I was lucky to be able to attend a Lacto-Fermentation presentation by Dan Kuebler at the 2016 Midwest Winter Production Conference. I learned that fermentation is a natural preservation method that has been around for 2000+ years. It is preferable to canning because it produces and preserves the beneficial live cultures that enhance our intestinal flora. It also increases the nutrient content and digestibility of the vegetables. Simple ingredients, easy to make, and best of all, it tastes great!
Homemade Sauerkraut in a Canning Jar
Adapted from Dan Kuebler at Columbia Farmers Market and Emme Christensen at TheKitchen.com
Makes 1 to 1 1/2 quarts
1 medium head cabbage (about 3 pounds, I like Nappa or Chinese cabbage)
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt or canning salt
or 2 ½ tablespoons salt for every 5 lbs. of cabbage and vegetables
1 tablespoon caraway seeds, fresh baby ginger, beets, carrots, fennel, garlic, etc. (optional for color and flavor)
2-quart wide-mouth canning jar
Canning funnel (optional)
Smaller jelly jar that fits inside the larger mason jar
Clean stones, marbles, or other weights for weighing the jelly jar
Cloth for covering the jar
Rubber band or twine for securing the cloth
Clean your equipment. When fermenting anything, give the good, beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible. Make sure your canning jar and jelly jar are washed and rinsed of all soap residue. You’ll be using your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage, so wash those too!
Discard the wilted, limp outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut the cabbage into quarters and trim out the core. Slice each quarter down its length, making 8 wedges. Slice each wedge crosswise into very thin ribbons. Slice or grate the optional vegetables.
Transfer the cabbage to a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over top. Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands until moisture begins to flow. The cabbage will become watery and limp. This will take about 5 to 10 minutes.
Pack the cabbage and vegetables into the jar. If you have a canning funnel, this will make the job easier. Every so often, tamp down the cabbage in the jar with your fist. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage while you were massaging it into the jar.
Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, slip the smaller jelly jar into the mouth of the jar and weigh it down with clean stones or marbles. This will help keep the cabbage weighed down, and eventually, submerged beneath its liquid. Cover the mouth of the mason jar with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band or twine. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but prevents dust or insects from getting into the jar.
Over the next 24 hours, press down on the cabbage every so often with the jelly jar. As the cabbage releases its liquid, it will become more limp and compact and the liquid will rise over the top of the cabbage. If after 24 hours, the liquid has not risen above the cabbage, dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage.
Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days. As it’s fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature, ideally 65°F to 75°F. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid.
Because this is a small batch of sauerkraut, it will ferment more quickly than larger batches. Start tasting it after 3 days. When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weight, screw on the cap, and refrigerate. You can also allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for even longer. There’s no hard-and-fast rule for when the sauerkraut is “done” , go by how it tastes.
While it’s fermenting, you may see bubbles coming through the cabbage, foam on the top, or white scum. That means it’s a happy and healthy fermentation process. If scum forms on the top, it can be skimmed off during fermentation or before refrigerating. If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don’t eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.
This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for at least two months and often longer if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be. If you like, you can transfer the sauerkraut to a smaller container for longer storage.