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Make Sauerkraut! A Small Kitchen Garden Guest Post

Small Kitchen Garden Cabbage

Such beautiful and abundant produce you get from a single cabbage plant. If you plant early and harvest gently, the stalk you leave in the ground can produce many more smaller cabbages.

I’ve never grown cabbage in my small kitchen garden. I imagine cabbage is a very satisfying plant to grow as it produces enormous heads that can feed a family for a week or longer. On the other side of the equation, cabbage is so common in Pennsylvania that it very well might be the official state flower; it is omnipresent at farm stands and farmers’ markets. Here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, there are times when you can buy a human-head-sized cabbage for a dollar or less. It seems silly for me to commit garden space for a plant whose produce I can buy so cheaply.

What happens to all the cabbage in central Pennsylvania? Cole slaw and sauerkraut happen. Cole slaw, I like very much. Sauerkraut, I’ve never cared for. It’s a shame, because as popular as sauerkraut is, I could never write authoritatively about it… and a blog about a home kitchen garden really ought to discuss sauerkraut from time-to-time.

Your Small Kitchen Garden’s Sauerkraut Scoop

I’m fortunate to have a brother who likes sauerkraut. He likes it enough that he decided to make some himself. I’m also fortunate that my brother discovered something about making sauerkraut that all cabbage-enthusiasts should know… and he agreed to share it with readers of this blog. He even sent photos! So… here for cabbage-enthusiasts:

Sauerkraut, a Brewer’s Viewpoint

by Kris Gasteiger

You don’t chop cabbage to make sauerkraut, you slice it. You’ll end up with strips running from several inches down to fractions of an inch.

Cabbage: thinly sliced, pickling salt: not much, time: a few weeks… oh, and an anaerobic environment at the right temperature. You will have Sauerkraut; really good Sauerkraut.

I’ve read a lot of recipes for making Sauerkraut, and they’re all the same: Thinly sliced cabbage, salt, a crock, a plate, weights, skimming the slime and crud, washing the plate, more skimming. Whew, what is wrong with this picture? Well, mostly the lack of a true anaerobic environment.

The Sauerkraut Recipe

The standard recipe for sauerkraut is:

5 Lbs thinly sliced cabbage

3 Tablespoons of canning salt or 3 heaping tablespoons of kosher salt (kosher salt is less dense so you need more to get the same strength brine).

Mix the salt and cabbage in a non reactive bowl.

When you don’t have the traditional earthenware pot in which to ferment your sauerkraut, think creatively. A hefty glass vase provided a non-reactive vessel for this batch of kraut. Plastic wrap held on by a rubber band preserved a clean anaerobic fermentation environment.

Pack the salted cabbage into a stoneware crock big enough to allow at least 4 inches of space above the firmly packed cabbage. (To pack the cabbage firmly, use your hand or a heavy drinking glass or other clean object. Don’t hammer it or you risk breaking the container.) If you don’t have an appropriate stoneware crock, you can use a food grade plastic bucket, or a stainless steel pot. The plastic may leach plasticizers and the stainless may be affected by the acids generated during fermentation so use your own judgment as to container material. I didn’t have a crock, so I used a clear glass vase I bought at Target. It’s a cylinder on a short stem, about 2 gallons capacity.

After packing your salted cabbage into the container, place a clean plate on top of the cabbage and weight it down with a pint or more of water in glass jars with secure lids.

The next day, the brine should have covered the cabbage. If it hasn’t, your cabbage was probably old and had lost moisture. Make up a brine of 4 ½ tsp salt and 4 c. water, boiled and cooled, to cover the cabbage to a depth of at least 2 inches.

In the standard method of making sauerkraut, you cover the crock with a heavy towel and, daily, skim any scum off the top of the brine, remove and wash the plate and weight jars and put it all back together. The scum is a mixture of molds, bacteria and yeasts which grow in an aerobic (oxygenated) environment. While they may add flavors to the kraut, they’re basically spoilage organisms and can ruin a batch of kraut quickly if not removed.

Beer-Brewing Savvy for Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is high in acid and salt, so you can preserve it in jars by processing them in a boiling water bath canner.

This method lacks one basic principle of anaerobic fermentation. That is, the exclusion of oxygen. In beer brewing and wine making, during the first stage of fermentation when a lot of CO2 is produced, I keep oxygen out by of fastening a plastic sheet over the opening of the fermentation vessel with rubber bands. The rubber bands allow the excess CO2 to escape without letting oxygen in because of the positive pressure in the container caused by the fermentation. Having seen pictures of the molds and scum problems on traditional sauerkraut, I thought that maybe excluding oxygen would be in order, so I used a plastic bag to seal the top of my fermenter, and, to my satisfaction, I never had to skim the kraut.

In about 4 weeks, the fresh sauerkraut was crisp and tangy with no off flavors and probably full of probiotics as well. Ferment your kraut between 65 and 75 degrees F. Higher temps can cause undesirable flavors due to nasty organisms taking hold, and cooler temps will inhibit or stop the fermentation.

Canned, the kraut was softer but still delicious. I use it with sausages and other rich meats. Fried with eggs and sausage is a nice weekend breakfast. My partner Alyson won’t eat it at all, sigh.

Kris consulted the following books as he prepared this post. Click the name of a book to buy your own copy from Amazon.com:

Earthly Pleasures: Tales From a Biologist’s Garden by Roger Swain

Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine

Well Preserved: Small Batch Preserving for the New Cook by Eugenia Bone

Here are a few ways to use sauerkraut that sound delicious:

  • sauerkraut pierogi with mushrooms and tofu pieces – these were the best pierorgi we’ve ever had. the combination was great, and they are really easy to make. serving size: 4. ingredients: for the dough: 2 cups pasta (fine semolina) flour; 1/2 teaspoon salt; 3 tablespoons oil (for this …

  • potato, sauerkraut and soy cheese casserole – ingredients: 1 can sauerkraut, drained and rinsed; 1 apple, peeled and cut into pieces; 500 grams potatoes, cooked and grated; 100 grams sundried tomatoes, cut in small pieces; 150 grams soy cheese, grated. directions: …

  • Recipes 2009 April – When I was growing up sauerkraut made an appearance at our family’s table . My Mom made a couple standard sauerkraut dishes which included the classic .

 

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7 Responses to “Make Sauerkraut! A Small Kitchen Garden Guest Post”

  • wendiann:

    how do i know what i’m doing is right? My kraut is 6 days old and the saltiness is almost gone, it’s tangy now but it never had much scum. Is it good or bad? when will it be ready for eating? it is soft not crispy. Help me

  • admin:

    wendiann: Two challenges I notice with making sauerkraut: temperature and mold.

    While my brother suggests 65 to 75 degrees is ideal, the kraut will ferment at even cooler temperatures… It will even ferment in your refrigerator! At higher temperature, it ferments more quickly, so it may be perfectly acidic in a week.

    Mold is a surface phenomenon; it lives on the brine but not in the brine. When you skim mold off the surface, some may sink into the brine. That won’t hurt you, but I’ve noticed that sauerkraut that ferments with mold on the brine tends to develop a less pleasing flavor. So, definitely check daily and clean things up if they don’t look clean.

    My best sauerkraut has always been soft. So, in my experience, if you want it crunchy, you need to eat it very early in the fermentation–maybe after two or three days. I guess I don’t recall every having crispy sauerkraut, so the softness seems normal to me.

    When is sauerkraut ready for eating? You can start as soon as you want: it should start to be tangy within 2 or 3 days, and much tangier 2 or 3 weeks later. Try it both ways and every way in between, and you’ll have a good idea of when YOUR sauerkraut is ready.

    Good luck!

    -Daniel

  • Heather:

    Hi–we do a couple 5 gallon pails of sauerkraut every year here in MN, because it gets eaten a lot and also shared with family and friends. Cant even buy the store stuff anymore because we are so spoiled by the homemade taste.
    Just wanted you to know this is the way we do things as well, and we let ours ferment in the fall on the back porch at lower temps for about 4 weeks, and it makes amazing kraut. Then of course, it gets canned for use for the rest of the year.
    Glad to see someone doing a simple way of preserving this great stuff. :) Thanks@

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Heather: Thank you for stopping by. I love that you make so much sauerkraut! Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a fan of it, but I’ve found that fermenting vegetables can result in so many amazing flavors. My favorite remains fermented cucumbers; I was astonished at how absolutely perfectly pickley my first batch tasted… It’s way more cost effective to ferment them than to quick-pickle them in vinegar and salt brine. My latest fermentation experiment is ready for consumption: I fermented several pounds of chick-peas, and plan to make a felafel-like loaf using a fruity & savory seasoning (I’ll figure that out when I assemble it).

    Bottom line: You just can’t buy fermented vegetables in a grocery store that are anywhere near as tasty as veggies you ferment at home.

  • [...] final step was topping it with some plastic secured by a rubber band as suggested here. Now all I do is wait four or five weeks and keep the surface of the brine . As of this moment [...]

  • Shawn:

    I have recently made a batch of Kraut, it has been fermenting for about 4 weeks and I have yet to scim any mold or anything from it because there hasnt been any.
    Is this normal?
    I have a 4 gallon crock, sliced the cabbage and packed it as the recipe in the book called for , it is covered by about 1/2″ to an inch of brine, plate on top with two bottles of water to hold it down. A plastic bag over top secured with a bungee strap. Tasted it today and it seemed ok.

  • Daniel Gasteiger:

    Shawn: Sounds terrific! Ideally, you never need to skim mold from your fermenting sauerkraut. The plastic bag and bungee significantly decrease the likelihood that mold could form, and it sounds like it’s working well for you.

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