Easy Sauerkraut

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About: Raising and educating several children over a wide range of ages with my husband and learning along with them as a way of life.

Sauerkraut made at home has live probiotics for your GI tract health, good source of Vitamin C (or why Viking raiders didn't get scurvy on long sea journeys, despite having no citrus), has no nasty phthalates or BPA from can liners because it isn't canned, and is very economical. If people knew how easy it is to make, no one would ever buy it. So here goes!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

You will need:

- fresh cabbage,
- a way to shred it finely
(a food processor, or a hand-crank cone shredder of good quality, are both easy and quick), - salt
[so far as I can tell, it doesn't much matter what kind you use. That's a personal taste issue. It all makes kraut, because the purpose is allow fermentation by lactic acid-producing bacteria rather than spoilage by other bacteria, and all salt will do this]

The proportion of salt to cabbage I follow is roughly
3 TBSP salt to every 5 lbs cabbage.
I know that Kosher salt will measure differently than standard table salt, but Kraut is so forgiving, it really doesn't seem to matter. Let taste be your guide, and use less than the full amount, then taste, and add the rest if it seems desirable.

and

-a place to store it.
I use a glass gallon pickle jar, and it holds 4-5 heads of cabbage. Others may use a food-grade plastic bucket (but is there *really* such a thing as a food-safe plastic? Inquiring minds wander...er, wonder.) or if you are lucky, you have a stoneware or wooden crock specially made for pickling and fermenting. You will need something to weight the kraut down with, but more on that later.
It needs to be at a cool temperature, ideally in the 60-degree range, but can tolerate anything except "wam" and "cold" at which point, it will either spoil because it's warm enough that other microbes take over, or it will cease fermenting properly because it's too cold. That's why kraut was traditionally made in the fall. I keep my jar in the northeast corner of the basement. If you are unsure of the temperature you are keeping it at, a cheap weather thermometer helps. Just set it by the jar. Over about 75 or under about 60 degrees F may yield poor results.

Step 2: Shred Your Cabbage

The cone shredder I have is one I bought from a West Bend Waterless Cooker demonstration, and I paid an embarrassing sum for it, but it has been worth it over the years. The cones aren't sharp enough to cut my fingers, never need sharpening, yet somehow do the job effortlessly. I admit to being stupefied. It's a heavy, gleaming hunk of chrome, and can go through a whole head of cabbage in short order, and 4 heads of cabbage before I get tired. You may find a food processor does the trick for you. But in case you have a cone shredder, use the slit cone, because that makes lacy shreds perfect for coleslaw and sauerkraut both.

I can't imagine how much work this would be, trying to slice the cabbage by hand. A mandoline might also work well for this though not as fast.

Step 3: Add Salt and Seeds (if You Like Seeds)

Once you have your cabbage shredded, place it in a large nonreactive container and add your salt and, if desired, caraway, dill, or other savory seeds. I added dill seeds I grew and harvested last summer, and caraway I bought. You can also add seeds to half the batch and leave the other half plain, and ferment separately in jars. It's all up to you.

Step 4: Mix It Up

And, if you have any, pour a little left over kraut juice into your new batch. This will get things going faster. Kind of like sourdough in that respect.

Step 5: Pack It, Punch It, and Weight It Down (oh Nooo...)

If any time elapsed between salting and mixing it, and packing it into the fermentation jar, you will probably notice the texture is changing already, and there is more liquid forming. That liquid is good. As you pack it into the jar, punch it down and let the liquid rise over the cabbage.

Then place something on top to keep the cabbage submerged under the liquid, such as a clean smooth stone, a plate with a weight on it if you are using a bucket, or a smaller jar full of the same liquid (in case a spill happens) as I have shown here.

Then cover against flies and dust, with cloth or loosely placed lid.

Step 6: Find a Cool Spot

Place your jar somewhere protected from light, where it will be cool, but not cold. I use the northeast corner of the dirt-floored basement now that the weather is warmer, but in winter, the kitchen counter is fine. A thermometer can tell you if your kitchen counter is fine (think 60-65 degrees) or not (80 degrees is definitely too hot, and much below 50 may retard fermentation).

Depending on whether it ferments at the warmer or cooler range, and how much salt was in it, it may be ready in little more than a week, or it may take a month or longer. Taste it, smell it. If it smells and tastes like yummy kraut to you, it's ready. I noticed the color change to yellowish as it matured.

At that point, I transferred the contents to quart jars to cap and keep in the fridge, but you can also keep the remainder in the jar in the cool spot to continue developing. Since all fermentation is essentially going bad in a way we find good, use your own senses to judge what is ready.

This stuff is great in sandwiches, as a condiment, alone, in soups, and as a gift. Don't forget to save some juice to speed up the next batch!

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54 Discussions

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fritsie123

9 years ago on Introduction

With the pictures you made this is so easy, even I can do this! :-) Can this be done with any type of cabbage? I'm thinking red cabbage could be interesting. I'll have to find a large glass pot and just try it, I guess.

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megmainefritsie123

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I'm so glad it was helpful! Yes, you can use any type of cabbage, and red is great also, making a very pretty kraut with extra antioxidants. In fact, there is even such a thing as Turnip Kraut, but I will refer you to the Wild Fermentation book or website (by Sandor Ellix Katz) because the book is how I learned to make this and much more. Let us know how it was, when you do it! It is amazing how easy some of these "lost arts" are, that I now wonder why they ever got lost in the first place.

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fritsie123megmaine

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I followed your description exactly, except I used red cabbage. Now I have a pot full of purple soon-to-be-kraut. So far everything seems OK. I can hardly wait! I'll follow up with a taste test! :-)

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megmainefritsie123

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Congratulations! Now all you have to do is keep it cool and dark. A cheap room thermometer set next to your pot should tell you whether it's in a cool enough spot. You want to keep it below 70 for sure. One thing I have noticed, is when mine tastes ready, it turns from fresh whitish green, to yellow. I wonder if the acidification from the fermentation will also turn your purple kraut to a pink color? I suspect it will, but do let us know! And remember, if it ferments at the warmer end of the temperature range, it will be ready sooner, but if it ferments cooler, it will take longer, and have perhaps a more complex flavor. Can't wait to hear how it went!

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fritsie123megmaine

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

I've just tasted the red kraut. It is very sour when raw! I'll cook some for dinner tonight, see how that goes. Taste is pleasant enough, but it should be a bit more mild... The color is still purple, but less intense now than at the start. I'm not sure how long it has been ready. To be honest I kind of forgot the jar in the closet :-)

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megmainefritsie123

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

The sourness reflects the degree of fermentation (which produces natural vinegar as fermentation continues) and the amount of salt, which both slows fermentation, and tends to mollify the degree to which sourness is tasted. Sugar also will make things taste less sour. So, if it is too sour for you, you may have left it fermenting longer than you would wish to next time, or add more salt. As to rawness, raw is the usual state that sauerkraut is consumed, and is one reason it is so healthful. Cooking destroys much of the vitamin C depending on length of cooking and temperature, as well as the beneficial lactobacilli probiotics. However, heating it through has also been a traditional way to consume it. But anyway, unless your closet was 60 or at most 65 degrees F, it was probably fermenting quite fast, and you would get a high degree of acidity in very little time compared to kraut that had been sitting in a cool winter basement. If it tastes good otherwise, but is just too sour, I would add a little sweetening of your choice, and possibly some dill seeds or caraway seeds, and stick it in the fridge to slow down the progress of the fermentation, and try to eat it before it gets past the point of palatability according to your taste. Congratulations on your first step in a journey of discovery! You'll probably get a feel for what degree of fermentedness tastes best to you, by going back to your fermenting kraut frequently and tasting the contents periodically. When it tastes right, that's when to transfer to the fridge (unless you have a nice chilly cellar to keep it in instead!). It won't last forever in your fridge either, but will last a lot longer there than if left in a warm room. Do you have a picture of your fascinating purple kraut to share? I think it would be fun to serve purple kraut with other food at a party... maybe with blue borage flowers in the salad, and purple califlower and blue corn chips. Spaceship food, or Halloween food, or maybe a Parrothead tye-dyed picnic. Food for thought anyway! :) -Meg

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megmainefritsie123

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Yes, red cabbage makes a sort of wild pink kraut that may resemble science fiction food. Fun to serve at parties! Plus more bioflavonoids.

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krowiifritsie123

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Korean kimchi uses endless varieties of vegetables. I second megmaine, Sandor Katz is awesome (http://www.wildfermentation.com/)

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tonygoffe

9 years ago on Step 6

Hi, I love sauerkraut ..from my days at junior college in Miami in the 60's..  but  living in Jamaica, where the temp is never below 70 F in the house, so by what you say, it would NEVER ferment??  .. the fridge runs at least 35-40 F, so, THAT's too cold ? Any suggestions?     Oh, let me say that this is the MOST useful site I have come across, bar none !    This is particularly for those living in the developing countries where one often has to "make do"   tonyJamaica

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megmainetonygoffe

Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

Jamaica has its own glorious fermented traditions, not just ginger beer, but also fruits and root vegetables. The beauty of fermentation lies in its infinite versatility and availability in every part of the world, without the need for expensive equipment or electricity. You just have to choose fermented foods that work in your region and by the seasons there (Sauerkraut isn't traditionally made in summer even in the cold-climate regions of its origin).

If you want a similar dish to sauerkraut that you can make in Jamaica, you can check out my instructable on Tsukemono, which is a Japanese fermented cabbage that is done in days rather than weeks and can be made even in tropical climates. However, unless cabbages grow in Jamaica, it may be better to discover your region's unique treasure of fermented traditions that people in colder climates cannot easily duplicate.

Hope this helps, and I do hope you will share with us what you discover of Jamaica's wealth of fermented food traditions!


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megmainemegmaine

Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

Oh, and to add: you can probably make sauerkraut at 70 degrees, but you run the risk of other microbes taking over. It may or may not come out as you like.

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henryinpanamamegmaine

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

I have been making sauerkraut and kimchee for years at 80+ degrees with never a problem. Sauerkraut makes in about a week at that temperature.

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offseidhenryinpanama

Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

Just finishing my first batch (6 days now, will wait one or two more) in the tropics of Malaysia. I've kept the kraut in the back of a kitchen cabinet. And it tastes fantastic! So I can vouch for what Henry says. Thanks for a great Instructable.

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I make sauerkraut and kimchee all the time here in Panama. The only effect of the higher temperature is that the kraut makes quicker. Go for it.

Henry

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drawe21tonygoffe

Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

Dig a hole 2 or 3 feet down in the sand/dirt.  The temp will be 50 to 60 deg F. (Think Kimchi)

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Quester55

7 years ago on Step 6

If you really want an extra treat, at the start, add Fresh Onions {Whole} & or Cucumbers {Pickles} At the top, As well as extra water to cover all. This is best when using Crocks of 3 Gal. or larger Mom's was a whom-ping 20 Gal. size, Purchased at an old cannery. In some cases, Whiskey or Wine barrows could work.

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Quester55

7 years ago on Step 5

If using a Crock, My mom had a Wood Disk Cut 2'' Thick from a Fresh Black Oak Log about 1 1/2 " smaller than the opening of the Crock to keep our Burlap covering & the cabbage in place. The wood was Air Cured & dried before use.

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Quester55

7 years ago on Step 2

Whenever we made Sauerkraut mom would get out a wooden slide cutter made for that purpose. These were large slicers but better to use than those Cheep plastic versions Ronco sold. The blades were made with Demaskus steel ? [Spelling maybe off] & needed to be washed & dried carefully for storage, but would retain a cutting edge better than most blades today. Just enter Cabbage Cutters on search & you'll find all kinds. Note, Cheaper isn't always better. as for Crocks, Check out your local Farm Supply Stores, Even your local Co-Ops Can get you one. Mine is rated at 3 Gal. is over 1 inch thick & has lasted me more than 20 years.