The art of making sauerkraut is almost lost in our part of Texas. This area is rich in German and Czech history, and the older residents of the country side still reminisce when I mention sauerkraut. Traditionally, around here, it was chopped and naturally aged in stoneware crocks then seasoned with dill or caraway seeds prior to packing in jars. It was eaten fresh and also served hot with dinner. If you can imagine, local cabbage was only in season in the late fall and spring, so a family needed to be diligent in storing their cabbage for the year using natural lacto-fermentation and salt when refrigeration was not an option.
Our family makes our sauerkraut in much the same way as they did traditionally. The beneficial fermentation process is a key to maintaining a healthy digestive system, and the natural aging process preserves the "life" of the food, making it nutritious and wholesome.
Step 1: chop your cabbage. You can use green or red cabbage. Clean and core the cabbage. I use a 10" chef knife and cut the cabbage so that I can feed it through the food processor, using the large slicing blade.
Step 2: pack your crock sprinkling about 1Tbs of REAL or Celtic Sea Salt per head of cabbage, stirring it all together as you layer your heads of cabbage into the crock. If you wanted to add beets or diced apples, now would be the time to add all those ingredients together as well. We use a few different sizes of crocks. Our 2 gallon crocks can hold up to 6 medium heads of cabbage. Our 100 year old 12 gallon crocks hold up to 36 medium heads of cabbage.
Step 3: Pound the cabbage and let rest. Notice in the first picture there is a wooden pounder in the background behind the cabbage. I use that tool to pound the cabbage down into the crock. This helps release the water from the cabbage. I cover it with a cheesecloth and let it rest overnight to see how much natural moisture extracts from the cabbage. Then I add brine mixing 4 cups of water with 1 Tbs of salt, and keep adding this brine until the water is over the cabbage. You can add more or less salt as you like.
Step 4: Ferment. Cover the kraut with a wooden disc weighed down with a clean rock or a mason jar full of water. This is to keep the cabbage down below the brine. A 1 gallon zip lock freezer bag filled with water can also work. Cover with cheesecloth or a towel and let the cabbage ferment for 7 to 14 days, tasting it daily after the first week until you get the "ripeness" you like. In cooler weather it takes longer, and the longer you let it ferment, the more "ripe" flavor progresses. If a white film covers the water, just skim it off. This is the yeast in the fermentation process and is normal. I notice it more often when the weather is warm.
Step 5: Canning. When you found that your sauerkraut is to the point of your liking, pack it into clean mason jars and store in the fridge to eat at your pleasure. You can also add additional seasonings before packing it with herbs like fresh dill or dill seed. Caraway seeds are also traditionally used. Packing it just plain is also great. Sauerkraut will keep for 3-6 months in the fridge, no problem.
Enjoy with any meal!