Homemade Sauerkraut

Fall is here and with it comes thoughts of traditional foods, like turkey and stuffing, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and more.  For some time I have been thinking about making my own sauerkraut.  Typically this is done using fall cabbage, so I had to wait until my local supplier harvested his fall crop.  This was the week!

Making my own 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 my sauerkraut project is progressing.

My recipe for a 15 liter crock: 

  • 7 heads of cabbage* (these weighed roughly 5 lbs. each to total 35 pounds)
  • 2 Tbsp salt per head-Important: do not use iodized (table) salt.  Kosher (I use this), sea or canning and pickling salt are all acceptable.
  • 4 small sweet onions
  • Seasonings are optional. I decided to use 1 Tbsp. each of Caraway seeds and Juniper berries per head (5#) of cabbage.

*I had to guesstimate the necessary volume of cabbage that would fit in my crock.  In the end there was more than ample space to fit at least 2 more heads.  
After some investigation and talking to others who had made sauerkraut I decided to bite the bullet and buy a fermentation crock.  I settled on a fifteen liter capacity crock.  This equates to roughly four gallons.  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 weights to keep your cabbage submerged in the brine.  In addition to regular kitchen equipment, a wooden sauerkraut stomper is helpful.  

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.

Next you will slice the cabbage one-head-at-a-time.  To do this you can use a sharp knife, a mandolin slicer or a cutter specifically designed for cabbage.  Since the latter can be quite pricey and I own both a knife (or two) and a mandolin slicer I quickly narrowed my options.  When using a knife it can be difficult maintain a consistent size for your kraut.  I experimented with the slicer attachment for my Kitchenaide but found that it creates short coleslaw-like shreds.  I settled on using my mandolin slicer set to 3mm.

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.  Move the shredded cabbage to a large bowl as needed to make room on your workspace.  

When one head is finished add it to the crock and top with a layer of thinly sliced onions, 1 Tbsp. of caraway seeds, 1 Tbsp of Juniper berries 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 and onion as desired) then stomp aggressively to compress the cabbage.The salt will pull he moisture from the cabbage (through osmosis) 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 th
e 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.  Within an hour my crock had begun to release an occasional gas bubble up through the water of the air lock as the cabbage started on its journey to becoming sauerkraut.

I (more accurately, my husband) set my filled crock on a folding platform cart so that I could move it around as needed.
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.  


Remember to top off the water in the airlock periodically so that you retain the seal.

My sauerkraut bubbled and gurgled for a couple of weeks before slowing and then quitting.  Since the cessation of the audible gurgles indicates that fermentation is complete, I popped the lid off and gave it a taste.  It is amazing!  There is no sharpness that you might expect if you are accustomed to commercial sauerkraut, only a full-flavored, well-seasoned (not too salty) sauerkraut with a smooth tang.  It is delicious without further refinement.  For a store bought kraut (the bagged kind) I find it necessary to simmer with meats and seasonings to soften the harsh flavor.  The homemade is great straight out of the crock!

I spent half a day canning my kraut so that it could sit on the pantry shelf in mason jars rather than in my crock or in cold storage.  My total yield: 31 pints.  I portion mine in an array of quarts, pints and half-pints so that I always have just the right size jar of sauerkraut available.
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