Sauerkraut - Happy Memories

 

sauerkraut 6 brine sm

Being of Eastern European – Ukranian/Croation – ethnicity I grew up eating ‘kapusta’ aka sauerkraut. My childhood culinary memories are full of kapusta. I remember spending the afternoon at my friend Lisa’s house – she was Ukranian – and going down the basement to the extra stove wherein we would find, in the oven, a roaster of sauerkraut that had been cooking all morning. We would lay a slice of Wonder bread in our hand, fork on some warm sauerkraut, and fold the bread over to make sauerkraut sandwiches. Oooh, so good! I remember my Grandma Anna Woloszanski standing beside her kitchen table – her huge bread board before her – folding just cut circles of pierogi dough over warm sauerkraut and onions. She would lay the filled pierogies in neat rows on the board until she dropped them into boiling water and then simmered them in butter and chopped onions. Heaven in your mouth! I also remember a plate of hot dog buns filled with kielbasa, piled high with warm sauerkraut, waiting for Grandpa Nick when he got home from his job at the Lorain steel plant. A bit later in life I remember embarrassing myself over a dish of kapusta and kielbasa my Aunt Mema brought to a family gathering. Of course, every roaster of stuffed cabbage has to have a layer of sauerkraut between the cabbage rolls. I LOVE the stuff!

The best sauerkraut is homemade. One taste of the freshness and crunch of homemade sauerkraut and the commercially canned stuff will never darken the shelves of your pantry again. To begin you will need a non-reactive container – something glass or made of crockery. Some people use food safe plastic buckets – personally I am not fond of mixing plastic and food. This year I made the sauerkraut in my glass crock – see the picture above – because I wanted the process to be visible for pictures. I also have a fermentation crock that makes fermenting sauerkraut super easy. You fill the crock with sliced/salted cabbage, lay the weights on top of the contents, put water into the moat, put on the lid, and set the crock in a cool place. The crock is now sealed from the outside air which means no scum to worry about. In about a month you will have fabulous sauerkraut. You can store the sauerkraut in the crock for months and months – simply keep it in a cool spot, replace the lid after removing any sauerkraut, and keep water in the moat so it stays sealed.

fermentation crock sm

A fermentation crock is made with an inner neck that forms a “moat” you fill with water, which, in combination with the lid, seals the crock while the contents ferment.

fermentation crock top sm

fermentation crock lid sm

It also comes with weights that you place inside the crock on top of the sauerkraut to keep it under the brine. I caution you that the last time I made sauerkraut the weights ended up with a very strong – not so nice odor. I scrubbed them in hot soapy water with a small brush and laid them in the sun for a several days and they are fine.

fermentation crock weight sm

As far as equipment goes it also helps to have a stomper to lightly pound the sliced cabbage into the crock and help it begin to release juices. Scroll back up to the first and second pictures from the top and you can see my stomper in the lower right corner.

Let’s make some kraut. . . .

You will need:

– Fresh, solid heads of cabbage. I find that a not too large cabbage runs about 3-4 pounds.
Late cabbage is best because it usually has solid heads that produce a better sauerkraut. Summer cabbage will make sauerkraut in about fourteen days and will not store as well.
– Canning/Pickling salt
You will need 3 tablespoons of salt for each 5 pounds of sliced cabbage.
Table salt has chemicals in it that keep it from clumping – you do not want that in your sauerkraut.

I do not add anything else in my sauerkraut. No to Juniper berries. No to apples. No to caraway seeds. No, no, no. Straight forward cabbage and salt.

sauerkraut 2core removal sm

– Wash the cabbage and remove any outside leaves that are damaged or look bad. Quarter the cabbage and remove the core. Some people layer the core right in the crock with the sliced cabbage. I have talked to older people who remember that, as a child, they would sneak into the cool basement storeroom and reach into the kraut crock to snag a tasty piece of salty core. I also spoke with an elderly Hungarian man who told me that his family used to make huge crocks of sauerkraut and would bury a whole head of cabbage in the middle of the crock. When the sauerkraut was finished they would remove the whole cabbage and use it to make cabbage rolls. What a fabulous idea!

sauerkraut4 sliced sm

– Slice the cabbage thinly. I like to use a sharp knife. I tried a mandolin but the cabbage is hard to maneuver through the blade because it falls apart. A food processor would also work. I use a scale to weigh out 5 pounds of the sliced cabbage and add it to a large bowl. With my hands, I mix three tablespoons of salt into the sliced cabbage. I squeeze the cabbage as I mix in the salt. Add the 5 pounds of salted cabbage to your crock and tamp it down to get the juices flowing. Sometimes I mix the cabbage and salt together and allow it to sit in the bowl for about 5-10 minutes to allow the juices to begin to flow before I put it into the crock – this usually happens when the dog is ready for a walk.

sauerkraut 5 add saltsm

Continue to add layers of 5 pounds of sliced cabbage mixed with 3 tablespoons of salt and to tamp each layer as you go along. My crock is filled with 15 pounds of sliced cabbage = three layers. Notice the empty space at the top at the crock. As the cabbage gives off liquid and makes its salty brine there has to be room for it to fill the crock and cover the cabbage.

sauerkraut 6 brine sm

Cover the top of the sauerkraut with a layer of clean cheese cloth tucked down around the edges. Lay a small plate on top of the cheese cloth and top the plate with a gallon sized zip lock bag full of water. The bag of water will ooze in around the top of the cheesecloth and seal the top. You can also fill the zip lock bag with a simple boiled and cooled brine of 1 1/2 tablespoons salt per quart of water. The brine can then be used in the crock if the cabbage does not give off enough of its own brine. In the last picture – the morning of the second day – you can see how the brine has risen over the top of the cabbage.

sauerkraut 7under brine sm

Store your crock at 70-75° while it ferments – it should take about 3-4 weeks to finish. At 60-65° fermentation will probably take 5-6 weeks. At temperatures below 60° the sauerkraut might not ferment. Above 75° the sauerkraut may become soft. Keep an eye on the kraut, it should be done when bubbling stops. If you see scum forming on top of the kraut remove the weight and cheesecloth and skim it off. Replace with clean cheesecloth and a cleaned weight. You can store the finished kraut in jars in the refrigerator or pack it hot into quart or pint jars with 1/2 inch headspace and water bath it: quart jars for 15 minutes or pint jars for 10 minutes. I like to store mine in the refrigerator and eat it, cold and crunchy, for snacks. A simple recipe: put 3-4 meaty western ribs into a crockpot, top with sauerkraut, and cook it on low all day. Plate up the buttery soft rib meat along side the sauerkraut and garlic mashed potatoes. You will never eat commercially canned sauerkraut again.

Hey from the farm,
Fran The Country Cousin

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2 comments to Sauerkraut – Happy Memories

  • Debbie Venus-Fenrich

    Thanks Fran for sharing this process! I can’t seem to slice/grate it to a proper size and have been making it in canning jars for years. Isn’t as good as the good ol’ fashion crock kraut though!

    • I guess I don’t worry too much about slicing the cabbage very uniformly. I like using a sharp knife. I know lots of people that make it in jars. I still like the “crock” kraut best. I am very impressed with the fermentation crock. Just set it and forget it! And . . . you can store the kraut in the crock if you have a cool place to set it. I am never patient when the kraut is fermenting. I like to sneak a taste and the crock allows that.

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