Farm Share Friday: Making Basic Sauerkraut using Real Food Fermentation

We’re going to switch it up this Farm Share Friday and talk about fermentation. So it’s kind of a Farm Share Friday and kind of a Fermentation Friday. hehe. Alex Lewin is the author of Real Food Fermentation. He’s coming along with us to Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania on September 20-22, so we thought we’d share one of his classic recipes for sauerkraut. You can use cabbage from your backyard garden, your farm share CSA, or your local farm stand.

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Sauerkraut is a food whose salient ingredient is lacto-fermented cabbage—green, red, savoy, or napa.

An amazing jar of sauerkraut

Sauerkraut has a colorful history. It has existed in one form or another, by one name or another, for at least several thousand years. Evidence has been found of sauerkraut in the diets of the workers building the Great Wall of China; Pliny wrote of sauerkraut in ancient Rome; fermented cabbage has been a mainstay of cold-weather European diets since at least the Middle Ages; and sailors have carried it on ships to ward off scurvy, which it can do because of its high vitamin C content.

Basic Sauerkraut Recipe
Excerpted from Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin

In its basic form, sauerkraut contains only two ingredients: cabbage and salt. The recipe can be varied by adding other vegetables or seasonings. By eating it young or letting it ferment for a longer time, you can choose between crunchy, slightly sour cabbage; epic, Wagnerian SAUERKRAUT; or anything in between.

INGREDIENTS
2 pounds (900 g) cabbage (green and red cabbage work best for this simple sauerkraut recipe)
4 teaspoons (20 g) sea salt

EQUIPMENT
Large cutting board (wood is ideal)
Large knife (a chef’s knife is ideal)
Large mixing bowl
1-quart (950-ml) mason jar, or similar glass jar with a tight-fitting lid

Yield: 1 quart (950 ml)

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 4 days–4 weeks

WEIGHING
If your cabbage is not exactly 2 pounds (900 g), use approximately 2 teaspoons (10 g) of sea salt per pound (450 g) of cabbage. Alternatively, you can use 2 percent salt by weight.

For best results, weigh your cabbage after you have removed its outer leaves and core.

JARS
For each pound (450 g) of cabbage you use, you will need 16 ounces (475 ml) of jar capacity, or a bit more. Depending on the size of your jars, you can use a small jar to help pack the sauerkraut into the bigger jars (in step 10).

PREPARATION
1. Peel off the outer leaves of the cabbage and discard them (Note: This is particularly important if your cabbage is not organically grown.)

2. If you are working with a whole cabbage, cut it in half, from the south pole to the north pole.

3. Cut each half once more, along the north-south axis, so that the whole cabbage is now in four pieces.

4. Optional: Remove some of the core of the cabbage by cutting diagonally into each quarter.

5. With its south pole facing you, lay a quarter of the cabbage on your cutting board, and slice it as finely or as coarsely as you like. More finely cut cabbage will ferment more quickly and will become a softer kraut. Coarser cut cabbage will lead to a crunchier product. Be careful of your fingers!

6. When it becomes awkward to slice, turn or flip the cabbage quarter in whatever way is convenient to make it more stable on the cutting board and easier to cut.

7 If you prefer, use a food processor with a “slice” wheel to shred your cabbage. You could also use a deli-style meat slicer, a box grater, or a purpose-built Krauthobel.

8. Slice the rest of the cabbage in this manner. When you are done, put it all in the mixing bowl and add the salt.

9. With clean hands, firmly massage the mixture of cabbage and salt until you are able to squeeze liquid out of the cabbage. Depending on how fresh the cabbage is, how much cabbage you have, and how hard you are squeezing, this may take anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes. You will develop a feel for it after you have done it a few times.

10. Pack the mixture into a jar or jars . Using an appropriately sized implement, such as a small jar or potato masher, push down as hard as you can to get rid of as many air bubbles as possible, so that the liquid rises above the top of the cabbage. Ensure that there is at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) of space between the top of the cabbage and the mouth of the jar, because the cabbage will expand as it ferments.

11. Close the lid of the jar and place it in a cool, dark place, if possible (between 50°F and 75°F [10°C and 25°C]).

FERMENTATION PROCESS
Check on your sauerkraut every day or two. Open the jar, smell it, taste it with a clean fork, and pack the sauerkraut back down until the liquid rises above it. After a few days, it should get bubbly. After a few more days, it should start to smell and taste sour.

You can eat it any time you want, or you can put it the refrigerator to arrest its progress. Young sauerkraut is crunchier; older sauerkraut has a stronger flavor. For maximum digestive and nutritive benefits, eat your sauerkraut raw (i.e., do not heat it beyond about 115°F [46°C]). However, if digestive and nutritive benefits are not your main goals, there’s no shame in cooking your sauerkraut. In fact, old sauerkraut that has become soggy and very sour may taste best cooked.

Preserve your favorite foods through every season with Real Food Fermentation. Control your own ingredients, techniques, and additives. Learn a practical food-preparation skill you’ll use again and again. And express yourself by making something unique and whole.

Inside, you’ll find:

—All the basics: the process, the tools, and how to get started

—A guide to choosing the right ingredients

—Sauerkraut and beyond—how to ferment vegetables, including slaw-style, pickles, and kimchi

—How to ferment dairy into yogurt, kefir, crème fraîche, and butter

—How to ferment fruits, from lemons to tomatoes, and how to serve them

—How to ferment your own beverages, including mead, kombucha, vinegar, and ginger ale

—A primer on fermented meat, fish, soy, bread, and more

—Everything you need to know about why the recipes work, why they are safe, what to do if they go wrong, and how to modify them to suit your taste.