Homemade Sauerkraut: Sweet & Sour Beet Kraut

Autumn means making sauerkraut.  My previous attempt at making sauerkraut was a smashing success and nearly depleted.  I had initially planned to experiment with variations each year but the overwhelming consensus from family was “don’t mess with perfection”.  So…I got another crock.  After we finished assembling my original recipe in the 15 liter crock my husband said “what do you think about including beets?”  The following recipe is the result.

Making sauerkraut is a work-in-progress so be sure and check back for updates four to six weeks from the original post date and I'll let you know how the beet-kraut is progressing.

My recipe for a 10 liter crock: 

  • 4 heads of cabbage* (these weighed roughly 5 lbs. each to total 20 pounds)
  • 12 medium beets
  • 1 medium sweet onion
  • 2 Tbsp salt per head + 2T for the beets (total salt 10T)-Important: do not use iodized (table) salt.  Kosher (I use this), sea or canning and pickling salt are all acceptable. 
  • 2T sugar per head (5#) of cabbage.
  • 1 Tbsp. of Caraway seeds 
* This crock had space to fit 1 more head of cabbage but 4 heads were all that I had on hand.  

I make my sauerkraut in specially designed fermentation crocks.  The reason this type of crock is preferred is that it has a water-sealed airlock.  This is imperative to increasing your success rate as the water-sealed airlock allows gasses created during the fermentation process to escape while keeping oxygen out.  Oxygen can cause spoilage of your fermented vegetables and you would have to discard the entire batch.  Some use plates, weighted with brine-filled bags (which often burst) in hopes of keeping the sauerkraut or other vegetables away from harm but this is a hit-or-miss proposition.  To use this crock you will also need  stone weights to keep your cabbage submerged in the brine.  In addition to regular kitchen equipment, a wooden sauerkraut stomper is helpful.  

Next you will slice the cabbage one-head-at-a-time.  To do this you can use a sharp knife, a mandolin slicer, a cutter specifically designed for cabbage or a vegetable slicer. After shredding 35 pounds of cabbage on a mandolin slicer last year I decided to invest in a Nemco vegetable slicer and it was worth every penny.  This commercial hand-crank slicer requires no electricity and will breeze through a head of cabbage in a minute or less.

Before you start, you need to make sure everything is absolutely clean. This includes your crock and weights of course but also the work surface, and any bowls, knives or slicers that you will be using.  I mixed up some food grade, no-rinse sanitizer to clean all of my surfaces and tools. You can find this at home brewer/wine making supply stores if you choose to go this route.

Julienne the beets (matchstick size) using a mandolin slicer or a sharp knife.  Set aside.

Thinly slice the onions and set aside as well. 

Begin by removing the loose outer leaves and then quarter the cabbage with a sharp knife.  Cut the core from the cabbage quarters and shred the head of cabbage. 

When one head is finished add it to the crock and top with a layer of thinly sliced onions, One-fourth of the julienned beets, 1 Tbsp. of caraway seeds, 2 Tbsp. sugar and 2 Tbsp. of salt.  Stomp the cabbage with the wooden stomper to break it down and release the juices.  The cabbage will compact considerably.

Continue the process of shredding the cabbage and adding the salt (plus seasoning, beets and onion) then stomp aggressively to compress the cabbage.  The salt will pull he moisture from the cabbage to create the brine.  

After the final addition has been stomped down you should have enough brine to cover the cabbage and the weights.

Make sure all of the cabbage is off the sides of the crock and below the brine. 

Add the weights and press down so that the brine rises to cover the weights completely.

Place the lid on the crock and fill the air lock with water. 
The temperature at which you ferment the cabbage will affect the speed of the process.  At temps below 60 degrees the cabbage may not ferment; above 75 and it may become soft.  When fermenting the cabbage at 60-65 degrees it will take 5 to 6 weeks while storing the crock at 70-75 degrees your cabbage should be fully fermented in 3-4 weeks.  We generally keep our thermostat set between 62 and 68 so our kraut will be on the slower track but we plan to taste it in 4 weeks.  I'll post an update then.  
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