At 11 years old, my family took our first trip to Germany, where my eyes were opened to the world of kraut. Some was sweet, some was purple, some was loaded with caraway seeds; it topped sausages and brats and it was hard to find a plate that was not adorned with some version of the “cabbagy” stuff.
It wasn’t until my twenties though, that I discovered the power of fermented and cultured foods. Sauerkraut happens to be an excellent ferment to start with. True fermented sauerkraut is not cooked or canned, so it’s loaded with probiotics. All you need are a few simple ingredients, some super clean utensils (I prefer mine fresh from a cooled off dishwasher), and time. Let's get started!
You’ll start by removing the outer layers of the head of cabbage and discarding, cutting the core out, and then washing thoroughly. Some recipes will not encourage washing, that’s a risk I’m not willing to take and I recommend you don’t either. (Our goal is to culture good bacteria, not harbor bad ones.) After your cabbage is properly prepped, slice it into smaller chunks to run through the slicing plate on your food processor. If you’re living a “pre-food processor life,” just slice that cabbage up as small as you can.
Place all the sliced cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle it with 3 Tablespoons sea salt, let it sit for 15 minutes. Next start to stir and work it with your spoon or muddling tool. If you have a large cabbage, you’ll likely have to add more salt. Do this 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting 5-15 minutes after adding additional salt. When you have the right proportion of salt and cabbage, the shreds will start to release their juices. Keep muddling until the cabbage is limp and there is a fair amount of liquid in the bowl.
Next, use a canning funnel to pack the mixture into freshly washed canning jars. It’s very important that all the shreds stay submerged in liquid, otherwise they risk the chance of molding. To help with this process, I use a zip lock baggie, filled with water to occupy the rest of the space in the jar. Glass weights are also available to slip into the jar and submerge the shreds, if you’re not crazy about using plastic.
Lastly, you’ll cover the jar with a loose fitting lid and hide it away in a cupboard for 3-6 weeks. I recommend labeling the jars with the date before tucking them away. The fermentation time varies depending on room temperature; likely a summer kraut will ferment faster than a winter kraut. The longer it ferments the more sour it will taste.
Storing sauerkraut is easy! Just place it in the fridge, the fermentation process acidifies and makes it less likely for harmful bacteria to grow. I’ve had jars of kraut last 6-12+ months.
Years ago when I started making this stuff at home, I was so impressed with myself, I declared I would give it away at Christmas! My husband talked me down (he has to do that from time to time). Perhaps, a few jars passed around on July 4th just might be appreciated though. ;)