. If a more sour/less crunchy ferment is preferred, put jar weight back and let it ferment for a few more days. Repeat taste testing until done to preferred sourness and crunchiness.
Learn more when you sign up for the Driftless Folk School classes – and get a $10 discount as a VFC Owner, too!