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 .