Make Your Own Sauerkraut

The good kraut, ready for my refrigerator.

The good kraut, ready for my refrigerator.

Sauerkraut isn’t exactly an Ecuadorian staple. That’s one of the great things about living overseas; it pushes me to make the foods I love but can’t easily buy. A couple of years ago, I had tried to make sauerkraut at home and the attempt resulted in a moldy mess. It actually scared me a little and I decided the fermenting foods wasn’t for me. But back then, I could easily buy fresh sauerkraut at the local market, so it wasn’t a big deal. Today, I can’t do that. There are no great sauerkraut makers in Ecuador… until now.

Enter Sandor Ellix Katz and his book, The Art of Fermentation. Sandor taught me that mold on top of a fermentation is actually very normal. It’s what’s under that mold that matters. The first time I tried fermenting cabbage, I had done so in a pottery crock. I could not see underneath the mold. And we all know that eating food that has gone moldy is a bad idea.

This time I around, I elected to ferment in a clear glass jar so that I could actually see the process. And it made me feel much better. I have pictures to share with you and can tell you that a six week fermented cabbage tastes lovely.


Sauerkraut

1 large cabbage, shredded with the large outer leaves reserved whole
spices of choice; I used juniper berries
salt, the best quality you can find

1 large jar
weights; I used rocks
fabric cover the jar; you need air to be able to leave the crock

Sliced cabbage tossed with salt being placed in the pickling jar.

Sliced cabbage tossed with salt being placed in the pickling jar.

In a large bowl, take your shredded cabbage and liberally salt it. There is not right or wrong amount of salt. In fact, according to Sandor, you can ferment without salt but I believe we’d would miss an essential flavor in the sauerkraut. Try to stay away from regular table salt and use a good quality sea salt. In memory of California, I used some of our special Monterey Sea Salt.

The cabbage will start to feel slick as it releases water. That’s what you want. You can massage your cabbage as much as you like to help it leach out water. The thinner you’ve sliced your cabbage, the easier this process will be.

Once it’s started to weep, start packing it into your jar. Pack and pack and pack. Press it on in as tight as you can. On top of all your shredded cabbage, lay down the outer leaves that you had saved. These guys are going to be your mold barrier. The mold will grow on top of the whole leaves and make it easy for you to remove that nasty layer that you would have preferred didn’t grow in the first place.

Next, add your weights. I placed a few beach stones in plastic bags and used them. You can use a small plate that fits if you’ve used a wide-mouth crock. Or even a bag filled with water can be helpful. Anything to keep the cabbage weighted down. Then cover this with a thin layer of cheesecloth or other fabric that allows air to pass through but prevents anything else from getting in.

A fully packed jar full of cabbage, salt, and a few juniper berries.

A fully packed jar full of cabbage, salt, and a few juniper berries.

Whole cabbage leaves on top of the future kraut. Pressing down helped push out more liquid from the cabbage.

Whole cabbage leaves on top of the future kraut. Pressing down helped push out more liquid from the cabbage.

The rocks (in a plastic bag) added as a weight. Notice how much the cabbage has compressed.

The rocks (in a plastic bag) added as a weight. Notice how much the cabbage has compressed.

Give your cabbage 24 hours to weep all it can. If you’re fortunate, the jar will be filled with water the next morning. All the way over the top of your cabbage. If it hasn’t and the jar only needs a small addition, use filtered water to top off your kraut (I had to add about 1/2 cup). You need to make sure all of the cabbage is submerged. I can’t imagine that the jar won’t be at least 3/4 full but if not, then make a brine from filtered water and salt and top off with that.

The next day, the liquid has raised up over the amount of cabbage. It's ready to sit and ferment.

The next day, the liquid has raised up over the amount of cabbage. It’s ready to sit and ferment.

Then you’re ready to let your sauerkraut sit. I chose an out of the way cupboard where the temperature stays pretty consistent and the cabbage could remain in the dark, especially since I chose to use a jar instead of a crock. And I just would check on my kraut every few days. Until we went away and then I forgot about it. When I remembered, the sauerkraut had compressed to about half way down. The liquid had evaporated and that had allowed a layer of mold to grow. I was a little worried even though I could see the proper color of sauerkraut underneath the fuzzy layer. When I took out the rocks and removed the nasty layer of whole leaves, I found the most gorgeous sauerkraut underneath. It smelled slightly sour and salty, but fresh like the ocean. And it tasted perfect, not too sour and with a crunch that was pleasant. Not mushy at all.

A few weeks later. Notice the lower layers are the pale yellow, green of sauerkraut even though the upper layer is an ugly rotten brown green.

A few weeks later. Notice the lower layers are the pale yellow, green of sauerkraut even though the upper layer is an ugly rotten brown green.

I took out the quality sauerkraut and placed it and the liquid in two glass jars. They are sitting in my refrigerator, one of them already half empty. In some ways, it’s a shame I’m the only person in my house that likes sauerkraut. But who am I to complain if I get to eat it all myself?

The good kraut, ready for my refrigerator.

The good kraut, ready for my refrigerator.

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6 thoughts on “Make Your Own Sauerkraut

  1. I tried this a few years ago and had the same reaction you had about our fear of moldy food stuffs. The clear crock is a perfect idea to solve that misgiving. Our grandmothers would be laughing at our timidity I’m sure.

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    • I must have gotten braver – have radishes fermenting right now. They showed up in the market in abundance and I decided to try a radish pickle and see what happens. Wonder what my grandmother would say about that?

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  2. I’ve been making my own delicious sauerkraut for quite a while here in Ecuador and I have never seen any mold. But I pack it very tightly with my fist, so the juice that is squeezed out covers everything (there is no cabbage sticking out). Then I put some weight on top (a small jar filled with water works great).

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    • Glad to hear it. I have to admit that seeing mold can be disconcerting but after reading Sandor Katz, I’ve decided not to worry about it too much. I do think that the length of time the sauerkraut if fermented makes a big difference and I prefer the flavor of a long ferment. I’ll be sure to try your small jar trick though… sounds better than my rocks in a bag!

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