Monday, 10 November 2008

Harvest Keeping - Sauerkraut

Posted by: Paul Gardener
A posse ad esse (From possibility to reality)

I thought that since it's spring time in the southern hemisphere and fall in the northern, and since both seasons are generally good ones for growing cabbages, that I'd talk a little about a success that I had this year. Learning to make some very simple, traditional Sauerkraut. Some of you, if you've read my personal blog before, may recognize this post, it's a modification of an older one from October this year.
At any rate as I was saying, I learned to make a very simple traditional sauerkraut this year, that's it below, and I am absolutely in love with the stuff! Something I could never say about store bought. The picture just below was taken when I had just put the cabbage into the jar and crock. I only made a batch that called for 5 lbs of shredded cabbage and the cabbage was from our garden. Cabbage that was specifically planted with this idea in mind. The process was incredibly simple. Step 1: Shred the cabbage VERY thin until you have 5 pounds of it. Step 2: Add 3 tbsp of fine pickling salt to the cabbage in a large non-metallic bowl and mix it with your hands until it is well combined. Step 3: Stuff into a large vessel (1/2 gal jar or crock) and push it down to get it completely covered by it's own juices. You'll need to weight it down at this point, and I suggest using a plastic bag filled with a brine solution. It will create a seal around the container keeping out the bad bacteria and will allow the good lactic acids to form beneath it. Step 4: Store in cool (60-70 deg F.) place for a couple of weeks. Check periodically for scum forming on the top of the kraut and remove as necessary. In a few weeks you'll notice you've got kraut.Now I've never really been a huge sauerkraut eater; it's not something that we ate a lot of as I grew up, but I decided a few years back that it was something I wanted to "try again" and you know, I liked it. It wasn't something that I would get cravings for or anything but it was alright. So why make a concerted effort to grow cabbage, and make the stuff from scratch right? The answer is pretty simple actually. Because this is one of those foods that is easy to make, is very healthy, can be used as a condiment or as a main course dish and most importantly is a food that can be stored for long periods with simple methods making it a very good staple food to know how to make.
And now, a month and a week later, I have this. A jar with some slowly lacto-fermented cabbage, that when smelled is absolutely amazing! I now get why this stuff got to be so darned popular in the first place. The brine that developed around the cabbage is a slightly salty, almost kosher pickle tasting flavor and the cabbage itself still retains a lot of it's original texture, while being soft enough for us to know it's done. Here's a closeup.
I was worried about the liquid getting funky or moldy while it sat in the cold storage, but the brine filled plastic bag that sealed the top off worked perfectly. That is absolutely the way to go by the way.

After we took the kraut out of the jar and started warming it over the stove, the smell of it was making our mouths water. Add a beer boiled brat, some steamed dill potatoes and popovers and you've got yourself a German dinner extraordinaire!
The best part of it all was that we only used a little more that 1/4 of what I made, and better yet, I harvested a 6 lb cabbage tonight that's going to make more of this tasty stuff for the winter.

If you've never tried it, and even if your not traditionally a Kraut lover, I encourage you to give this very simple recipe a try. I have to verify it, but I believe it was just 3 tbsp of salt (pickling preferably) to each five lbs of cabbage. I used the Salt Lake salt that I made a couple of months back. It worked great and helped to make this a totally local food product! You add the salt to the cabbage in a large bowl and mix it with your hands well, then pack in a crock or the largest jar you have (food safe buckets are also supposed to work well in place of large crocks.) and cover the top with either a weighted plate, or better yet, a large brine filled bag. Let it sit in a cool (60-70 deg F) room for a few weeks, cleaning the cover off regularly and voila! Sauerkraut. Or better yet, go to your library and rent "The joy of pickling" and check out the many different recipes that they have in it.
Good luck, and go make some Kraut!