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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Homemade Sauerkraut | Ferment Your Cabbage TODAY!

Photo credit for this post to Kirsten Ashley Photography, edits by yours truly

I'm really excited for today's post.  Of all the lacto-fermented vegetables I've tried, sauerkraut is my favorite.  It's the easiest, yummiest, and most familiar way to give fermentation a try.

Need a reminder of what this hippie-trend of lacto-fermentation is all about?  In short, fermenting your veggies makes them more digestible for your body.  Fermenting increases the vitamin level of your veggies.  Eating a fermented veggie, fruit, or dairy each day gives your gut a natural, healthy boost of good bacteria.  

A longer definition:  "Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria.  Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria... These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances."  (Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions )

So as you can see, consuming some form of lactic acid-y food each day will give your immune system a great boost.  So this tutorial is perfect to try this time of year - natural illness prevention before winter!

Homemade sauerkraut is easy and fun to make, especially if you invite friends to join you for the morning!  Kirsten and Shawna came over to help chop, photograph, and chitchat during my last big batch.  

And now I wanted to share it with you because cabbage is in season!

So go grab some and give this a try!

So step 1 is to chop-chop-chop-shred-shred.  In lieu of fancy equipment, I just use a chef's knife.  Cut the cabbage as thinly as possible... remove the yucky outer leaves.

As you layer the cabbage into your giant bowl, you add salt and whey.  I use Himalayan salt in pretty much all our cooking.  You can check out this article about why unprocessed salt is actually good for you.  

And check out this very old blog post about how to make your whey for this recipe.  It's super easy, all you need is plain yogurt and a little bit of time.

Once you have all your cabbage chopped, it's time to beat the shenanigans out of it.  This is a fantastic activity for a busy and stressful week, to release some tension... though not a great activity if your children are napping ;o)

You want to spend about ten minutes pounding the cabbage to help it release as much juice as possible.  The salt will have already helped jump-start this process.

Then you add your caraway seeds.  You can add them earlier, too, but sometimes I forget or sometimes I just want to be a free spirit.  Thankfully, lacto-fermentation is a relatively forgiving process.

Next, using clean hands, you start stuffing the cabbage into wide-mouth mason jars.  (bonus points if said hands include finger nails that are color-coordinated with your coffee mug)

You can actually use any kind of glass jar that has a tight-fitting lid.  Sometimes I use smaller jars.  Whatever you have available.

Now you press it as firmly as possible into the jar.  You have to find some utensil that let's you push it down tight... I have a tiny metal ladle that works great.

Keep layering and pressing until the cabbage comes to about an inch and a half below the top of the jar.  You could leave two inches to be safe.  Remember, sometimes lacto-fermentation projects can go wrong if you don't leave enough room for the expansion of gases.  But we're not talking about highly pressurized liquids here, so don't be too scared. Just leave a little room at the top.

There should be liquid completely covering the cabbage.  If not, mix up a little bit of a salt water brine to add to each jar.  1 tablespoon of salt to 1 cup of water should do the trick. 

Ta-da!  Homemade sauerkraut!   Okay, technically, it won't be sauerkraut for a little while.  Now you put the lids on those bad boys (tightly!) and you let them sit at room temperature for about 3 days.  This allows the good bacteria to get to work.  Then you transfer them to cold storage.  You can use the refrigerator if you have the space, but I have also successfully stored them unopened in my basement.  Once open, you should definitely store the jar in the fridge.  

The sauerkraut can be eaten right away after that three day wait, but it improves with age.  Interestingly, it's traditionally "ready" after SIX MONTHS of fermenting!  I have found that it's even better longer than that.  My favorite batch was a year old.

What I like to do is make some about every six months and put the date on it before putting it in the basement.  That way I always have some to eat while the rest is aging.

So what do we do with all this sauerkraut?  Our favorite simple meal with it is to cook up sausages and potatoes in a skillet and top it with a generous portion of sauerkraut.  

I also love it on top of this white bean soup.

I like it on sandwiches with all the fixin's.

The other day I made open-faced breakfast sandwiches with sauerkraut, cheese, and a fried egg.

The possibilities are endless...
   Pan-grilled sausages with sauerkraut
   Sweet and sour brats
   Grilled reuben sandwiches

So there you have it!  Here's the recipe.  A Jessica-hybrid from Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation

Keep in mind that I usually do a huge batch (at least triple) and I almost never truly measure it out.  I hate math ;o)  So don't fret if your measurements aren't exact... like I said, it's forgiving.

Homemade Sauerkraut

equipment:  sharp chef's knife, cutting board, large bowl or bucket, glass jars with tight fitting lids, meat pounder, spoon or small ladle.

   1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
   1 tablespoon caraway seeds
   1 tablespoon sea salt
   4 tablespoons whey
   salt water brine, as needed (1 T salt dissolved in 1 C water)

In the bowl, mix the cabbage, caraway seeds, sea salt, and whey.  pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release the juices.  Place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar and press down firmly until juices come to top of cabbage.  If more juice is required, add salt water brine.  The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.  The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.

Happy fermenting!  


  1. hmmm... you inspire me as usual. I have been a hater of anything cabbage until recently... then I discovered what I have been missing! Question tho - do you have to eat the kraut raw? Does it kill all the healthy good stuff if you cook it?

    love you bunches!

    1. Yes and no. It's best eaten raw to ensure you get ALL the awesome enzymes. But if you gently heat it up (never boiled... so it's still cool enough to touch) then you won't kill stuff. That being said, sometimes I splurge on the yummy cooked recipes. It's still cabbage, after all. If you try it, let me know how yours turns out!

  2. I really don't like saurkraut, but my H loves it. HOWEVER, he is still leery of fermented anything (unless it comes from a store in a bottle...ha). someday...

    1. Have you tried anything else? I like fermented roasted bell peppers - they taste JUST like jarred stuff. But yeah, other than that I haven't really found anything we LOVE (we being the whole family haha... my H just tolerates this whole LF business)

  3. Yum, yum! Love sauerkraut! Made some this summer, enjoying it already :)