Man has used salt to brine or fermenting vegetables for millennia. It is one of the easiest ways to preserve the goodness of vegetables all year long. Sauerkraut is one of the easiest foods you can preserve.
There are two ways to make sauerkraut: in a big batch that you later process in a water bath or in single-jar batches. Each method has its pros and cons.
Canned or processed sauerkraut (the big batch method):
Pros: You can preserve a lot of food in one go. All of it will be fairly uniform in taste. Some people are skeptical of the safety of sauerkraut that hasn’t been canned, so it gives assurance that the food is safe. Unprocessed sauerkraut is crisper and most people are more familiar with kraut that is softer because it has been processed.
Cons: You have to fire up the canner. All the beneficial bacteria that formed during the fermentation process are killed in the canning process.
15 lbs cabbage
½ C non-iodized salt
Remove wilted or spoiled leaves and core cabbage.
Shred cabbage. You can do this with the slicing attachment on your food processor, using a meat slicer, cut by hand with a good, sharp knife or using a mandolins. Anything that shreds the cabbage about 1/8” thick will do.
Put about 2-3 lbs of shredded cabbage into a crock (glass or ceramic) or a 5-gallon plastic bucket. Sprinkle with about 2 Tbsp of salt, mix up the cabbage with salt and tamp it with a jar or potato masher to release the liquid from the cabbage and press it all down. Add another 2-3 lbs and 2 Tbsp salt, mix and tamp. Do this until you have used up all the salt and cabbage. Within about 10-20 minutes the cabbage should be releasing some liquid. This is the brine that will start the fermentation process. Wait overnight (8-12 hrs) to see how much brine forms. If you are using fresh cabbage, when you press firmly, the brine should completely cover the cabbage. If it does not cover the cabbage, make additional brine by dissolving 3 tablespoons of salt in 1 quart of water and pour over the cabbage.
Put something that is almost the diameter of your crock–a plate or glass pie pan–on top of the cabbage. There should only be a gap of about ¼” – ½” the plate and the edge of the crock. You want to keep the cabbage fully submersed during the fermentation process, so weight the plate with a clean stone or a water-filled gallon jug. Do not use metal of any kind, even enameled or coated metal. Cover everything with a towel or cloth, like part of an old sheet. The cabbage needs air to ferment but you want to keep dirt, bugs and other floaties out.
Set the crock in a out-of-the-way corner—but not too out-of-the-way. You’ll want to check the progress of the kraut every 2-3 days. It ferments best at 60º-70º. Over 70º and you will have more spoilage than fermentation. Cooler than 60º and the fermentation process is slowed.
In 2-3 days you may have white scum forming on top. This is normal. Just skim it off and replace the towel with a new, clean towel. Check the kraut every 2-3 days, skim off any scum and replace the towel. After 4 weeks you can begin testing for sourness. It will get increasingly more sour the longer it ferments, so stop when the flavor is what you like.
To process: Put sauerkraut into sterile canning jars and cover with brine. If you do not have enough brine to cover the kraut, make more using the original formula (3 tablespoons for 1 quart water.) Leave 1” head space, screw on sterilized 2-piece lids and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes for quarts or 15 minutes for pints.
Quick and Easy, No-process Kraut
Pros: You can make batches as big or as small as you like, one jar or 20 jars at a time. You can use any jar that has tight-fitting metal lid. The bacteria that forms during the fermentation process provides lots of good probiotics that are good for your health.
Cons: The flavor may not be perfectly uniform, since the amount of cabbage and salt may vary slightly from jar to jar.
The process and proportions are the same, about 1 tablespoon of salt for every two pounds of cabbage.
Start with sterile jars and lids. Boil jars and lids for ten minutes to sterilize. Leave the lids in the water until you are ready to use them.
Shred your cabbage and fill a 1-qt sterilized jar about 1/3 full. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon non-iodized salt and tamp it down firmly. Fill the jar another 1/3, add salt and tamp it down. Fill the jar to the top and sprinkle with salt. When you tamp it down you should have about 1″ – 1 1/2″ headspace.
Wipe the rim of the jar clean and screw on a sterilized lid. Wait 8-12 hrs to see how much brine is formed and add more brine if needed to cover sauerkraut and put lid back on the jar.
Allow cabbage to ferment at 60º-70º for 4-6 weeks. Then put into a cool basement. If you leave the lids on and store in a cool basement or unheated room, there is no need to process in a canner. Once you open the lid, the sauerkraut will need to be refrigerated.