Sauerkraut is probably the simplest fermented project you can make. With autumn rolling in, it feels like a perfect time to turn those cabbages into this delightfully crunchy and sour condiment.
I fell in love with fermenting in Northern BC as the weather cooled and the leaves began to fall. In the chilly climate of Canada, a majority of your garden has to be pulled before the first frosts hit and the snow begins to fall, and so the question of what to do with the bounty is a very real one.
A fellow farmer living up the hill from where I was wwoofing lent me a book that transformed my understanding of fermentation and why it was important. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz is the home fermenter's bible; detailing not only why fermentation is important (both from a health perspective but also a practical preserving tool), but also packed full of recipes for every type fermentation you can think of.
There's plenty of places you can read about the health benefits of fermented food with far more science than I can muster; but essentially it's about bacteria. It's the same principle as taking probiotics or eating live yoghurt; the lactofermentation process introduces beneficial bacteria into your digestive system, and the flora of our gut is thought to influence a multitude of things from digestion to our immune system. While you can buy little capsules containing probiotics, eating fermented food is a much cheaper and more interesting way to do a similar thing. In addition, when you find yourself with a pile of 20 cabbages on the kitchen table, it's a highly practical form of preservation, turning a vegetable with a short shelf life into something you can eat all winter long.
I dabbled in fermenting here and there during my time in Canada, but it wasn't until I returned to the UK that I found the time (and space) to get stuck in. And when my veg box presented me with a 2.5 kg cabbage, I knew sauerkraut was on the agenda. Definitely one of the easiest ferments you can do, it only has two ingredients: cabbage and salt.
Fancy giving it a go?
Ingredients (just scale up or down for different quantities):
- 2.5 kg cabbage (red, white or a mix of the two)
- 3 tablespoons sea salt (not iodised)
- Optional spices - a tsp or two of caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds or juniper berries
You will also need a crock (traditional fermenting vessel) or a large kilner style jar in which to ferment your cabbage (around 2.5-3 litre capacity).
- First remove one or two outer leaves of the cabbage and set to one side (we'll use these later)
- Chop or grate the cabbage and place in a bowl. Sprinkle over the salt as you go (you might have to do this in a few rounds) - for the geeks among you, this ratio of salt:cabbage gives a 2% brine, which is optimum for fermentation.
- You now want to bash the cabbage to release the water from it
- Method 1 is to pack it bit by bit into a crock (or large jar), tamping (i.e. bashing) it down as you go either with your hand or the end of a rolling pin.
- Method 2 (my preferred) is to squish it by hand in the bowl - keep bashing and crushing it until a good amount of liquid is released - about 5 minutes should do.
- Pack the cabbage into your crock/jar. You want to pack it in reasonably tightly, but not so tightly that the air bubbled released by the fermentation can't escape (this can cause the brine to overflow). Pour the brine that has been released in on top.
- Now take the cabbage leaves you set aside (which I jokingly call the sacrificial leaves), and places these across the top of the cabbage. Place a plate on top of this if your vessel allows, and then a clean jar filled with water (or something equivalent to act as a weight). You want the brine level to be above your cabbage - press down on the jar every few hours until this is the case. If it's still not submerged after 24 hours, add brine made up with 1tsp of salt per 250ml water until submerged.
- Cover with a cloth or cheesecloth to stop flies and dust. Place your jar on a tray or in a bowl (to catch any overflowing brine) and place somewhere cool for 3-4 weeks
- Check on the kraut every few days. You might find mould forming on the top - this is normal - simply skim it off when you see it.
- The kraut will be ready after 3-4 weeks. Remove the cabbage leaf from the top (you will understand why I call it the sacrificial leaf!) and any mould. The kraut will taste sour and tangy, but you still want the cabbage to have a bit of a bite. At this point you can put it into jars and keep it in the fridge to halt the fermentation, or just take out a small jar full at a time and leave the rest to continue fermenting.
- It's now ready to eat. Try serving it alongside eggs and sourdough, with a stew, or on the side of a salad.
Inspired to try more? Visit http://www.wildfermentation.com for more recipes and inspiration