Putting Up: Small-Batch Sauerkraut

Putting Up: Fermenting Sauerkraut

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.

Putting Up: Fermenting Sauerkraut

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.

Putting Up: Fermenting Sauerkraut

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:

Fermented Sauerkraut

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.

Putting Up: Fermenting Sauerkraut

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 FermentingNational Center for Home Food Preservation
Suitable Containers, Covers and Weights for Fermenting FoodsNational Center for Home Food Preservation
Let’s Preserve: SauerkrautNational 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. 

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12 Responses to Putting Up: Small-Batch Sauerkraut

  1. placidplaid says:

    After reading your blog post I decided to try making sauerkraut with the small half head of cabbage I had in the fridge. I used 1 teaspoon of salt and the whey from a small container of plain yogurt. I don’t seem to be getting the liquid after getting the salt and whey worked through the cabbage. Should I add water?

    • Hi there! The cabbage may need to be worked vigorously, 5 to 10 minutes for the juices to develop. You won’t need much, there’s a surprising amount once it all gets packed into the jar. You can also let it rest up to overnight to let the juices develop, or cover with a brine made of 1 tablespoon salt + 1 cup water (you won’t need much of this given the amount of cabbage you’re working with). Hope this helps!

  2. sav says:

    I have a 1 gallon crock. Can I use that instead, weighing down the cabbage with a heavy object on top of a plate? I do not have a lid for the crock, so it would be exposed to the air, other than the plate to which I referred. I would be using 1 normal sized (if there is such a thing) head of cabbage.

    • Hi there — Yes to all of those ideas! Alternatively, you can use a plastic bag (if you’re okay with plastic) filled with brine (in case it leaks) to create a fairly airtight seal on the sauerkraut. If you’re using a plate to weigh it down, I suggest using another, larger one to cover the crock. Just make sure your crock doesn’t have any cracks in the glazing. Hope this helps!

  3. Hey, I love your blog! Did you know that Food in Jars linked to you this week for this set of instructions for sauerkraut? Congrats. :)

    I have been trying out sauerkraut with varying success for a few months. I have not been using pickling salt, just table salt. I guess that is my problem. :) I will do it this way from now on.

    • Hi there! Thanks for heads-up, always an honor to be noticed by Food in Jars! We use sea salt, and it doesn’t have to specifically be pickling salt, as long as it doesn’t have any extra ingredients that can interfere with fermentation. Hope that works!

  4. msophelia says:

    question: we tried this, and things went along swimmingly until about day 5. it appears that the fermentation process drove enough liquid out of the jars that there wasn’t enough left to keep the cabbage submerged. any tips on how to keep enough brine in the jars? or should we be topping off, with either the escaped brine, or fresh brine? thanks!

    • Hi there! Sounds like your cabbage “heaved,” a not uncommon occurrence. Did you have the cabbage weighted down in any way? This helps to keep the cabbage submerged during the process. At this point, you can top it off with fresh brine made from 1 tablespoon salt + 1 cup water, also remove some of the cabbage if the jar seems to full. Hope this helps!

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