Have you ever heard the phrases “easy as pie” and “piece of cake”? Pie and cake aren’t nearly so easy as sauerkraut, so what about “simple as sauerkraut”?
I grew up making sauerkraut in crocks, and I got spoiled on the homemade. I never bought a jar of kraut in my life. Lots of people in Tennessee make their own. The Tennessee I grew up in has many folks who preserve food in various ways, and I hope to goodness that’s not changing now. Please learn to ferment your own sauerkraut, because the old-timers need us to carry on tradition.
Here we go. Ready?
1. Go out and get yourself a couple heads of cabbage. About five pounds. The reason I’m making it now is that if we had grown cabbage this year, it would be coming in right about now. Sauerkraut is a seasonal celebration. It is a way to prolong the fruits of the last harvest, as cabbage is a cold season crop. We weren’t able to have a garden this year, as we moved in the middle of the summer, but it’s easy enough to find local cabbage. So do that.
2. Then, take off the outer leaves and start choppin. Chop it as thin as you like. I call my kraut “rustic,” meaning that the pieces are larger than you might think. It’s wonderful that way, but grate it if you like. I mix each grated or chopped head in a bowl with about a tablespoon and half of salt.
3. After tossing with salt, throw cabbage in a clean, sanitized crock. Don’t have a crock? You could ask a local restaurant for an extra five-gallon bucket, but I shy away from plastic, as it contains carcinogens. That’s your call. Make sure you’re not using anything metal or porous, such as wood or terra cotta (I know someone who tried that: not good). If you’d like a crock, search around at antique stores, thrift stores, or estate sales. There are many out there to be had. It should look something like this:
4. You should have around five pounds of cabbage and three tablespoons of salt in your crock, all thrown around a little.
Next, get a plate that will fit into your crock. We have only square and rectangle dinner plates, so I used a smaller round plate until I can get a full-size one at the thrift store. It needs to be washed well with hot water. Then you’ll want to find something that will sit on the plate to weigh things down. Usually best is some kind of container of water. Today I used a mixing bowl filled with water and lowered it in. I don’t recommend this. If you have a container with a lid that you can fill with water, use that. A pitcher, jug, whatever. The important thing is that it is relatively heavy. You can improvise, as I often do, but just think “plate and weight,” and you’ll be on the right track. They are going to keep pushing the cabbage down as it ferments and leaches liquid out.
5. Cover with a towel to keep out debris. Now wait three to six weeks. Throughout that time, you want to check on your baby kraut every few days and get the hooch off the top. Your kraut is fermenting, and it will be releasing its liquids and its natural lactic acid. Don’t be scared. This is a beautiful, mysterious process that might make you feel religious. Certain bacteria are drawn to the cabbage that make it turn into kraut. They’re really good bacteria! They fight bad bacteria that come into your body. Fermented foods are known to be cancer-fighting warriors in your body. So embrace these vehicles of bold bacteria!
I will keep you updated as my kraut progresses.
Love, Chow Chow