Recently I wrote about the different cole crops. It just so happens that we harvested all our cabbage a few weeks ago and since we don't yet have a root cellar, we decided to turn it into kraut and can most of it. I know, most of you are thinking, eww gross, sauerkraut is nasty. I would agree if you are talking about the soured mushy cabbage substance that comes in a can from the store. But, real homemade, fermented kraut is totally different and its full of beneficial microbes we so hiply call probiotics.Recently I wrote about the different cole crops. It just so happens that we harvested all our cabbage a few weeks ago and since we don't yet have a root cellar, we decided to turn it into kraut and can most of it. I know, most of you are thinking, eww gross, sauerkraut is nasty. I would agree if you are talking about the soured mushy cabbage substance that comes in a can from the store. But, real homemade, fermented kraut is totally different and its full of beneficial microbes we so hiply call probiotics.
Growing up in Appalachia, kraut was a part of the "coal miners dinner". Soup (pinto) beans, cornbread, kilt lettuce n onions, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, a pork chop if you were lucky, and of course, kraut. Eventually I just considered it poor people food and occasionally ate the crap from a can with my nostalgic hillbilly dinner. Then we started growing a garden and eventually canning our own food. So naturally we ended up making kraut as a way to prolong our cabbage harvest and add to our goal of becoming self-sufficient. And boy is it good.
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Fermented foods have been around forever. When our European ancestors came to These United States, the brought with them foods and techniques that were time tested for survival. The process of fermenting foods adds beneficial enzymes, vitamins B and C not to mention the microbes that keep our intestinal health it top shape. The bacteria themselves help provide vitamins while living inside your intestinal tract. Think about it, opening a jar of kraut in the dead of winter is the perfect immune system booster.
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Making kraut is ridiculously easy. You will need some cabbage obviously and something to ferment it in. We use an old 4 gallon crock that we bought at the antique store for $25. We have also used the one gallon sized glass pickle jars. Some people simply ferment it in the quart or pint jar they plan to keep it in. That's how my wife did her half of this years cabbage. Everyone in my family likes plain ol' kraut, I like to spice it up a bit with some jalapeños, garlic, caraway seed, etc. In this batch I made a few quarts of different types. Garlic and smoked paprika, mmm. Anyway, you will also need some salt.
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You can also ferment in the smaller jars. Keep them in a shallow pan to collect any dripping that may occur during fermentation.[/caption]
Simply shred the cabbage to your desired consistency. We just run it through the food processor. Then spread it out in an LEM food grade tote. Sprinkle just a little salt, then add another 1-2 inch layer and sprinkle a little more salt. Keep doing this 'till you run out of cabbage. Then, let it sit for about 10-15 minutes as the salt draws the juice out of it. Next, cram it in whatever container you are using. Again, I use a crock or glass jars and I avoid plastic and most certainly metals. Any reactions or leaching will give the kraut off flavors or worse ruin it. When I say cram, I mean cram. I use my fists to compress the cabbage as tightly as possible into the crock. My wife uses a tamper made from a piece of Delrin cutting board attached to a dowel to compress it into the jars. If you have done it right, all the cabbage is tightly compacted and there will be enough juice to provide a half inch over the cabbage. If not, no worries. Just add 2 tablespoons of non iodized salt (pickling, Kosher, sea salt) to one quart of distilled water. We use distilled water so the chlorination of our tap water doesn't kill the natural bacteria need for fermentation. Add enough of the brine to cover the cabbage and compress it again. This type of fermentation is anaerobic so we want to get out any air bubbles.
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You will need to keep the cabbage completely submerged in the brine juice, this prevents it from making contact with the air. I use a dinner plate that is nearly the same diameter as the inside of my crock. I then place a 1 gallon pickle jar filled with water, about ten lbs total, on top of it to keep the cabbage pushed down below the liquid. I then cover it with a plastic bag or cheese cloth and let it sit for about a week. Then I will begin to skim any funk off the top. This is completely normal and harmless. If during the course of the next few weeks the liquid level gets too low, I add more brine solution.
Let it sit another week and taste test it. Keep skimming of the krud of needed. When it is to your liking you can either put it in the cellar or fridge, or can it in jars. I do both. Some for now and some for later. If I had a cellar I wouldn't bother with canning it and I don't have enough room in my fridge to keep the 6 gallons we made, so in the jars it goes. Just keep in mind that canning it kills the probiotics.
To can it, warm it up in a skillet if you want to do a hot pack, cram it into the jars with enough juice to cover it and leave 1/2 inch of space to the top. For cold pack, forego the skillet and just pack the jars the same way. Put on the lids and process in a water bath for 10 minutes for pints, 15 minutes for quarts. Add ten minutes for Cold (raw) pack.
You don't have to be a farmer or homesteader to do this. pick up a couple heads of cabbage from your local farmers market and give it a whirl. These are skills that should be learned now, not when you need them to survive. If you are an apartment dweller or live in a subdivision but just don't want the responsibility of a garden, this is a great way to make yourself more appealing to someone you may want to bug out to. Learning these types of skills will make you a valuable asset.