Here is an easy way to make sauerkraut in a jar
Sauerkraut is basically fermented cabbage. It is used in German foods and the cuisine of Eastern Europe. After centuries of dying from scurvy while they sailed the seas, the British began to eat it as well a couple of hundred years ago. I hated it when I was a kid, I never would have thought I would ever be making it, let alone loving it so much I want to write about how to make it, feeling like this is something I should admit and share with the world.
It features prominently in Ukrainian cuisine and my Great Grandparents made it in crocks in their basement. I think maybe my Grandparents did too. And my parents tried it once or twice, but they did not like living with a stinky crock of fermenting sauerkraut in the basement, and a crock made a lot more sauerkraut than we as a family would ever need. So a lot of it sat there getting stronger and stinkier and we decided not to do it anymore. Until years later, as an adult, I wanted some homemade sauerkraut and figured out a different way of making it.
I make sauerkraut in 1 quart jars, each jar being its own batch. No giant stinking crocks in the basement for me. No all day long of shredding cabbage by hand to fill such a crock making a three year supply at once either.
My enthusiasm for making sauerkraut came about when I grew this giant trophy sized cabbage in my plot at the local community garden. It was a spindly little thing in the fall just starting to form a ball on top and I decided to mulch it to see if it would survive the winter. It did, and then quickly grew into this monster cabbage when spring came. It surpassed the size of a basketball and was well on its way to being beach ball sized before I had to stop admiring it and harvest it because slugs were starting to eat it and ruin it.
What would I ever use a cabbage that size for? How many stir fries and coleslaw and cabbage rolls could I possibly make? Besides I wanted to savor and enjoy my trophy sized cabbage for longer than it would take me to get sick of eating cabbage everything day after day, and longer than it would take for that monster cabbage to go rotten in the fridge waiting for me to use it up.
So I consulted my Ukrainian cookbooks for their many contradicting recipes and called up my Dad for his expert advice. He remembered the stinky crocks in the basements of our elders and the ton of work that it was to shred dozens of pounds of cabbage by hand.
The advice from the cookbooks seemed kind of dangerous and contradicting. One advised to seal the jars tightly while it ferments. One recipe advised to close the jars and open once in a while to let the gasses escape. One advised to put paper or cloth over the mouth of the jar and screw it on with the band. Most of the recipes involved making sauerkraut in huge crocks the way I’d seen it done before. What was I to do?
I began by putting a tablespoon of pickling salt and of pickling spice in the bottom of each sterilized quart jar, as well as a teaspoon of caraway seeds. You can sterilize the jars with either boiling water, or the ozonator (read about ozonators here)
I shredded the cabbage the easy way, with a food processor and a giant mixing bowl, cutting it into chunks and running each chunk through the blades on maximum. I packed the shredded cabbage tightly into my sterilized jars, squishing it down with a sterilized spoon. 1/3 of the way up the jar, I added another tablespoon of pickling salt, pickling spice and caraway seeds. Then I packed the cabbage in again, until 2/3 of the way up the jar. At which point I added more salt and spices, then more cabbage, packed in and squashed down. At the top of the jar, I left some space and finished my layers with a tablespoon of pickling salt and spice.
To squash the cabbage down, I used a sterilized smallest size mason jar, which fit inside the wide mouth quart jar. I began to tighten the lid of the jar, causing the smaller jar to press down on the cabbage and squeeze some brine out of it.
I left it in my porch to ferment, with a little pressure from the band of the jar on the smaller jar, but the lid not tightly screwed down, just held in place with ¼ of a turn on the band. This is important, to allow gasses to escape while the cabbage ferments.
I kept a close eye on it for mold. If there is any, scoop it off the top with a clean spoon that is washed imminently after touching it. If there is mold, the lid and the smaller jar being used as a weight must be washed in boiling or ozonated water before being put back.
The sauerkraut ferments in about 3 weeks. In about the 2nd week of its existence, you want to start tasting it regularly to see if has reached its ideal point of fermentation. Unlike the sauerkraut of my childhood which was allowed to ferment endlessly and get stronger and stronger, there is an ideal point where you will want to either can it or slow the process down by refrigerating it.
I used to get fresh lids at the point where I liked my sauerkraut and can it, in a boiling water bath for 10-20 minutes to seal the jars and kill off the fermentation, but have since learned that it destroys valuable nutritional enzymes to do this. Sauerkraut is better if eaten with some of its fermentation bacteria alive. So now I just refrigerate it.
To my pleasant surprise I find it causes less gas than fresh cabbage, though you wouldn’t think so, being a still living fermented food. There are peppercorns, allspice, mustard, caraway and coriander seeds in it. I don’t mind the spices, but some people take them out. This has been consistently the best sauerkraut I have ever tasted, and my friends and family love it as well. Together with sourdough sprouted rye bread, it makes the best Rubens (read here for recipe).
At beach fires, where you roast sausages and hot dogs on sticks, it helps make the fun cookout food a lot healthier by supplying pro biotic gut bacteria instead of excess acidic vinager and sulfates as its store bought counterpart would. This is my sauerkraut shared with you in hopes that it helps make your life healthy and fun.