The making of sauerkraut is a method of preserving good cabbage and the resulting “fermented” vegetable is not only a good source of some important food values, but has a fine distinctive flavor. Certain varieties of cabbages, such as the hard heads, are especially good for this purpose. Following are the directions…
- Choose only hard heads of cabbage. Remove outter leaves then cut cabbage in halves, quarters or smaller pieces, and remove cores. Do not use cores in sauerkraut. Shred cabbage as fine as possible.
- Pack shredded cabbage in layers of about 4 inches thick, in large clean crock, sprinkling each layer with salt. Proportion of salt and cabbage is about 1 cup of coarse cooking salt (kosher or pickling/canning salt can be used) for every 10 lbs. of cabbage.
- Continue packing layers of cabbage, sprinkled with salt, in crocks, pressing mixture down as much as possible. Leave at least 4 to 5 inches of headspace at the top to allow room for the fermenting process.
- Weight down with plate and heavy weight. Cover with a clean cloth and board, add another weight. Do not seal crock so it’s airtight–the gases created during the fermenting process needs to be able to escape or you’ll have a mess on your hands (exploding kraut).
- Check after 24 hours to make sure enough brine/juice has been created that it completely covers the shredded cabbage and floats above the plate. If not, more weight may be needed to help squeeze out the juice. It’s imperative that all the cabbage is completely covered by brine at all times.
- Leave until fermentation is complete (the process can take up to 5 or 6 weeks). How to know when the fermenting process has finished? While the kraut is fermenting, you will notice bubbling activity–when there are no more bubbles the kraut is ready to be packed.
- Check for scum during (every few days) and after fermenting, remove any which has risen to the top and discard.
- Once kraut is ready, refrigerate or pack as needed for long-term storage (tips below).
- To can sauerkraut, pack in sterilized jars  and partially seal then process in a hot water bath or in a steam pressure cooker.
- It can be frozen instead of canned, simply pack in freezer containers or bags then store in freezer until needed.
- Instead of freezing or canning, you can store freshly made sauerkraut in the refrigerator for a few months (ensuring the kraut stays submerged in brine).
- Why is so much salt used? The salt pulls out the juices from the cabbage to make a brine, the weights are used in the crock to help squeeze out the juices and keep the cabbage submerged in the brine.
- Some of the cabbage has turned pink, is it ok to eat? Throw out any of the kraut that has a pink color to it, this can be a sign that too much salt was used (or unevenly applied) or that the cabbage wasn’t covered completely by the brine.
- Preventing spoilage tip: Fill a clear, food-grade plastic bag with 3 or 4 inches of salted water (6 TBS salt per gallon of water), seal it closed securely and use this to both cover and weight the cabbage while it’s fermenting. Source: Make Your Own Sauerkraut – University of Wisconsin (pdf) .
- How to know if it has turned bad? It will be discolored, slimy and foul smelling.
- It is best to use non-iodized salt since regular table salt will interfere with the fermenting process.
- Rinsing kraut with cold water before eating will reduce some of the salt content as well as provide a milder, less tart product.
- Use either crocks that are clean and free from cracks or chips or food-grade plastic pails. Avoid using metal containers or non-food safe plastic containers when making kraut.
- Why do jars of sauerkraut sometimes explode? They were packed before the fermenting process was completed which then causes pressure by gases building inside the jars. Make sure to have at least 1/2″ headspace in the jars and that you don’t pack the kraut too early in the fermenting process. If you’re worried about exploding jars, pack canned jars in a cardboard box (with lid closed) to contain the mess in case of explosion or freeze kraut in bags. Always open jars with lids facing away from you as you open them in case of pressure buildup.
- Making sauerkraut just requires two ingredients: shredded cabbage and salt. Bacteria, proper temperature and time do the rest of the work. Lactic acid bacteria have definite temperature preferences. At 70 to 75 F, the kraut will be fermented in about three or four weeks. At 60 to 65 F, fermentation takes longer—about five or six weeks. If it gets much cooler, fermentation won’t occur. Above 75 F, the kraut may become soft. Most vegetables contain little acid, so safely canning vegetables requires the use of a pressure canner to make poison-producing bacterial spores benign. Improper home canning of vegetables is a main cause of botulism, the often-deadly foodborne illness. But sauerkraut is an exception to this rule. Sauerkraut can be canned in a boiling water bath because it’s acidic due to the fermentation process. Source: North Dakota State University .
Source: Some information adapted from the booklet “Vegetable Cook Book” by McFayden Seeds (1948)