Basic sauerkraut, traditionally made with cabbage and salt, was my first step into the world of fermentation, and for good reason: it is near impossible to mess up, requires very few ingredients, and tastes awesome. While I do enjoy the bulk of my CSA produce in freshly-prepared dishes, I wanted to use my first (and only until the fall) green cabbage from the farm for a new batch of 'kraut. Farm-fresh vegetables typically have a higher water content than their heavily-transported supermarket counterparts, which is perfect for fermenting; it reduces the amount of salt needed to extract water from the veggies, which then creates a sufficient amount of brine for proper anaerobic fermentation.
Need more reason to use your cabbage for 'kraut? Lactic acid fermentation of cruciferous vegetables like cabbage not only creates live active cultures, known as probiotics, that promote gut health; the process also helps break down the glucosinolates these crops contain into isothiocyanates, chemical compounds known to inhibit carcinogensis and tumorigenesis. A lot of hard work went into growing that beautiful head of cabbage; now you can slice it up and put IT to work!
Ingredients (general rule of thumb: 1 heaping tbsp salt per 2 lbs cabbage) :
- one head of fresh cabbage
- pickling salt
Optional Additions (for a less traditional 'kraut; typically sliced thin or grated) :
- alliums (garlic or scapes, scallion, leek, onion, shallot)
- fruit (apple, pear)
- radish (round or daikon)
- red cabbage or beets for bright PINK 'kraut!
- burdock root (can be foraged for throughout New England)
- herbs or spices
Slice or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts; place into a large bowl as you go, sprinkling with salt. Add other prepped veggies if you would like; toss to mix. Little by little, pack ingredients into clean glass jars or a ceramic crock to release water from the cabbage. The fresher the ingredients, the faster water will leach out. If there is still not enough brine to cover the veggies after about 12 or so hours of occasional tamping, you can add just enough salt water (1 tbsp for 1 cup water) to submerge the vegetables.
Depending on your vessel, create a weight that will keep your veggies below the brine. For my jar, I filled a clean, wide-mouth pint jar with water, capped it, and gently lowered it into the jar; my cabbage released so much water I had to remove some before adding the weight to prevent overflow! Relocate your ferment to a counter or other space (out of direct sunlight) where it will not be disturbed; you may wish to place the vessel onto a plate as I did. Rest a hand or tea towel over the weight and jar to prevent dirt, dust, and bugs from getting in your ferment.
Sauerkraut, like any other ferment, is ready when it tastes good to you! Fermentation "guru" Sandor Katz suggests tasting it every other day until its tang is to your liking, at which point the vessel can be capped and stored in the fridge to slow down fermentation; unrefrigerated fermentation typically lasts between 1-2 weeks in warm weather and sometime several weeks in cooler conditions. When checking on your 'kraut, you may find some mold, also called "scum" or "bloom," on its surface; this is completely normal! Just skim off as much of the mold as possible and rinse off your weight before putting it back onto the ferment.
When it comes time to make new 'kraut, you may add whatever brine and veggie bits remain in your previous jar to give a boost of active cultures to your new ferment; however, doing so may result in a more sour batch.
Images by Rebekah Carter (2012). Recipe from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.