Naturally fermented sauerkraut is far tastier than the canned version available in supermarkets. It has no preservatives, no additives and no artificial colorings. The process of making it at home seems daunting to a lot of people.
While it does take some physical time and a little effort, the majority of the work is done by the fermentation process.
You will need:
• 20-25 pounds of fresh cabbage, preferably 24-48 hours after harvest
• ¾ cups pickling or canning salt. This is available in grocery stores next to the canning jars.
• Standard canning equipment, such as jars, lids, rings, water bath canner, jar lifter and so forth.
• Fermentation crock- a 5- gallon stone crock will hold 20-25 pounds of cabbage
• A plate that fits inside the crock
• A “crock weight.” This is usually a jar filled with water
• A mandolin or food processor to shred the cabbage. A knife and cutting board will do as well.
• A clean flour sack towel, muslin or bath towel.
Scrub and sterilize all equipment before using. Cleanliness is essential to success. Remove the outer cabbage leaves and remove the cores. Do not use these in the sauerkraut.
Work with about five pounds of cabbage at a time. The crocks are sizeable and will be packed solid with cabbage. Shred the cabbage about an eighth of an inch thick.
Pack in the crock and sprinkle 3 tablespoons of salt over cabbage. Mix thoroughly and allow the salt to draw juices out of the cabbage. Repeat the shredding, packing and salting process until the crock is firmly packed. The rim of the crock should be 4 or 5 inches above the top of the cabbage. The juice will begin to rise as the salt does its work. It is important to note that once full, the crock will be heavy, so place the crock in a cool, dry place first and work nearby.
If liquid is not above the top of the cabbage, make a brine to finish covering it by adding 1 ½ tablespoons of pickling salt to a quart of water. Distilled water is best so minerals do not cause cloudiness. Pour over the cabbage until covered by a couple of inches.
Place the plate and weights in the crock to keep the cabbage pressed under the liquid. All of the cabbage needs to be submerged. Cover with the clean towel and leave the crock alone.
The room should be kept between 70º and 75º for best fermentation. It should take approximately 3-4 weeks. At 60º to 65º, it could take as much as 5-6 weeks. Below that temperature, it will not ferment. Above 75º the cabbage will become soft and rot.
The brine will begin to bubble, that is normal. That shows the fermentation process is working. Check on the crock every 2 to 3 days and carefully remove any scum that forms on the liquid with a clean spoon.
It is important to keep bugs out of the liquid. This will ruin the process and contaminate the food. The cover can be tied around the crock to prevent this.
When the bubbling stops, the fermentation process is complete. There are two choices for storage: a) place in the refrigerator and it will keep for several months as it is used, or b) can the sauerkraut using a water bath process.
If the person making sauerkraut does not have experience in home canning, taking classes from an experienced canner is the best way to learn. The sauerkraut will keep for 1-2 years in the jars if done correctly. Home made sauerkraut is great in recipes or eaten straight from the jar. No cooking is needed.