Frost has come for real now — two nights in the 30s and last night in the 20s — so except for the kale and Brussels sprouts, the garden is done. We dug the potatoes and carrots over the weekend, and when I got home from work last night, there were two of the largest cabbages I’ve ever seen by the front door. I’m guessing they are close to 20 pounds a piece. They are the flat Dutch variety, with massive, dense heads easily 15 inches across.
My husband says it’s sauerkraut season, but before I slice for the crock, I’m going to freeze some steamed cabbage. It’s nice to use later for soups or stews, and there’s only so much sauerkraut one family can eat. Not a lot.
Sauerkraut is remarkably easy to make. What you need is cabbage and a large ceramic or glass container. I have a big, straight sided crock I found in a junk store, but you can use a big jar. You can even make small-batch sauerkraut in quart mason jars.
First slice the cabbage as thinly as you can. We actually possess a device called a mandoline, basically a blade on a board that allows you to slide the cabbage over it, dropping thin slices into a bowl below. Do I use it? No. I use a sharp knife. And I try to remember to keep my fingers away from the blade.
Next, layer cabbage and salt. Put down a couple of inches of cabbage and a generous sprinkle of salt over that. You’re going to use about 2 teaspoons of salt for every 4 cups of cabbage. Use sea salt, kosher salt or canning salt for a coarser grind and no added iodine, which can darken the sauerkraut.
The salt draws the water out of the cabbage to make the brine that pickles it into sauerkraut. You’ll need to keep pressing down the cabbage as you fill your container to get enough liquid to cover.
When your container is full, find something to weigh down the cabbage so it stays under the brine. In my crock, I use a plate that fits inside the edges, and hold it down with a jar filled with water. Use whatever fits — a small plate, a cup, a bowl, a bag filled with water — anything that will push the cabbage down.
It might take several hours for enough water to be pulled from the cabbage to cover it. If after 24 hours there’s not enough, you can add a little water, with another sprinkle of salt.
I throw a dish cloth over the whole thing and keep it in the basement. It goes faster in the kitchen, but tastes better if you make it slow. Check it every day. It will take 3-10 days in the kitchen, and up to 3 weeks in the basement — the rate of fermentation depends on temperature, humidity and size of your batch. A white or grayish scum will likely form on top — that’s a normal part of fermentation. Just scrape it off and discard.
When it’s done (taste test!) put it into handy containers to keep in the fridge. If you’ve made enough, can it in pint or quart jars.
Sterilize the mason jars and their two-part lids. Boil the kraut, and pack it hot into the jars. Press it in, and slide a butter knife down the inside of the jars to release air bubbles. Place the lids on, tighten the rings and process 20 minutes in a boiling water bath.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday editor and features editor. Reach her at href="mailto:email@example.com"popup="800,600">firstname.lastname@example.org or @hartleygazette on Twitter.