Two years ago around now I was writing this piece on how to make sauerkraut. I think sometime soon it may be put up on their website, but here it is, transcribed in this blog, for now. I’ve done a little re-editing with the gift of hindsight and experience. I wanted to make sauerkraut seem easy, which it is really. And the idea was, you could really play with cabbage, with colour, with spices and flavours, thus I called it:
How to Make a Rainbow of Sauerkrauts
Permaculture Magazine No 70 Winter 2011
Lacto-fermenting is preserving through an alchemy of salt and vegetables and time – in it’s simplest form, creating a salty brine to encourage beneficial bacteria to protect food from spoilage, transform flavours and augment nutrition and culinary possibility. So much of traditional British preserving requires such intensive boiling and processing that much flavour and goodness is lost. “Pickling” by natural fermentation keeps raw food crunchy and fresh, makes lots of nutrients even more accessible to the human body, and will give you stores of living, enzymatic, “probiotic” food to eat during the dark winter.
This is an ancient technique, low carbon (no heat to cook, no definitive need to refrigerate, though it’s good to thoroughly clean vessels), delicious, a way to get more veg into your diet, and exciting: once you have restored the power of sour to your plate, you will want more and more. I truly can’t eat hummus without sauerkraut anymore, and love pickled veg as a final ingredient in my soups. Salads come alive with the addition of whatever preserves you happen to have on hand. You are gifted with an incredible freedom with what you have available and need to use up. And our modern repertoire includes such a wide range of exciting inspirations, including healing herbs and spices which gain potency in fermented brine.
Take your glut of cabbages. Shred, finely or roughly. Mix with spices. Add ginger, leeks, onions, garlic, chilli, or chopped seaweed, grated beetroot, apple– in whatever combination you like. Toss purple cabbage in with with the white to make it pink. Think about cumin, caraway, fennel, dill seeds. Curry powder perhaps? Follow your fancy. Be creative. Experiment. I’ve been foraging for nettle seeds– they went into a kraut with the hope for a little extra vitality. Or keep it simple. The plainest of sauerkraut, undressed, is wonderful too.
A good general rule of thumb: cultured cabbage requires one tablespoon of unrefined, mineral-rich sea salt for each head of cabbage. Place the shredded cabbage in a bowl, knock with your fist to break down cellular walls, add the salt, and toss. Add a little extra water, if you wish. As time passes the cabbage will release natural juices which become the brine in which your souring cabbage – your sauerkraut – develops. Stuff firmly into a jar or crock, leaving only a little space at the top.
The most important thing is regularly pushing down the vegetables beneath the brine. This is what allows the eponymous lactobacilli to thrive anaerobically– without oxygen. The bacteria that spoil and rot food need air. Sometimes it can feel like a battle in which it’s our job to support the Goodies versus the Baddies.
Keep a room temperature for roughly a week, remembering to keep poking down any errant veg underneath the surface of the brine, or using a weight if necessary. Once the process has begun, refrigeration or chilling in the coolest part of your home is appropriate. Under snow would be ideal! Eat all along the life cycle of your kraut, and experience different tastes as they “mature.”
The hardest part about lacto-fermenting is finding enough large glass jars or ceramic crocks for all you endeavours. I spy the pickled egg jar at the chip shop….