Sauerkraut!

I can’t believe this blog has been around this long without an entry on fermented vegetables. I mean, there was the vinegar thing, but grapes are berries, so I don’t think that counts. How can we have a hipster blog like this without “probiotics” as a keyword?

Sorry about that.

Let’s talk about sauerkraut.

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It’s really easy to make… You buy the $120 pickling crock, the $30 weights and the the $25 book from Williams and Sonoma, then a $35 artisanal kraut pounder (not a Krauthammer) from a non-profit, sustainability-focused group, and you’re all set! That’s more than $200 worth of sauerkraut-making supplies and you haven’t even bought your cabbage yet. It’ll look nice on your counter, though, and you can use it as a conversation starter about probiotic foods when your friends come over for your Friday-night kombucha party.

But don’t worry, you really don’t need any of that expensive stuff.  You can make sauerkraut with regular, easy to find, and much less expensive materials.  And if you’d like to make sauerkraut because it’s awesome, then read on.

You’ll need:

1 head of cabbage.

1 chopping device for cabbage.

1 fist, small enough to fit in opening of jug. Borrow one from a small child if yours won’t work.

1 jug of some sort with an airtight lid. Ensure jug and fist can interact without resistance. I’d recommend at least a half-gallon.

1 method of adding an appropriately-sized hole to the top of the airtight lid. If you’re using glass, you’ll need glass drill bits from the local home improvement store and a youtube video about how to drill a hole in glass without dying.

1 airlock to fit in said hole (you can get this at a homebrew store for about $2)

1 grommet or other method of ensuring an airtight seal between hole and airlock.

1/2 tablespoon (or so) of pickling salt (you’re going to have to buy a whole box)

1 plastic bag

1 quantity of water to put in said bag

You’ll want:

2 hours of free time

1 warm place that’s out of the way that the kitties / kiddies won’t get into.

Directions:

Cabbage leaves

1. Peel off the outer layer of cabbage. Throw these leaves in your neighbor’s yard.

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2. Chop the rest of the cabbage into little sauerkraut-sized bits. You can leave the core in, or you can cut it out and feed it to your neighborhood bunny. I used a Cuisinart, but a simple knife works just as well.

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3. Put a couple of inches of cabbage in your jug. Sprinkle a little salt on it. Repeat until full.  You’ll need to use pickling salt for this. The artisanal salts aren’t completely Sodium Chloride and table salt contains iodine, which kills germs, which is exactly what we’re not trying to do here.

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Keep shoving cabbage in the jar, and adding salt.  If you’re not making a mess, you’re doing it wrong.

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At some point, the jar might get too full. You’ll need to smash the cabbage down with your fist. The decision to wash your hands is yours and yours alone. If you let it sit and wilt for a little while, it gets easier. You can also use a potato masher or kraut pounder if you don’t like punching cabbage.

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Really beat the crap out of it. You’ll get it all to fit!

4. Fill your bag with water. I made a mistake here by not tying the bag shut. As the fermentation caused the packed cabbage to expand, the pressure on the bag ended up bursting it. Add some salt to this water so if it does break it won’t affect the salinity of your mixture.

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5. Put water bag on cabbage in a way that also allows the jar to close.

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6. Attach your airlock in the hole you made.

Other blogs will tell you that you have to “scrape the mold off every once in a while.” Fuck that. The airlock system prevents mold from growing as long as it’s airtight and you don’t open it until it’s done. If you do open it up, especially after it’s done fermenting, you will let out all that precious CO2 that’s preventing mold from growing on everything that’s exposed to air. If you want to smell it, you should be able to get a good whiff of what it’s doing through the airlock.

7. Connect lid to jar.

8. Fill airlock with water.

9. Put it somewhere where you won’t screw with it.

10. Wait one month. You might want to set an alert on your phone to remind you that it’s ready.

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11. When that alarm goes off, take your kraut out of the jug and put it in the refrigerator. You don’t have to take it out of the jug, but if you do and you refrigerate it, it will slow down the fermentation process and keep your sauerkraut from going “too” sour. Also, remember that if the fermentation has finished, your cabbage might start to mold if you expose it to oxygen.

Some people say you should keep the leftover juice to jumpstart your next batch. This will work, but it won’t taste the same as this batch you just made. There are several different phases of bacteria growth while fermenting. They all impart a different characteristic to the kraut. Since you’re skipping to the end bacteria, your kraut won’t have as balanced of a taste. It will be much more sour. If that’s what you want, though, save your juices! If you don’t, drink it!

That’s it. You’ve got sauerkraut now. Invite your friends over for sauerkraut and sausage. If they make fun of you for fermenting your own vegetables, then know you’ve got good friends!

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