Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Sauerkraut!

I have been making sauerkraut every summer for about 12 years now. I grow my own cabbages, which usually do fantastic in Alaska, sometimes reaching immense proportions.

Alaska State Fair, 2012, World Record!

Anyhow, I thought you might like to see how I make my sauerkraut.



I think it's important to start off with the right equipment. I've made sauerkraut in various vessels and with various cutting implements, but using crocks made for kraut and blades designed to slice cabbage makes life much easier and the sauerkraut turns out better.

Equipment List

My equipment list, with Amazon links in case you'd like to create your own kraut empire. These links are to the exact things that I own, when possible, or very similar:

Cabbage Shredder
Metal butcher's glove (or buy lots of Band-aids)
Big knife
3-gallon crock
Kraut weights
Crock lid
Kitchen scale (Just get a cheap one)


Then you'll need some way to preserve your sauerkraut, I use a FoodSaver sealer with freezer bags, but you can use Ziplock bags, plastic tupperware, or any other means you are comfortable with.

The only other thing you'll need is non-iodized salt.

Gathered together, my sauerkraut making day looks like this:



Instructions

To fill a 3 gallon crock requires about 25 pounds of cabbage. It's important you weigh the cabbage because the amount of salt you use depends on the weight of the cabbage. 3TBS per 5 pounds.

If you want to make a smaller batch, buy a smaller crock.  They come as small as 1-gallon in size.  If you try to make a small batch in a large crock, you'll have problems (trust me). Too much air space allows mold to grow.  The mold is not dangerous, just disconcerting.

An average-sized head of cabbage weighs about 2-3 pounds. If you are buying these at the store, buy a few pounds more, because you will be trimming them considerably.

Wash and trim your cabbages, removing as many green outer leaves as possible, leaving only nice white leaves for really good sauerkraut. Here's 25 pounds of cabbage ready to be shredded:


Once the cabbages are washed, trimmed, and weighed you will need to slice them. This can be done with a knife, but it takes longer and it's harder to make uniform slices. A cabbage shredder is make specifically for slicing cabbage into sauerkraut size.


Shred or slice the cabbage into a tub of some sort. Then transfer the shredded cabbage into your crock. The standard recipe for sauerkraut, and the one I have used successfully for many years, calls for 3TBS of salt for each 5 pounds of cabbage.

This batch I made used 25 pounds of cabbage and 15TBS of salt (1 TBS shy of a full cup).

The best way to do this is to sprinkle all of the salt on the cabbage in the tub, before transferring it to the crock. After you salt the cabbage, allow it to stand for about 30 minutes. It will start to sweat. The salt brings the moisture out of the cabbage and forms the brine. No water is added!

To transfer the cabbage to the crock, put in a couple big handfuls, and mash with your fist. You can also buy a purpose-made kraut smasher, called a cabbage-stomper, but I find it's not needed.


Keep on layering and smashing until the crock is full. You may have some leftover...cook this for dinner!  If you get it right, your cabbage and the liquid that comes out of it should fill the crock to about 3-4 inches from the top.




Next, add the weights to keep all of the cabbage submerged. Try to get the little floaters out before you seal up the crock...they tend to attract mold.



Place the crock somewhere the temperature will remain fairly steady between about 65 and 75 degrees. Too cold, and it will take longer to ferment, too hot and it may ferment too fast resulting in off-flavors and smells. After a month it looks like this:




Taste test the kraut once a week or so as it ferments. It tastes differently as it progresses. I find at my climate, it's ready to eat after 2 weeks, but it hits its prime in about 30-60 days. You can actually keep it in the crock and eat it straight from the crock over winter if you like, but I like to preserve it in a younger stage. If you keep it in the crock, it's possible to introduce contamination each time you open it to steal a meal's worth. There is nothing worse than finding a green moldy mess when opening a crock of kraut.

Remove the weights, and transfer the sauerkraut into your freezer bags (or whatever you are going to use):




Then I seal them up and plop in the freezer:


3 gallons of kraut lasts me a year, eating it a couple times a week. I put 1/2 gallon in each bag and take a bag out of the freezer and keep it in the fridge until it's gone.

Is Frozen Kraut Still Alive?

I was often chided that I was ruining the probiotic potential of sauerkraut by freezing it. Well, here's some proof that freezing does not kill the bacteria that ferments cabbage.

I took these bags out of the freezer after 12 months. As soon as they thawed out, they started to ferment. These bags are ready to explode!




There is only one thing that will cause an airtight bag of sauerkraut to expand like this...LIFE.

Freezing does not kill sauerkraut probiotics. I'm not sure I can say the same about canning methods that use high heat.

That's it

Easy, right?  Anybody else make sauerkraut?  Anybody gonna try?

Later!
Tim

23 comments:

  1. The wife and I make it pretty regularly. Rather than taking a year, the two of us will go through a crock in about five weeks, so it's generally 3-4 weeks fermenting, and then a week or two drying thoroughly before starting another batch. Ours never makes it to the freezer -- it holds just fine in the fridge.

    The wife wants to eat it raw as much as possible for the probiotics, but I think that there is enough of a probiotic punch even cooked. Cooking up some apples and onions and then using the residual heat of the pan to bring it to 120F or so is the compromise we landed on.

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    1. Wow, I cannot imagine eating 3 gallons of kraut in 5 weeks. Sometimes I eat lots, then go weeks without. Seems like I crave it more when it's fresh. Eating it right from the crock is like magic.

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  2. Count me as one who keeps his sauerkraut in the fridge for several months. I don't make my own as I have many great local companies that do. But I stock up.

    A long time ago, we discussed heat-killed probiotics on Mr. Heisenbug's blog. There see, to remain many of the benefits even when dead. Indeed, if you search "heat killed probiotics" on PubMed, you'll see lots of hits.

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    1. Yep, and that's why cooking sauerkraut is fine, too. Most likely the bacteria never colonize the gut, but are still part of the puzzle in the immune system and gut environment.

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  3. Tim, Great Post. There are many people on the web that post similar info and instructions, however yours are the clearest and most useful I've seen in a while. Thanks for taking the time.

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    1. Thanks. I get so frustrated trying to follow directions from websites, I wanted to make these pictures and instructions extremely easy to follow.

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  4. Because I am limited to cabbage purchased at the grocery rather than from the garden, it is usually too dry to create enough brine with salt only. I almost always create a brine and pour over whatever I'm fermenting including cabbage to ensure adequate brine.

    This method works well for fermented root crops which also often do not render enough of their own brine. I just started (2) two quart mason jar crocks with diced red beets and brussel sprouts this way. So far, so good!

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    1. I've played with that type of pickling before, but never really got good at it. Maybe now that I have this big crock it will work better. They call this "lacto-fermenting" veggies, I believe. Small batches of any ferment are less forgiving than large batches.

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  5. +1 on the comment that you have the clearest instructions out there, Tim!

    I make sauerkraut all the time. Not as pretty as yours though. I just use a food processor blade to shred it (or by hand with a knife) and mason jars with rocks to hold down the kraut :)

    Try experimenting with different flavours, too, if your family gets tired of plain (mine does). Garlic, herbs, etc. We sometimes add raw miso, too. Yum.

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  6. PS Forgot to say that a friend who has taught fermenting classes told me that the use of whey with the salt dramatically increases the bacterial count and improves it. Don't know if that's true, but maybe someone else can verify?

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    1. I can't speak specifically to whey. Or other cultures.

      I have studied kimchi making. And I believe the guru Sandor Katz has said the same. The introduction of bacteria from already fermented stuff changes the fermentation process. Without the additional bacteria, there is a normal sequence of generations of bacteria. The byproducts of each generation are food for later generations. The whole process contributes to the final product.

      In kimchi and sauerkraut, some like to add juice from an already fermented batch to a new one. Whey seems to be similar. This apparently messes the whole thing up, resulting in essentially a different product. Better? Worse? At least in the case of kimchi, the product's taste was rated inferior to the authentic one.

      In personal experiments with fermented hot sauces, I and others who tasted my sauces strongly agree. The non-spiked sauces were much more complex in their flavor.

      I don't know if it's related or not, but I did try making hot sauce with mesquite wood chips added. Terrible. Thin and flat compared to the jars without.

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    2. Back when I made the amazing discovery that beans are not killing everyone, I was looking into fermenting them. Most cultures that eat lots of beans ferment them by soaking a day or two before cooking. I can attest to the fermentation potential of raw beans...lots of bubbles. Grain could be fermented the same way. Just a simple soak in water activate the lacto bacteria naturally present on beans and grains.

      The re-use of fermented bean water is adoringly termed "Back-slopping" in the science journals, lol.

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    3. I've been told that whey makes fermented veggies slimy--just a texture thing, not a safety one, though it sounds unappealing. My veggie ferments have turned out well, and stayed good shockingly long in my refrigerator, just using salt, so I haven't tried whey myself.

      -Tanya

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    4. Tanya, I believe the sliminess is caused by the bacteria leuconostoc
      mesenteroides which is present in the whey. It is a mesophilic culture, meaning it thrives at about 75F degrees. When you ferment during the Summer or near your stove during the Winter, it often overtakes the ferment and it becomes slimy, as you say, not a health saftey problem, just a bit unappealing. In the natural progression of bacteria types that Tim mentioned, leuconostoc is the first one that shows up and causes the initial bubbling. When it doesn't overtake the ferment, it feeds and is followed by other bacteria which apparently add complexity to the flavor.

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    5. Is that why my heavy duty fermented kefir was slimy? It would get super sour and contained a lot of propionic acid. An acquired taste for sure.

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  7. This doesn't seem to want to put the reply where I want it. Oh well.

    Yes! Back-slopping. I'd forgotten. I've seen that term in the context of kimchi.

    One of the very best things I've made are fermented black-eyed pea cakes. Ferment the peas for a few days, grind them up, form into patties, and then cook in a pan with generous oil.

    I dunno if you caught Terri's post about a fermented sprouted bread. Soak, sprout, make into dough, and then ferment the dough. As I told Terri, my gut tells me when it thinks something will be good. Just the thought of this makes it sing. I'm soaking now. Thinking about making hot dog buns for Friday.

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  8. Wilbur do you have a link to the bread recipe? I can't find it on the website. I thought that sprouting and fermenting did the same thing; reducing the ant-nutrients and making the vitamins and minerals more accessible to out digestive systems? Thanks.

    sal

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    1. As far as I know, there is no link. It's more of an idea. As Terri says below, it's forming the dough (from sprouted grains) and letting the fermentation provide the leavening. I sort of think of it as making a one-time sourdough starter and baking it. I'm a person for whom feeding yet another thing is extremely undesirable, so that keeps me from making normal sourdough. The genius of Terri's suggestion is that I can have the benefits without the commitment.

      My gut is very good at judging things good for me. Yes, this sounds very good for me. The grains have a nice yeasty smell already.

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    2. Kind of like "Bread in 5", but they use yeast as a starter. http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/authors-and-photographer

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  9. Love sauerkraut. I always hesitate to taste mine as it ages because I did that and then once opened it up once and found a whole crock of green mold. Had to boil the heck out of my poor crock to clean it up. Hope that didn't hurt it any. So I usually put it in there and then wait six weeks and hope. I have a Harsch crock and Pickle-It jars too. My favorite flavor comes from the crock. You do have very nice instructions.

    And, yes, I've been playing with not just soaking grains, but also allowing them to ferment and "sour" and provide some leavening for the bread to rise. It has been fun and interesting. Edible too. Probably good for you.

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  10. I add red cabbage,radishes and turnips,sometimes red onion.I use a brine then store in fridge as only have a 2 ltr German made crock.The tasty brine gets drunk or used as salad dressing after I've re used it for storing shop bought boiled beets if not eating fast enough,same with olives.

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  11. I see that u dont cover the crock while it ferments?
    Like others said very useful instructions 3tbs salt for 5lbs u cant get more simple...
    Btw would this ratio work for pickles?

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    1. I have not tried making pickles this way, sorry, no idea. As to cover...yes, I cover the crock! Otherwise it would be full of gnats and flies. I cover the crock with a piece of tin foil, then put the crock lid on top of that.

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