My mother’s extent of fermenting anything was crock pickles. Even though the neighborhood I grew up in was mainly German with a sprinkling of Irish, I never caught wind of someone fermenting their own sauerkraut. This may be why, up until five years ago or so, I had no idea of the process of fermenting my own “soured cabbage.” I encountered the process of fermenting cabbage from Sandor Katz’s book, “Wild Fermentation.” His enthusiasm about making homemade kraut definitely fueled this crazy passion, and I am ever more excited to ferment my next vegetable of choice. I am going to admit something here: Mr. Katz may have lit the fermentation fire underneath me, but for detailed execution, I seek the help of the internet. His book is very casual about the steps in the actual fermentation process. I have failed in making sauerkraut in the past, and I believe now, a few key steps were missed. I either didn’t add enough salt, or I may have possibly left it in the crock too long. After talking to my neighbor about her first time making kraut and starting it in the fridge, did the realization hit. Yes, take it out of the crock after the initial ferment and finish out the fermenting in a chilled, more controlled environment!
Two cabbage heads with all tough, outer leaves removed, a 1 gallon crock, kosher salt and my handy pounding tool. You also need something to chop the cabbage. I used the slicer in the food processor or you can you use a mandoline.
Remove the core and slice into chunks(narrow chunks if using the processor).
Shred the cabbage and add the first layer to a very clean crock or a gallon glass jar. Sprinkle a half teaspoon or so of kosher salt on the first layer. Take out your day’s frustrations on the cabbage, or in other words, pound the water out of your cabbage. Keep adding layers, salt and pounding until you run out of cabbage. Add the remaining salt to the top layer. I used three tablespoons of salt for 5 lbs. of cabbage but that was waaaay too much salt for me. The last batch I made I reduced it to two tablespoons.
Once you add your last layer, weigh-down the cabbage. I insert an upright bowl and then place a gallon of water or two-liter bottle of soda in the bowl. Whatever you add, make sure it is clean and the item of weight is sealed. My ghost-like crock is covered tightly to prevent fruit flies or any other unwelcome pests but be sure the ferment can breathe. Check it after 24 hours and check the liquid amount; the cabbage needs to be submerged in liquid. If not, add a little filtered water until it is. It’s tough to get the cabbage to release water so don’t worry if you need to help it along. Leave your crock hang for a couple of weeks but don’t forget about it. Check it daily and clean off the bowl and the weight, and also any scum that forms. Depending on the temperature of where you keep the crock, cooler may mean a longer initial ferment and warmer may mean shorter.
This is day two or three of the ferment.
Here we are at day 16. I moved the kraut to jars when the crock started to smell like…are you ready for this…beer, and I finished the ferment in the fridge. The jars have been in there about three weeks, and they are still bubbling. I’ve started another batch since one of the jars is almost gone. It’s just that good.