Our Favorite Homemade Sauerkraut
The cabbage looper worms and I have been at war for the last two months, and every day, I go out to the garden with a can of soapy water and carefully pick them off the undersides of my well-chomped cabbage and kale leaves, and drown them.
I couldn’t save the collards; they were just too tasty, and got eaten before they could grow enough leaves to make up the difference. So finally, I just gave up, sacrificing them in the hopes it would help spare my other crops. (Note to Self—Next year: Row covers.)
It really doesn’t matter though if my cabbages have holey leaves though, because I grew them for one of my favorite homemade foods: Sauerkraut.Making your own sauerkraut is a terrific way to preserve an abundant harvest of cabbage, and it’s a remarkably simple process that requires just two basic ingredients—shredded cabbage and salt.
Lacto-fermentation was one of the only ways of safely preserving foods in ancient times. All traditional or ancestral diets have always included raw, lacto-fermented foods with each meal: yogurt, kefir, chutney, miso, sauerkraut, kvass, ginger brew, etc.
These homemade, living foods are packed with healthy, probiotic bacteria that greatly enhance digestion, improve the nutrient and enzyme content of your food, and restore the healthy flora in your gut.
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet is almost completely lacking in fermented, probiotic-rich foods, while being heavy in processed, nutritionally bankrupt foods that can damage the intestinal lining and foster the growth of harmful pathogens.
Add a little American stress to the mix, and we have a nationwide epidemic of Crohn’s disease, IBS, reflux, candida, and colitis to show for it.
While we generally eat very well, Babyzilla and I still have some big digestive issues, including leaky gut and food allergies, for which we maintain the GAPS diet.
Food sensitivities and allergies due to leaky gut and “allergic colitis” are a growing problem for many people these days—especially kids—and these sensitivities contribute greatly to autism, asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune disorders. And while conventional medicine has virtually nothing to offer to these conditions, there are nutritional solutions for many people.
Part of healing leaky gut, food sensitivities, and other digestive disorders—thereby ensuring a healthy immune system—involves eating fermented, cultured foods with every meal. Fortunately, these are very easy to make at home.
If you’ve only eaten store-bought, canned sauerkraut, you owe it to yourself to try the homemade variety. Fresh, raw sauerkraut has a crunchier texture, a delightfully tangy flavor, and a much greater potential for interesting recipes.
Because fermentation is more art than science, you can get creative and add things like radish, onion, ginger, green apples, chile peppers, dill or fennel to your batch.
Here is our basic family recipe for how to make sauerkraut:
Small Footprint Family’s Favorite Homemade Sauerkraut
- 1 2-quart canning jar, OR large ceramic fermenting crock OR half-gallon veggie culture air-lock jar (where to find fermenting vessels)
- 2 freezer bags (if using crock) OR 2 sandwich bags (if using latch-lid jar)
- Starter culture (optional) (where to find starter cultures)
- 2-3 large heads Napa, red or other cabbage (or mix and match them)
- 6-8 medium carrots (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. fine sea salt (Do NOT use table salt)
- 3-inch piece of ginger (optional, to taste)
- 4 cloves of garlic (optional)
- 2 tsp. of caraway seeds (optional)
- Never use metal containers or utensils. Metal and fermentation don’t mix!
- Thoroughly clean and scald the container and utensils you will be using.
- Wash, drain and then cut your cabbages into halves or quarters.
- Grate, shred or chop cabbage. You can do this by hand or with a food processor. Pieces should be about the size of a quarter, or smaller.
- Grate carrots. Peel and grate and ginger. Mince garlic, if using.
- With wooden spoon or very clean hands, mix the shredded cabbage, carrots, garlic and ginger with the sea salt, and toss and mix thoroughly until salt dissolves.
- When juice starts to form on the cabbage from tossing, mix in the caraway seeds (if desired) and starter culture (if using).
- Pack the cabbage and other veggies firmly and evenly into a clean crock, glass jar or enamel container until liquid comes out of the cabbage freely. Leave 2 inches of room at the top of a jar or 4-5 inches of room at the top of a crock.
- Make sure juice covers the cabbage completely! (This does not always happen unless the cabbage is fresh from the garden) I make additional brine by putting 1 1/2 Tbsp. of sea salt into 1 quart of boiling, pure water. Dissolve salt and cool brine to room temperature before adding to the cabbage. Use any extra brine in Step 10.
- Once cabbage is immersed in brine water, use the stones that came with your crock to weigh the cabbage down under the brine. If you do not have a crock with stones, place a plate on top of the cabbage, and put a large freezer bag filled with brine water on top of the plate. (I use 2 large bags, one inside the other so that if the bag breaks, it will not water down the cabbage into a tasteless mess.) The cabbage must be completely submerged so no air can get in and contaminate the sauerkraut with unwanted yeasts or molds!
- If you are using canning jars, place a couple small, heavy rocks (boil them first) into 2 doubled-up sandwich bags, and use that to weigh down the cabbage inside the jar. Close the lid loosely so the gas that happens during fermentation can escape, otherwise your jar could explode.
- Place crock or jar in a cool (but not cold) area where the temperature will be between 65–75 degrees F. Fermentation will begin within a day, depending upon the room temperature.
- Cover the container with a clean towel and check after 2 days. Scoop any scum off the top (it is harmless), and repack. Check every 3 days and repeat as necessary.
- After 2 weeks, sample the kraut to see if it tastes ready to eat. The flavor will continue to mature for the next several weeks. Refrigerating the sauerkraut will extend its shelf life.
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