I’ve thought about making sauerkraut for a couple of years, but it wasn’t until I found a giant head of Chinese cabbage in my garden this fall that I did. Well, I planted it there, so it wasn’t a total surprise. I had already used some of that head to make a FULL pot of corned beef and cabbage, as well as a large bowl of my favorite coleslaw. I still had several pounds of cabbage left. It seemed the day was upon me to do the final research and take the leap of fermenting cabbage.
I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that home made sauerkraut is a good source of vitamin C. It’s one of those weird facts that I tend to keep looking up just to make sure I’m reading it correctly! (My husband, on the other hand, mostly wonders how anyone discovered eating cabbage that had been left to rot.) Since I have a stomach that tends rebel agains digesting raw vegetables, but store bought sauerkraut is usually more potent than I care for, I really should have tried to make my own sooner.
I got the most help from two resources: The Complete Book of Canning, which I have had since (gasp) before the internet; and this website. I put a smallish metal bowl on a food scale and set it to zero. Then, I sliced the cabbage thinly. A pound at a time, I put it in the large (25-30 cup) bowl. It ended up being just 5 pounds, so I added the recommended 3 Tablespoons of sea salt. I mixed this all together with my hands, much to my girls’ entertainment. With a history of very sensitive skin, I am not used to this sort of textural experience. I even knead bread with rubber gloves on. I guess I was making faces….
My ceramic crock pot, with a capacity of about a gallon, was used for the fermenting stage. I’m not sure why I thought over 25 cups of shredded cabbage would fit into a 16 cup container. I dutifully pressed the cabbage down a few cups at a time, watching with interest as the brine formed and the liquid surrounded the cabbage. It all fit with room to spare!
The freezer quality ziplock bag filled part way with water nicely fit itself to the shape of the crock pot and held the cabbage down into the brine. I overfilled the ziplock the first time, so it couldn’t adopt the shape. Then, I tried a new bread bag, but the twisty wouldn’t hold and the water made the bag collapse. Tip: do NOT fill the bag with water WHILE it is sitting on top of the cabbage. I estimated that only a couple of Tablespoons of water were accidentally added to the concoction; plus, some recipes said “add some water if not enough brine formed,” so I proceeded with the experiment.
Since my kitchen – laundry room area stays about 70 degrees Faherenheit, I just put the crock on the table in the laundry room with the dehydrator (not going to be running during this time). It was someplace I would see a lot, but didn’t need for work space. Once a day, or so, I would stop and look at it and smell it. For about a week it smelled only vaguely of cabbage. Apparently, the plastic bag was keeping it reasonably covered.
After three weeks, I was doing something around that area and noticed some mold around the edges of the plastic. Eww. But, again, everything I had read said this might happen some and wasn’t an automatic failure. Since three weeks was within the range of time that it might be done fermenting, I lifted the bag to check it. It smelled slightly like sauerkraut. That was hopeful! My book said to tap the container and see if any bubbles came up. When I did this, there were not any bubbles, which is supposed to mean fermentation is done.
Really, truly, I don’t know how effective tapping can be on the outside of an inch thick ceramic container. Still, since it was my first sauerkraut, I was anxious that it not spoil. I used a clean cloth to wipe the upper edges of the crock pot, where the mold had been attached, then gently stirred the pot. Still, no bubbles. In all honesty, I was afraid to taste it, so just put it in 5 pint jars in the fridge. (This might make more sense to you, if you knew that I’d been sea sick 6 out of the last 8 days.)
The next day, I decided I needed to cook Reuben sandwiches with my sauerkraut. I thought it would be a good idea to taste it first. So, with no one around, I got a fork and took a small mouthful. Hmm. It was kind of good! Not too strong, with a touch of sweetness. Perfect for me! I found an easy rye bread recipe and baked up some rye bread, but resorted to canned corned beef.
They say sauerkraut will last months in the refrigerator, but I have to wonder if that depends on how much it is fermented. I also wonder if it will continue to slowly ferment, the desired way, while in the refrigerator. I have four pints still in there and I really only use sauerkraut for Reuben sandwiches, so maybe I’ll find these things out. Or maybe I’ll branch out with how I eat sauerkraut, since this is definitely mild. Meanwhile, it is very satisfying to know that the experiment has been edible so far!