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Posts Tagged ‘cabbage’

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

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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A Large Kitchen Garden

not a small kitchen garden

I just returned from a visit with neighbors whose activity completely fails the criteria for a small kitchen garden: He tills a plot that is 11 yards across, and 33 yards long. He starts spring crops early, plants summer crops in their place as they expire, and goes back for another round of spring crops as summer draws to a close. She spends hours a day from late spring to early fall processing food into jars and freezer packs. In fact, as I approached this morning, they both were shucking their last ears of sweet corn—clearly enough to can or freeze.

We chatted before I began a photo shoot in their garden (click the lead photo in this post to see all the photos on, and a chipmunk snuck under the table and tried to grab a kernel of corn from her sandal… it startled us, and we startled it with our reactions.

My neighbor’s garden is extremely traditional. They’ve lived in their house for fifty years, and simply carved a garden plot out of the yard (it’s a very big yard). There’s no transition from yard-to-garden… except that the grass ends and then there’s exposed soil. The garden is large, so you need to walk in it to reach the plants, and the rows are close together.

At the near end of the garden, I found long-necked squash weaving among tall sweet corn stalks. Sunflowers defined the garden’s edge, though they’d faded: their heads dry and drooping ground-ward. There were rows of tomato plants hugging the ground, and other rows of tomatoes staked and upright. Beefsteaks and Italian tomatoes—the first for salads and sauces, the second specifically for sauces.

bean flower

There were huge cabbages, a row of green beans, another of wax beans, and a third of lima beans. The cucumber plants were spent, but tucked next to them was a pocket of young lettuce and flowering bean plants—recent planting. Interestingly, the cucumber plants were withering where peas had grown in the spring. There was a partial row of pretty green-and-purple-leafed plants I mistook for turnips, but it turned out they were beets.

I believe she mentioned that she has already put up 50 pints of tomato sauce, but it was clear there’s another ten pints of sauce on the plants. They didn’t have much luck with beans this year as they rely only on rain for water, and it has been dry. Still, the recent rains have revitalized things, and it looks as though some bean-picking will soon be in order.

All this as the season is winding down. Still, in our hardiness zone 5b, we might not see killing frost until mid October. A lot of new beans can grow in 30 days, and you could even get some decent young lettuce if you started from seed now.

My neighbors have peach and apple trees in their yard. The peaches are all harvested, and the apples will provide enough for the season without creating pressure to preserve them. A small grape trellis holds an awesome crop of what look like concord grapes—I should have asked while I was there, or tasted one. I also failed to ask how they use the grapes, but she did comment that the grapes would be the last of the big chores before the garden is done for the season. My mom used to can a mixture of grapes, sugar, and water; we’d drink the liquid from these jars and toss the grapes. This juice absolutely rocked compared to commercial grape juice.

My neighbor’s compost heap stands about five feet deep, and must be at least 12 feet on a side. No doubt there is a thick layer of rich mulch at the bottom. As he uses no chemical preparations, he must move a lot of compost to till into the garden each year.

Yes, it’s a large kitchen garden, but even with all that space, they get more production by staging crops according to the seasons. This is an important technique especially for the owner of a small kitchen garden who wants to get the most from little space.

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