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Making sauerkraut at home is skill that almost anyone can learn. Converting cabbage to homemade sauerkraut is a simple fermentation process that involves naturally occurring bacteria which converts sugar and starches in the cabbage into lactic acids.
The process is simple and the results are awesome. I've been making my own sauerkraut for a few years now, and absolutely enjoy the flavor of it, and I'm fascinated with the process itself. If you've never had home made sauerkraut, you're missing out. The stuff in a metal can that you buy in the store doesn't even come close. Here's my sauerkraut recipe:
-Large bowl or pan
-Slaw Cutter or a mandolin slicer
-Salt (preferably Canning, Kosher or Sea Salt)
-Heavy piece of clean untreated wood for tamping
-Ceramic pickle crock or food grade plastic bucket
-Quart Jar full of water
-An old Towel or Cheesecloth
Supplies For Canning:
-Canning Jars with lids & rings
-Water Bath Canner
-Large stew pots - 2 gallon or larger
Making sauerkraut requires cabbage. The best (and least expensive) cabbage is home grown, but you can use fresh cabbage purchased from the store if that's what you have available. Harvest your cabbages late in the season for the best flavor. After you have cut the heads, start by washing them, and removing the dark green outer leaves.
Cut heads into quarters, and cut out the hearts (also called cores). Set the cores aside - you may want to use them later.
Using the slaw cutter or mandolin slicer, shred the cabbage quarters very finely into a large bowl. The shreds should be more than about 1/8" thick.
Weigh the cabbage, and when you have about 5 pounds, add 3 tablespoon of salt, and mix it in evenly with your hands.
First, it draws water out of the shredded cabbage which makes the juice that will cover the cabbage during fermentation, and keeps the sauerkraut crisp.
Second, it creates an environment that inhibits the growth of undesirable bacteria and yeasts which can cause sauerkraut to go bad during fermentation.
Place the shredded, salted cabbage into a food grade plastic bucket or, if you're lucky enough to have one, a ceramic pickle crock.
Use a heavy, clean, untreated piece of wood to tamp or pack the shredded cabbage down into the bucket. Tamping also helps release the juices from the cabbage. Use hardwood, like maple, ash or oak for your tamper - never use soft or sapwood like pine or cedar.
Repeat this process until all cabbage is shredded, salted, and tamped down.
Before you add and tamp the final batch, you can add the hearts that you set aside earlier. These will ferment with the rest of the kraut, and I eat them like candy straight out of the crock.
When all of your cabbage is shredded, salted, and packed in, place a clean dinner plate on top upside down and place a quart jar full of water on top to weigh the plate down.
The salt will continue to extract moisture from the cabbage for about 24 hours. If after this time you don't have enough juice to cover all of the shredded cabbage, you will have to make a brine solution to completely cover it. Make brine by dissolving 1 1/2 Tablespoons of salt in a quart of water. Pour the brine over the cabbage until it's completely covered.
Keeping the kraut from floating up is essential. It needs to be below the juice, to assure that the fermentation process is happening correctly. If cabbage is above the juice, it can begin to spoil instead of ferment.
When everything is ready to go, cover your bucket or crock with either a towel or several layers of cheesecloth, to prevent contamination from insects. Use a large rubber band to keep the cloth tightly in place.
NOTE: Don't take this step lightly - I lost an entire 30 pound batch of sauerkraut a couple of years ago due to an undetected fruit fly infestation caused by simply laying a towel over the top instead of using a rubber band. The critters were able to crawl into the sauerkraut between the towel and the top of the bucket. By the time I figured out what happened, it was too late and it had to be dumped out. Talk about disappointing - that was a lot of work to just dump on the compost pile!! Taking shortcuts is never a good idea!
Fermentation will usually be visible within a day or so after starting. The warmer the air in the room, the faster the fermentation will start, and the sooner it will be done. You can tell that your sauerkraut is fermenting when bubbles start coming up around the plate. Fermentation usually takes between 4 and 6 weeks depending on temperature.
After a few days you may start to see a "bloom" of bacteria or mold forming on top of the juice. This is normal, so don't get upset. Remove and discard what you can with a spoon or spatula every few days. It really does no harm, it just looks "gross".
When fermentation is nearly complete, bubbling will slow to nearly nothing. When this happens, the sauerkraut is ready to eat or can. Make sure to taste some of the fresh kraut, as well as the pickled hearts before you cook or can. I think it tastes the best, straight out of the crock.
Fresh uncooked sauerkraut has health benefits similar to yogurt. Since it has live lactobacillus cultures it is beneficial as a probiotic food. Probiotics can help restore "good" bacteria cultures to your digestive system.
If you would like to know more about the health benefits of probiotics, see Dawn's web page on
Sauerkraut is also a good source of fiber, iron, vitamin K and Vitamin C.
Some recent studies have suggested that it may also has beneficial properties in reducing the effects and duration of colds and flu. This may seem like a stretch, but if you like sauerkraut, It it's just another reason to eat it, and it certainly won't do any harm!
Sauerkraut IS high in salt, so if you're on a sodium restricted diet you may want to pass on the kraut or at least eat less of it.
Due to it's high acid content, Sauerkraut can be canned for long term storage using the hot packed water bath method
-Place the sauerkraut in large pans with it's juice, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Don't boil it.
-Fill clean canning jars with hot sauerkraut and add juice leaving 1/2" headspace.
-Use a de-bubbler or table knife to remove bubbles from jars.
-Apply lids and rings and tighten to hand tight.
-Process pints for 15 minutes, and quarts for 30 minutes.
Making sauerkraut at home is both a satisfying activity and creates something that is great to eat. If you find yourself with a bumper crop of cabbage this year, try making your own sauerkraut, it's easy, and it cost is virtually nothing (just your time and the cost of salt and seeds or plants). Learning to make and can sauerkraut is yet another way to increase your level of self sufficiency and reduce your food budget.