By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
This has been the best year for gardening in a long (long) time. The heat and drought of the last four all but strangled either my desire to garden or the garden itself. Good thing gardening is in my DNA – I couldn’t leave it if I wanted to. And this year, Dean and I were doubly rewarded for our efforts to take a slab of hard red clay and rock and turn it into a garden. To celebrate the most beautiful cabbage we have grown in 20 years of gardening, I decided to make a little homemade sauerkraut.
I should point out that while we’ve had a good year cabbage-wise, I don’t want to turn all my cabbage into kraut. I simply want a few jars to enjoy in the heart of winter.
Most recipes for sauerkraut are tailored for fermenting large quantities of cabbage in large ceramic crocks prior to packing into jars for canning. The problem with those recipes is: a) I don’t have an appropriate fermenting vessel that large and b) I never have enough cabbage to make more than a few jars of kraut at a time.
No matter how you approach it, it takes a lot of cabbage to make sauerkraut. This is because as the cabbage ferments, it shrinks dramatically. Each quart jar will require approximately 2 lbs. of cabbage. That’s equal to 2 medium-sized heads, or 8-10 cups of shredded cabbage.
Clean, quarter and core your cabbage. Using a sharp knife, shred the wedges into 1/4” pieces. Food processor and mandolins make short work of this task.
Roughly measure out 8-10 cups of cabbage into a large glass, plastic, or stainless steel bowl or pot (do not use aluminum or copper). Over that, sprinkle 1 tbs. salt. Repeat each layer until all your cabbage has been salted. If you need to use several smaller bowls, that’s fine. Just use the same measurements.
Hint: I have used my giant stainless steel soup pot and the ceramic crock out of my crock pot for this and both work great!
With your hands, toss and turn the cabbage in the bowl to distribute the salt throughout, about two minutes. Lightly rub the cabbage until the juices begin to flow. When one-quarter of the bowl contains juice, press the cabbage down into the juice and let it rest for 30 minutes or so. During this time the cabbage is already shrinking and putting off lots of juices. Don’t wait until you have a bowl full of juice to start packing your jars.
When you are ready to begin, sterilize your jars, lids, and rings and prepare a workspace for packing the jars. Always use two-part canning jar lids and rings. As the kraut ferments, these lids allow the release of pressure building in the jars during the fermentation process. If you use a one part lid, the jar might explode.
Using a canning funnel and a large wooden or plastic spoon, begin packing the jars a little at a time. Using your fingers or the spoon, pack the cabbage down into the jar as tight as you can get it. Fill to within 1/4” of the rim, making sure that the jar fills with enough liquid to just cover the cabbage at the mouth of the jar.
If for some reason you don’t have enough natural juices from the cabbage to fill the jars properly, you can – in a pinch – make a salty brine by dissolving 2 tsp. of salt in 1 cup of just-boiled water. Let it cool before adding to the jars.
Once the jars are full of salty, juicy cabbage, put on the sterilized lid and ring. Finger-tighten the ring until you feel it begin to grip the threads of the jar and then stop. Rinse the sides of the jar with clean water and place them in a shallow baking pan or something similar. The pan will catch the excess juices that will eventually seep out of the jars.
Store the jars in a place that is warm and dark, yet easy to access. Avoid overly cold areas like basements, as kraut needs temperatures of at least 65-70 to ferment. I put mine in the pantry or in the big cabinet under the sink. The Montana State Extension suggests these fermenting guidelines:
Store at 70 to 75˚F while fermenting. At temperatures between 70 and 75˚F, kraut will be fully fermented in about three to four weeks; at 60 to 65˚F, fermentation may take five to six weeks. At temperatures lower than 60˚F, kraut may not ferment.
Above 75˚F, kraut may become soft.
To remind me to check on my kraut, I mark the number of fermenting days on the calendar in big black marker: Day 1 Day 3, Day 5, Day 7, Day 14, Day 21. On each of those days I check the jars and clean things up as needed.
During the first week, the kraut will shrink, bubble, and create of lots juice. If you are uncertain about the progress of your kraut, tip the jar slightly to one side. If fermentation has begun, you will see bubbles rising to the top of the jar, hear the sound of escaping gasses, or see liquid coming out from under the lids. All of these signs indicate that fermentation is under way and that the lids are venting properly.
If you don’t see these signs within the first few days, ever so slowly loosen the ring on each jar. Stop the minute you hear gas or see liquid escaping. Always keep in mind that the contents of the jars could be under intense pressure.
After the first two weeks, fermentation should slow considerably. Keep checking on your kraut and rinse out or replace the pans as needed. If the liquid in a jar falls below the level of the kraut, top of with the brine solution mentioned earlier.
After three to four weeks, your kraut should be done. You’ll know it is when the cabbage has become almost translucent and the bubbling and seeping stop entirely. Before storing, thoroughly wash the outside of the jar and replace the ring with a clean one.
At this time you can store the jars in the refrigerator from one to many months or can the kraut in a water bath canner for 25 minutes at 0 – 1,000 feet.
And that’s it! Easy Canning Jar Sauerkraut. Try it and let me know how it turns out for you!
© 2013 Jill Henderson
Whether you’re a weekend gardener, homesteader, or serious survivalist, saving seeds is a money saving skill that every green-thumb should to have. An excellent resource for beginners and experienced gardeners alike, The Garden Seed Saving Guide takes you step-by-step through every aspect of saving seeds. If you want to save money, become more self-sufficient and avoid genetically modified food crops, The Garden Seed Saving Guide is for you. Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill’s work has also appeared in The Permaculture Activist, The Essential Herbal, Acres USA, and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac.