Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sauerkraut für doof Leute

I don’t speak German, which is probably very obvious to those of you who do, considering my hastily translated title; roughly, Sauerkraut for Dummies (That’s me!). Even so, I am proud to be of German heritage. My great-great grandparents emigrated from the town of Chemnitz, coming to this country in the 1880’s and settling amongst many of their countrymen and women in northern Minnesota. Over a century later and several states west of where they started, our family is trying to recover some of our German family history and traditions. Project number one – sauerkraut.

After doing a little research on making sauerkraut, I was pleased to find that the process was relatively simple. In fact, I found that I already had everything that I’d need, minus the cabbage, already in the kitchen, owing to my zeal for winemaking and canning. Here’s what it takes –

-Cabbage (or carrots, turnips, apples, etc. – kraut is a process, not a specific food)
-Canning salt
-A good sized crock with a lid (I used my 6-gallon food grade wine bucket instead. You can pick one up at any homebrew store.)
-Kitchen scale

That’s it. Seriously! The recipe/process that I used is an amalgam of the many recipes I found in books and online, with a generous sprinkling of advice from my far more experienced sauerkraut-making friends at Essentially, you clean and core your cabbage, and slice or grate it as thinly as possible (we cut sliced ours with knives, but kraut cutters or mandolines are also good options), with one recipe calling for the cabbage shreds to be as thin as a quarter. Weigh your shredded cabbage as you go, adding roughly 1.5 tsp of canning salt per pound of cabbage. The salt will soften the cabbage and cause it to release much of its liquid, thus creating the brine in which the cabbage will ferment.

At this point, you’ll begin putting your cabbage and brine into your crock or bucket. It will likely take a little muscle to get the cabbage really jammed down into your container tightly, well below the level of the brine (4-5 inches is recommended), for which some folks employ a pounder our a stout mallet. My husband just punched and pressed ours down with his fists. After beating your cabbage into submission, a plate and weight must then be placed inside your fermentation container to hold the cabbage down, lest it float around and encourage funky molds to grow. We used a large salad plate that is just a little smaller around than the inside of our bucket, topped with a very heavy stoneware bowl for weight. Slap a lid on that puppy and you’re done. Mother Nature then steps in and if all goes well, fermentation begins. We are only on day 3 of our kraut, so I have no results to report at this point, but we are checking it daily for signs of progress or distress. No scary smells or mold, so I’m optimistic that we will have some edible sauerkraut in around 4-6 weeks. I’ll let y’all know how it goes!

In the mean time, here are a few pics of our cabbages’ journey thus far, from field to bucket, with more to come as things move along.