A year is how long it has taken me to sink into this new home here in central Texas. I can tell that I’m just above treading water when a few funny looking jars of stuff start sitting around my kitchen, all fermenting.
Milk kefir has been happening for a while now, though I’m not so sure those grains are as sturdy as they ought to be. Kombucha has been brewing for months now, off and on, in large two-gallon glass crocks. Sourdough is forming next to the wood stove for pancakes and bread.
And then there’s this sauerkraut. These days, without much coming from our own garden needing to be put by, I make vegetable ferments for the sake of our health and my sanity and in doing so it solves a few problems for me:
- I can only fit a couple of veggies in our little solar refrigerator so it’s either don’t eat veggies or shop more frequently. And I do. not. like. going. to. town.
- It eliminates the guilt of me throwing together a meal that doesn’t include a raw or fermented veg, which can happen frequently (see point number one).
- Even if I do have said vegetables I can throw a plop of sauerkraut on someone’s plate when we’re in a hurry and know that we’ve got some enzyme action happening.
Being a fermented foods enthusiast I have made batches and batches of sauerkraut over the years, no two being exactly alike. I’ve also experimented with various techniques. I started with the quart jar method years ago in which you pound cabbage with salt until it relinquishes all of its juices. This was a good activity for the little men, but I have since found it unnecessary.
I then experimented with what some call the open-crock method. This is the method our ancestors would have most likely used. The cabbage is weighted down in a crock that is left unsealed. The kraut stays below the water level, which allows it to culture anaerobically while the surface of the brine is still exposed to a flow of air.
Is Open-Crock Sauerkraut Bad?
Now I realize that a bunch of people got their underpants in a knot earlier this year over whether or not cultured vegetables should have their brine surfaces exposed to air, even the small amount that comes in when one "burps" their glass jars.
If it is your underpants that are in said knot then let me assure you that…
- This is a first world problem.
- I’m interested in sustainability, not big-worded fancy pants science talk.
- A raw fermented vegetable, in whatever vessel you choose to ferment it in, will most likely contain some probiotics and enzymes.
- Vegetables have always been fermented for more important reasons than achieving a higher LAB count.
Now that everyone’s underpants are back where they belong, let’s move on.
The Universal Principles of Vegetable Fermentation
So anyways, I discovered that this open-crock method for making sauerkraut also produced a much better tasting kraut than those batches I made in quart jars. A few other principles I keep in mind in order to make tastier vegetable ferments that we’re all happy to eat (and make) are:
- Don’t use too much salt. Most of the fermented vegetable recipes in Nourishing Traditions use way too much salt, in my experience. When you are mixing up your veggies to culture taste them. They shouldn’t taste of salt. They should taste like vegetables that have been salted generously, not obnoxiously.
- Don’t ferment in warm temperatures. I used to place jars next to the radiators in our old home to ferment. Once I started fermenting in the low 60 degree range, I found that the vegetables stayed crisp and the slower fermentation time developed better flavor.
- Don’t make it harder than it needs to be. Recipes are great if you’re first starting out, but if your first few experiences with fermented vegetables involve tedious amounts of unnecessary chopping, grating, or pounding of ten different ingredients then you’re not likely to do it again.
Open-Crock Sauerkraut Recipe
- 3 large heads of cabbage
- 3 green apples
- 5 large carrots
- sea salt
- Prepare a large non-reactive vessel such as a bowl or a crock. Prep cabbage by removing any outer leaves with bad spots, halving, and coring. Thinly slice cabbage as if you were preparing coleslaw. Place in bowl with a couple of generous sprinklings of sea salt.
- Core apples, slice thinly, and then cut into bite-sized chunks. Add to cabbage with another small sprinkling of salt.
- Cut carrots in half length-wise and then into thirds length-wise. Dice and add to cabbage-apple mixture. Mix all ingredients very well.
- Taste. If it is a bit bland add more salt and mix well until it tastes of a well-salted vegetable.
- Place in bowl or crock and place a plate, bowl, or other non-reactive dish that fits just inside the vessel. On top of that dish place a few clean, heavy, non-reactive objects. These will weight the plate or dish down which will allow the vegetables to stay below the level of the brine. Cover the whole lot with a clean kitchen towel to keep bugs out.
- After about 24 hours check to make sure that a brine has formed in order to cover the cabbage. If not, prepare a brine by combing 1 pint of water and 1 tablespoon of sea salt. Remove the weights and dish and pour brine over kraut. Place dish and weights back on top of kraut and cover again with towel.
- Allow to culture at a cool room for at least four days. If you are culturing in a cellar or basement then you can simply allow it to continue to culture for weeks and months, removing any impurities that come to the surface of the brine. If you are doing it at room temperature then after it has cultured for 4-7 days you can transfer it to jars for storage in a cellar or refrigerator.
How do you make sauerkraut?