I used to spend most every summer in late July or early August, harvesting the cabbage from my Channing, TX garden and making sauerkraut in my beautiful 5-gallon crock from Marshall Pottery, and my father-in-law, Rondy Ray, a long-time ranch manager and cowman, was often my sous chef, pounding the cabbage and applying the salt – such a lovely memory. The crock sat in its place of honor (to my notion, but not my children’s) in my kitchen, weighted down with a plate and a sterilized big stone, awaiting the desired degree of ‘ripeness’ before processing in my canner for long-term preservation.
Because I now know better, I no longer make sauerkraut in such huge quantities, for the pleasure of the process has become more a mindset of ‘making medicine’ because of beneficial bacteria that is found in raw sauerkraut. In fact, one tablespoon of just the fermented juice itself cannot be replicated by a dozen probiotic capsules (perhaps a bit of hyperbole here, but the fact remains that raw sauerkraut is simply teeming with the bacteria that is so essential to maintain a healthy gut – which is where growing a healthy body actually begins).
Because I haven’t planted cabbage in several years, I now purchase organic heads of cabbage and simply make small batches in advance to keep in the refrigerator so that I always have a jar to dip into for a daily tablespoon or two of kraut. So, unless you gardeners grow your own, the next best thing is to find a source, such as Natural Grocers or at a farmers market that has fresh, organic cabbage on hand, and choose your color: sometimes for fun I will use red cabbage. The main criteria is fresh, crisp cabbage free from pesticides.
Before giving you instructions, a few tools and items you need to have on hand will make the process more foolproof: wide mouth mason jars are preferable, fermenting lids are so wonderful, a kitchen scale is best for measuring, glass weights are not totally necessary, but it beats finding rocks and sterilizing them, and kosher or sea salt and filtered water (when necessary) are very important for developing a fine quality product.
- Peel the bruised outer leaves and add to your compost. Rinse the head of cabbage and dry well. Reserve at least one whole leaf of cabbage before shredding the rest (you will use this to help keep cabbage under the weight when it has been placed in jars). Remove the core from the cabbage, and then before you shred it, weigh it.
- Shred in one of the following ways: a large sharp knife, a mandoline slicer, a food processor, or a cabbage cutter. My preference is using a knife because I like the rhythm of preparing the cabbage in this manner.
- Once the cabbage has been sliced, the next step is most crucial for your success in making the best sauerkraut ever: To every pound of sliced cabbage add 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of kosher or sea salt, depending on how salty you like sauerkraut.
- Let the salted cabbage rest in a large glass bowl for 15 or 20 minutes, then begin to massage the salt for 5 minutes into the cabbage; eventually liquid will begin to form – which is what you are after. – the more the better. DO NOT ADD WATER at this point.
- Pack into the clean mason jar, firmly pressing down with your hands or a wooden tamper; allow at least two inches of head room, then place the cabbage leaf (cut in a circle) followed by the glass, rock, or other kind of weight, making sure the cabbage is covered by liquid (if not, make a 2% salt solution (1 tsp. salt to 1 cup filtered water). Top with a fermenting lid or plastic lid of choice – if you use a regular canning lid, you will need to remove it every few days to ‘burp” the solution and make sure the regular lid is not becoming rusty. A fermentation lid removes this step.
- Place in a rimmed pan in case the jar overflows, then check it from time to time to be certain the cabbage is covered with liquid at all times – this prevents development of mold.
- After two weeks, begin taste testing, although I’ve found four weeks to be produce the best taste for my palate. When you deem it ready, pop it in the refrigerator and ENJOY! You did it!!!