I like sauerkraut. It could be my German genes but I just like it, I wanted to make homemade kraut but have been intimidated by the list of requirements - mainly the crock. So there I was telling my Mom on the phone about my kraut desire and she reminisced about her family eating a lot of kraut when she was small and I asked her how Grandma did it as I didn't remember her doing the 'crock' thing (that was the other Grandma). Grandma was apparently sitting on the couch nearby and Mom yelled (Grandma doesn't hear well anymore, she's 100 yrs old) and asked her how she did it – and she said “oh I just put it in the jars and put em in the cellar.” Mom and I thought that sounded too easy, so the next day I got out the old 1940's Kerr canning book and sure enough there it was, making kraut in jars! OK, but we've learned a few things about canning since then, so I decided to double check the internet – there it was, even found agricultural extension booklets with instructions. Not only did I find that this is common practice but that this is extremely healthy. I will now share with you the things I learned that I did not know.
The basic premise behind these traditional fermented foods is this: lacto-bacillus bacteria cultures take over the food, producing lactic acid. This not only increases the nutritional value of the food (often increasing some vitamin content like B-12 and C by 300-600%!), but it also preserves the food for months or even years while producing a pleasantly sour taste. In modern, industrialized food production we fear the inconsistency of such traditional natural ferments, so we mimic that sour taste with vinegar while killing off all bacteria using hot water bath or high-pressure canning methods. While this gives us food that tastes almost like the traditional good stuff (or at least it tastes sour), it also gives us dead food devoid of the extra nutrients and healthy beneficial probiotic cultures found in a living, naturally-fermented food.
--Above from foodrenegade.com
Who Knew!? I just thought it was a good way to keep stuff through the winter (it is), and tasted good (it does) I suspect probiotics is something Grandma really didn't care about! So, armed with official sanctions I decided to try it.
Apparently fermenting does not actually require boiling sterilization of jars, but I did anyway because of all those years of 4-H coupled with the microbiology classes in college. (I have some issues) Armed with clean jars, knife, large bowl, kosher/canning salt and of course cabbage (clean, washed, outer leaves removed) I began. The ratio of salt to cabbage is roughly one pound cabbage to a scant tablespoon or a rounded half tablespoon of canning/kosher salt. Do not cut back on the salt, this is your preservative here. (there are those who add a teaspoon of sugar or caraway seeds as well - I did not as I am wanting to do the 1940's – grandma recipe) I do not have a scale the right size for this so I estimated the size of my small cabbage heads and used a tablespoon of salt per head.
The beginning is almost too simple – slice the cabbage thin saving a couple of clean outer leaves, thin slicing is an issue for me be it noodles, cabbage or even cheese, so mine is not the requisite 1/16 inch in the recipe (who are these people measuring this sort of thing?) Next step is up to you, some recipes say to put the salt and cabbage in a bowl or pot and rub or squeeze until it starts to produce liquid, the recipe I am following just said to layer salt and cabbage as it is cut into a container and then mix with your hands like tossing a salad.
Now when it is all mixed start filling jars, I used the wooden pusher tool that came with my meat grinder to pack it tightly down in the jars. I filled the jars almost to the neck. I then filled with (bottled, filtered, well or boiled) water. Don't know what chlorine and fluoride would add to the mix, I have well water so just ran from the tap into the jars! Seriously! Remember the clean outer leaves I saved – now I took these - folded them up and put in the top like a cover then lightly screwed on the caps with rings. Why lightly? When I called Grandma the next day to tell her she was right (she says that happens to her once in awhile) she said “well don't forget to put em on a tray, they'll ooze" – WHAT! The Kerr canning book never said ooze – not once! She said they quit oozing when the kraut is 'made' or fermentation is done (in 3-4 days) and it's ready to eat in 4 to 6 weeks. While the process is going, if the kraut oozes out too much liquid, you can add brine (tablespoon of salt to quart of water) to keep it covered. At this point it can be canned like kraut from a crock (water bath 15 minutes) but it will last a winter season (4-6 months) with no further processing if kept fairly cool. The downside of additional processing, remember, is the loss of most of the probiotic benefits to the heat.
Took pictures today of my latest 'cabbage into jars' project.
And the ones I did last week that have finished fermentation. Note the slight change in color.
I unscrewed the rings on these about 3 times a day for 4 days and then they stopped oozing, so today I rinsed the jars off, rinsed the salt brine off the rings, tasted the kraut and then screwed down the rings fairly tightly. So far so good. The overflow liquid smelled right and today when I tasted it it tasted right. When I tasted it I was so jazzed, it really was sauerkraut!!! It really was that easy!!!!
Be careful unscrewing lids, this stuff really produces some gas! I spent some time cleaning up the spurt! I also put the exact date on my lids so I would know which was which, which was close to done and which to eat first.