Well, you remember that big jar of fermented pickles I made before New Year’s? The one that I was thinking would last us at least through the end of January? Well, it barely lasted 2 weeks before it was gone. Yeah, those pickles were that addicting. Other than being all out of pickles it’s really not a bad thing they’re gone. Actually it’s a really good thing we devoured them considering all the health benefits that come from eating fermented vegetables. (Here is a link to an excellent article explaining more about the benefits and how to of eating fermented foods.) Another good thing is it means I get to make more! I always find fermenting fun, plus it’s educational and interesting for the kids to watch the foods change as they ferment. It’s a science experiment that ends with something yummy to eat!
This time I decided to make some sauerkraut in addition to more pickles. It’s really a good thing I planned that because the store only had a couple packs of mini cucumbers left. So, since making a big batch is out and a small batch won’t last long around here, at least we will have sauerkraut to eat once the pickles are gone. Making sauerkraut is a little more labor intensive than pickles, but it’s just as easy. It also requires a longer ferment time than the pickles do, but the extra time is definitely worth the wait.
First, weigh the cabbage and if needed, peel outer leaves off. Thoroughly wash and peel off a leaf or two and set aside for later.
Next, slice cabbage and shred. It’s a lot easier using a food processor for this step, but I used my food processor to shred up bars of soap to make laundry detergent and can no longer use it for food. So, I had to do it the hard way. Actually it wasn’t too bad because it was nice not having to wash up the food processor afterward. 😀
Once you have it all shredded you need to add the salt. You need to add 3 Tbsp. of salt to 5 pounds of cabbage. My head of cabbage weighed around 3 pounds so I added about 2 Tbsp. of salt. It’s important to only use pickling salt or unrefined sea salt when fermenting vegetables. Iodized salt has additives that can actually halt the fermentation process. I personally recommend using unrefined sea salt, like Celtic Sea salt which is the brand I use, over pickling salt. The reason for this is unrefined sea salt has all the minerals that are naturally in the salt, so it adds extra nutrition.
Mix the cabbage and salt up. Let it set for a little while so the salt has time to draw out the liquid for the cabbage. I usually take time to clean up the mess from shredding the cabbage and round up the jar I want to use. Next you need to press the cabbage to get the liquid out of it and create the brine. I used my hands and pressed it similar to I do when I knead bread.
Once there is some brine standing in the bottom of the bowl, it’s time to put the cabbage mixture into a jar. As you put it into the jar, you need to press it as you go, squeezing out more brine. Once you are done there should be a good amount of brine over it. (You really can’t tell from the picture below, but there is a lot of brine, bits of cabbage just floated up.)
Next, take the leaves that you set aside and put them over the cabbage and brine, covering the surface area. Press down, making sure that all the bits of cabbage are down and the brine covers over the top of the leaves.
On this step, you need to weigh the cabbage down so it stays beneath the brine. This is very important because if it’s exposed to oxygen it could spoil. There’s many different ways this can be done. There are glass disks here that you can buy to use to weigh it down, which I want to get sometime. There are all sorts of things, from fermenting crocks to air lock lids for jars, which you can use for fermenting, it just depends on how elaborate you want to get and how much you want to spend. For now, I’m keeping it simple and cheap and using a zip lock bag put inside the jar, filled with a salt and water brine, and secured with a rubber band around the brim. I then use a half pint canning jar to weigh it down.
Next, set it on the counter with a plate under it to catch the brine that spills over as it brews.
It sure started fermenting right away; just after one day it was already spilling out of the jar.
It should be left to ferment anywhere from 7 days up to a month, depending on the temperature of your house. The warmer it is, the faster it ferments, the cooler it is, the slower the ferment. I usually like to leave mine to ferment for about 10 days, but I do taste it every so often to test the sourness. Once the sourness is to your liking, remove the layers of cabbage leaves on top and refrigerate. Sauerkraut will last a long time when refrigerated. I like to enjoy a small spoonful with each meal.