In our household, cabbage has become the new kale. Though easy to overlook, this humble vegetable is packed with beneficial nutrients and plays a starring role as a fermented food. Here in Northern New England, cabbages first start appearing at farmers’ markets in July, supplanting the salad greens waning with summer’s heat. Once the weather cools and cabbages sweeten up, they’re perfect for fermenting into Sauerkraut that will take us far into the next season.
Recently, we made up some sample batches for a workshop on lacto-fermentation, comparing using salt versus whey. We appreciate the simplicity of using salt alone, while whey ensures a good ferment by inoculating the cabbage with good bacteria at the start. Flavorwise, the whey tends to give a more acidic ferment, which we expect evens out the longer it sits. The biggest difference was in the third batch, using a variety of cabbage called Gunma from Stout Oak Farm. It has softer leaves, and made for a lovely salad-like Sauerkraut, similar to Kimchi in texture. Above (left to right): Salt brine; whey and salt; Gunma cabbage with whey and salt. Each batch contains 1/4 teaspoon caraway seed.
During the workshop, we recommend starting off small, and had each student make up their own quart-sized batch. The basics, adapted from Cultures for Health:
1 head of cabbage (2+ pounds), or 8 to 10 cups shredded
1 tablespoon non-iodized salt
1 wide-mouth quart jar
1 four-ounce jar (optional)
– Discard tough outer leaves of cabbage, rinse and drain. Cut heads into quarters, trim cores, and shred or slice cabbage thinly. Place cabbage in a large bowl large, add salt, and massage together until cabbage has begun to release its natural juices, forming a brine.
– Pack cabbage into a clean quart jar, tightly enough that the cabbage is completely covered by a layer of brine, leaving about 1 to 2 inches of headspace. Insert a piece of cabbage leaf to help keep the Sauerkraut submerged. If using, fit the four-ounce jar on top to further weight the sauerkraut. Cover jar with 2-piece lid, and tighten until snug but still loosens easily.
– Place in tray to catch any escaping juices, and let ferment at room temperature (60° to 75°F) for 2 to 3 weeks. Alternatively, let jar sit at room temperature for 3 to 10 days to begin fermentation, then move to the refrigerator to finish fermenting, 4 to 6 weeks. To store, Sauerkraut may be refrigerated, frozen, or canned.
To get a sense of how the flavor changes over time, we recommend sampling the Sauerkraut at different points during fermentation. Some additional notes from the workshop:
– Some varieties are grown specifically for making Sauerkraut; early varieties are lower in sugar and less desirable for fermenting.
– The fresher the cabbage the better the fermentation; prepare and start the fermentation as soon after harvesting the cabbage as you can.
– Use non-iodized salt suitable for pickling; iodine and anti-caking additives in tabling salt interferes with fermentation.
– As a flavor option, add juniper berries or seeds such as caraway, dill, celery, mustard, fennel, or cumin; they act as anti-microbials and aid the fermentation process.
• How to Make Sauerkraut, Cultures for Health
• Natural Fermentation: Salt vs. Whey vs. Starter Cultures, Cultures for Health
• General Information on Fermenting, National Center for Home Food Preservation
• Suitable Containers, Covers and Weights for Fermenting Foods, National Center for Home Food Preservation
• Let’s Preserve: Sauerkraut, National Center for Home Food Preservation
Special thanks to Black Kettle Farm, for supplying the locally-grown cabbage, and to Jeffrey Benton, my co-teacher, for use of his photographs from the workshop.