Here’s What Ya Do To Make Sauerkraut Using a Traditional Stoneware Crock
Preparing The Cabbage
Don’t wash the cabbage. One of the great things about making sauerkraut is the fact that the cabbage leaves carry the natural bacteria needed to turn cabbage into kraut. Just carefully pull off any damaged or dirty outer leaves and toss into the compost.
Using a very clean cutting board and a sharp knife, cut the cabbage into quarters going through the core each time so each quarter has a part of the core with it. Remove the core, this will be a long triangular piece which does not go into the batch of sauerkraut.
Turn the cabbage on it’s side and proceed to carefully slice the cabbage into shreds the thickness of a dime. Pretty much as thin as you can, keeping your fingers safe. (Keeping the shreds sliced long and slender helps the cabbage stay under the covering plate while fermentation takes place.)
Salting And Tamping The Sliced Cabbage
After slicing 3 to 4 heads, put the cabbage in a large container like an enamel canning pot and weigh the shredded cabbage. When you reach 5 lb. you have a “layer”. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of salt to each 5 lb. layer. We added 2 TBS to ours and liked the result. Mix the salt and cabbage well and let sit about 30 minutes to let the salt begin to draw the juices.
Pour the cabbage and salt mixture into your crock and tamp firmly but not so hard as to crack the crock! Continue adding 5 lb. layers of sliced cabbage and salt, firmly tamping and bruising the newly added layer each time in order to release the juice, until the cabbage is within 4 to 5 inches of the top of the crock.
When the last layer of salted cabbage is in the crock, continue tamping until there is enough juice to begin to cover the cabbage. Pat the cabbage smooth and cover it with the plate as close to the size of the inside of the crock as possible.
Fill a very clean 2 quart Mason jar with water and place on top of the plate. With the pressure of the plate and filled Mason jar, the juice should rise to 1 to 2 inches above the cabbage. Cover the whole shebang with a clean lint free cotton tea towel. Hurray! You have finished the labor intensive portion of the project.
Fermenting The Cabbage
Now you will need to decide where your kraut will call home for the next four weeks. (While it takes four weeks to finish the fermenting process many love eating the cabbage throughout the fermenting stages and will begin dipping young kraut out to enjoy with in the first week.) The crock needs to be in a place where you can keep an eye on the progress with a temperature range of 64 degrees to 70 degrees. It won’t hurt the kraut to dip below 64 degrees, it will only prolong the fermentation period but above 70 degrees can encourage mold growth. Fermenting foods have a specific fragrance which is the strongest in the last two weeks. If you think that is going to bother you or your family members, don’t put the crock on the kitchen counter. We put our crock on a counter in Monica’s laundry room where she could crack a window and close the door when needed (as in guests arriving for a birthday celebration).
Skimming The Kraut
You will want to check in on your batch of sauerkraut on the 2nd day and again on the 3rd day. A white film will start accumulating on top of the juice (this may happen sooner or later depending on the temperature). You should be able to push the film, along with any cabbage pieces that have escaped, into a small space at the side of the crock, scooping it out with a stainless steel strainer or wooden spoon. You want to take as little of the juice as possible. This should take you a minute or two every day or so. Skimming regularly will prevent any mold from forming and becoming a problem. If you notice a small spot of mold, be sure to remove it right away and make sure the tea towel is covering the crock completely keeping the opening covered and out of the light (mold will grow more readily in light). Check the kraut each day, skimming when needed.
Adding Brine To The Fermenting Cabbage
Each time you have finished the skimming process, check the level of the juice. If it has dropped to between 1 1/2 to 1 inch, you will want to add additional brine to bring the level back up to approximately 2 inches. Word of caution: all cabbage sticking out above the juice will spoil so always keep the juice line about 2″ above cabbage, skimming any free floating cabbage pieces off the top of the juice.
BRINE ratio/recipe is: 1 1/2 Tablespoons canning salt to 2 cups of water. It needs to be either water that has been boiled, or bottled spring water, as tap water in most areas will have chlorine or other additives that will impair or alter the fermenting process. If you boil your water, add the salt to dissolve and allow it to cool completely before pouring it into you batch of sauerkraut.
Decanting The Sauerkraut
After about four weeks the fermenting process is finished and the kraut smells wonderful! Take the weight and plate off of the top of the sauerkraut. Lift the first couple of inches of kraut out and put in a separate bowl. Pour the rest of the kraut and juice into a large container like an enamel canning pot. Now compare the top layers of kraut in the smaller bowl to the rest. If it is not as crisp and flavorful many discard this top portion. Pack the rest of the sauerkraut tightly into as many one or two quart Mason jars as it takes (saving some out to enjoy immediately!).
Once it is all packed divide the sauerkraut juice among the jars. If there is not enough juice to cover the kraut completely top off each jar with the brine mixture (see brine recipe above). Place the lid and rim on each jar, twisting till it is medium tight.
Store the jars of kraut in the refrigerator or in a pantry that stays below 55 degrees. Your kraut has a shelf life of up to a year in the pantry and two years in the refrigerator. But don’t worry, it won’t last that long. Be sure to Check out our delicious recipes using sauerkraut at: Let’s Make Sauerkraut! Part 3: The Kraut’s Finished. It’s Delicious. Now What? Recipes!