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Making Sauerkraut Successfully

My parents had an excess of cabbage, so I decided to attempt sauerkraut. There is so much advice out there about how to do it, and some of it is conflicting! Here is what I did:

* Shredded the cabbage with a knife
* Placed it in a pot overnight in the hope juices would begin to run. They didn't so I then placed it into the casserole dish pictured above, interspersed with salt. I ended up having to add water.
* Placed a plate on top, with a weight.

If you'd visited us in the last couple of weeks, you would probably have been asked your advice on whether or not you thought it was working! No one who visited had ever made it, so they gave their best guesses.

Two weeks later, and four people have tasted it. Dave says it tastes like beer (an accidental homebrew, perhaps!) and two friends looked uncertain about whether it was sufficiently sauerkraut-like. The fourth person is me, and I've only ever tasted this batch of kraut. You know you're into conserving food when you try to make something you've never tasted before!

I have now placed the kraut in jars in the pantry, without a weight. Some sources recommend this after only a short time (days) and others only recommend it for sauerkraut that has been fermenting for months.

Have you ever made sauerkraut successfully? If so, do you have any tips?

Deb  – (January 30, 2010 at 11:37 PM)  

Hi Sherrin ~ I've never made or tasted sauerkraut. It just might qualify to be one of those foods that I'll go to heaven never having tried. :) (Sorry to be a food spoils sport!)

Susan  – (January 31, 2010 at 1:10 AM)  

Yes! I've made sauerkraut a lot the past 6 months. I had some health problems after I had Hans, due to the antibiotics they flushed me through with :-P, and through some tests, I was finally able to figure out that I was depleted of good bacteria in my gut, so I used sauerkraut to heal and repopulate my body. It worked! My digestion started to improve immediately, and eventually my intestines totally healed.

I use the method in Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. Basically, I shred a head of cabbage and mix in 2-3 tablespoon salt (you want 2 T salt per quart of sauerkraut, after it's also pressed down into jars, so for a big head, you might want to add more like 3 T), and I also like to add 1 tablespoon caraway seeds for a nice flavor. Then I let it sit on the counter in a bowl for 45 minutes or so, to let the juice start to release (you can instead pound it for 10 minutes, but who wants to do that?). Even if the juices don't *look* released, they should press out more easily now.

I mix up the shredded cabbage again, then stuff the cabbage in a sterilized quart size glass jar (You want to make sure not to ferment in a metal container, as sauerkraut is highly acidic when it ferments.) I add a cup or so at a time, then press down to release the juices. Keep doing this until your jar has only 1"-1.5" head room and the juices cover the shreds of cabbage.

Cover tightly with a lid, and let it sit on the counter for 3 days or so (for really hot days, maybe only 2, for really cold environment, maybe 4). Then transfer to the fridge to store. It will improve in flavor with age. I find it tastes best after 1-2 weeks in the fridge.

If you dilute too much with water, you're probably making it harder for the sauerkraut to ferment properly, which might result in rotten cabbage instead of sauerkraut. The chemistry behind sauerkraut is that you have to add enough salt to ward off bad bacteria while good bacteria multiplies enough to take over and ferment and preserve the cabbage.

Sauerkraut is an experiment every time. It doesn't work out the same every time, and I did have one batch go bad (it was too hot while fermenting - summertime). Sometimes the ferment expands and starts to eek out of the jar :-P, so I let it ferment now on a curved plate or in a bowl, to catch juices. If that happens, I open the jar (watch for spurting liquid, much like a shaken soda), release the pressure, press the cabbage down, reseal, wipe down the jar, and let it finish fermenting.

Sherrin  – (January 31, 2010 at 8:16 PM)  

Thanks for those tips, Susan! It is great that sauerkraut has been such a help to you. Isn't it wonderful the way God has built such healing properties into foods?

We did also pound the cabbage before letting it sit in a stainless steel pot for a day. I thought this was too long to leave it before pressing down, but it was recommended in "A Slice of Organic Life".

It is interesting that you also didn't use a weight.

I have now moved my sauerkraut into the fridge, after having it on the bench in warm weather for two weeks (I've read conflicting advice on this, but I'm going to go with your recommendation and put it in the fridge).

Now for my big question! Is there anyway you can describe to me what went wrong when you sauerkraut went bad? How was it different to normal sauerkraut?

I figure that going soft would be one sign - mine is hard. I've been eating it and feel fine, so maybe that is also a good sign!

Susan  – (February 1, 2010 at 12:16 PM)  

I think, from what I've read, that leaving the sauerkraut out to ferment for several days or a few weeks is usually for the in-a-bowl-with-a-plate (or traditionally, a crock) method. I think without a seal, the food can and should be fermented longer. With a sealed jar, like what I do, 3 days is really enough, and I think longer would be too much. So I think how long you do it is based mainly on your method. I haven't used the crock or weight method, just because jars are so nice and convenient, but I would love to acquire a crock someday :-).

With regards to storing it in the fridge, you mainly just want to store it in a relatively cool place after the initial ferment, so the bacteria doesn't over-multiply. Lacto-fermented foods generally need to be stored at or below 60 degrees Fahrenheit(traditionally a root cellar was a great place), but thankfully sauerkraut is more "hardy" than a lot of other ferments, so I've heard (though never tried this) that you don't have to be as particular about the exact temperature with sauerkraut. My sister-in-law stores sauerkraut in the coldest closet in her house over the winter, but it's not below 60F.

When my sauerkraut went bad it just had a really strong unpleasant smell and it tasted really acrid. It just didn't taste "right". Sauerkraut usually has a bit of a bite, but this was really putrid :-P

Sherrin  – (February 1, 2010 at 8:39 PM)  

The jar method does sound more convenient. It was hard to get the correct fit for a plate and weight on my casserole dish. How did you seal the jars? Just with by closing ordinary lid like those you get on sauce or mayonnaise jars? When I've sealed jars, it has always required heat then cooling (as in a hot water bath or placing hot ingredients into the jar and letting them cool). Usually the lids pop down in the middle to show they're sealed.

Thanks for all your helpful, info, Susan!

Susan  – (February 2, 2010 at 5:24 AM)  

This isn't the same kind of sealing for pressure canning, where the inside environment is sterilized, so it's not as touch-and-go and you won't get the lids popping down in the middle or anything (thought after you cool the room-temp sauerkraut in the fridge, I do find it gives a very slight pressure seal). As a matter of fact, to get the health benefits of sauerkraut, you don't want it heated! All the good bacteria would be destroyed right along with the bad! I just use a regular canning jar lid, washed and rinsed with really hot water (or you could sterilize the lid in boiling water), same as I do for the jar (before, not after, putting the sauerkraut in).

The only disadvantage I can find with the jar method is the pressure build-up that sometimes happens, as I described before. I'm wondering if loosening the jar lid would help with that, but in Nourishing Traditions, she says to close it tight? I'd be interested if you have the same pressure issue I sometimes do. . . not always, just sometimes.

Sherrin  – (February 2, 2010 at 3:10 PM)  

Yes, I have heard it is better raw and I've been eating it that way. If I make sauerkraut again, I definitely want to try the method you describe. Jars sound much easier! If I do make it again I'll be sure to let you know how I go with pressure in the jar.

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