Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sauerkraut

I made several batches of sauerkraut this summer and never got around to posting about them, but I figure better late than never, right?  :)  I'll start by saying I've never liked sauerkraut.  I've tried it many times in my life and never cared for it one bit.  I'd never tried homemade kraut, though.  It was always the stuff that you find in jars at the grocery store.  Yuck.  While I really got into lacto-fermentation this summer, I was skeptical to try sauerkraut because I just did not think I would like it.  I made a small batch - about 3/4 of a quart - using the method detailed in Wild Fermentation and on The Nourishing Gourmet. It turned out ok, but it was a lot of work and required a lot of maintenance.  The flavor was pretty good, I actually liked it, but I decided that it was too much work to be worth it.  So I decided kraut wasn't for me. 

Then I went to the Growing Connections conference and had the chance to sample some lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kim chi at one of the booths at the huge real food farmers' market.  And guess what?  This time I loved it! 

The vendor that made the kraut turned out to be Marjie, the owner of Marjie's Gluten & Dairy Free Pantry in Fenton, Michigan.  I chatted with her a bit and was intrigued by the way she made her kraut, so I attended a demonstration at which she explained her process.  She uses a Picklemeister to make her krauts.  This thing is virtually fool-proof and in all the years (I forget how many, but for many years) that Marjie has been making pickles in her Picklemeister, she only has had one failed batch.  I also loved the idea that once you put the lid on the jar, you don't touch it for 10 days.  No changing out plates or other things used to weight down the kraut.  Very little chance of contamination.  Very little effort... after the initial pounding.  I didn't buy a Picklemeister that day, but I did make a trip out to Marjie's store in Fenton to pick one up about a week later.  So then I began my adventures in making kraut.  Here's how I made mine... I love that its so simple.  Two ingredients.  And it tastes awesome! 

Sauerkraut

7 pounds of washed, shredded cabbage (about 18 cups)
4 Tablespoons sea salt

I use my food processor to shred the cabbage.  Place about 1/4 of the shredded cabbage into the jar.  Sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon of the sea salt.  Using a wooden pounder, pound the cabbage until the juice from it begins to be released.  Be careful not to break the jar.  This step can be done in a separate bowl and then transferred to the Picklemeister if you'd prefer.  Repeat these steps until all of the cabbage and salt have been used and your jar is filled. 

I thought pounding the cabbage would take forever.  I was surprised at how quickly the cabbage started to release its juices. 

Place the spacer cap upside down on top of the cabbage and press down.  If there is not enough juice to cover the spacer cap, add some purified water. 

Screw on the main lid, fill the air lock with water up to the marks on the sides, and insert the air lock into the rubber stopper on top of the main lid. 

Set the jar on a plate or shallow pan to catch any overflow that may happen during fermentation (don't worry, this does not mean you have a bad batch, its quite normal). 

Allow to set on the counter out of direct sunlight for 10 days.  Do not open the jar beforehand - you'll contaminate it. 

After 10 days, transfer the sauerkraut, including the juice, to clean glass jars.  It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a year. 

Remember, this is a living food... only use a clean fork to serve the kraut.

Note:  You can add 2 teaspoons caraway seed and/or 2 crushed garlic cloves if you'd like.  I don't, but Marjie said they're good with them, so I believe her... just not enough to change what I know I like since I was so skeptical of kraut in the first place.  :)

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