Monday, August 8, 2011


I absolutely love have little living science experiments going on in my kitchen, its gives me that feeling of boyhood wonder crossed with being a mad scientist.  Quite some time ago I read Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, and it absolutely compelled me to start making this stuff! Its so simple, so cheap, and the wild lactic fermentation gives it a tang that you cannot get from the supermarket variety.  There aren’t any really hard and fast rules to making successful sauerkraut other then to keep the oxygen out of the pictures. Without oxygen molds cannot survive. Think of wild fermentation as a microbial battleground where you set up conditions that will allow your team to win. This is accomplished firstly by salt, the good guys can thrive in it, and the baddies cannot. Secondly, acidity as the lactic fermentation takes place it raises the acidity level in the brine once again giving the good guys a fighting chance. Finally, oxygen the bad guys need it, the good guys don’t. I know the first thing anyone is going to say is what about botulism? Well you have better luck of winning the lottery. Botulism usually occurs in canned and sterilized products because it is one arch villain that can survive in the murky depths of an anaerobic environment, and when things are sterilized it is a tough little bastard that can withstand the heat and pressure of canning. The biggest problem is when it does happen it has no one else to stop it from proliferating, because all the good and helpful bacteria were destroyed in the canning process. What this means is that there are two ways of preserving food either you create an environment where only good bacteria can survive:  real pickles, sauerkraut, salami and other cured meats, yogurt.  Or, you create an environment where nothing can survive: pressure canning, beef jerky, etc. I used to be terrified of this stuff before I started to understand it, its normal. It is also useful to note that most cases of botulism poisoning is from improperly canned tomatoes. This has more to do with improper canning techniques, and lack of acidity.
The basic recipe for sauerkraut is a ratio of three tablespoons to about five pounds of cabbage (yes that is it). However, so the sake of creativity and flavour here is my recipe.

Apple Caraway Sauerkraut

1 head of Cabbage (about 3 pounds) shredded
3 tbsp Salt (feel free to use more or a little less depending on taste)
2 Apples (cored and slices)
1 tbsp Caraway seeds

Find yourself a crock if your lucky enough to have one, or a wide mouthed mason jar (youll probably need one in the 1.5 range to fit this recipe). Pack the cabbage, apples, and seeds as tightly as possible sprinkling with the salt as you go. Thats it, well almost. You will need something to keep the cabbage weighted down below the liquid. Some fancy crocks have weighted stones that perfectly fit the crock. A clean plate and a can will achieve the same goal. I had to be a little more creative than that. Over the next week you will see the liquid start to come out of the cabbage and in essence it makes its own brine. What is important is to pack the cabbage down to remove any tiny little air bubbles. Cover with cheesecloth to keep the flies out. In about a week or two you will start to be able to taste the fermentation, and the longer you let it ferment the tangier it will get.  When your happy with the amount of acidity you can keep it in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process. Eventually the flavour will become less pleasant and it is time to make a new batch. You can also can and sterilize it for permanent storage, but this will also kill all the beneficial bacteria that are good for you.
*Note: sometimes you will notice mold beginning to grow on the surface of the liquid, this is perfectly normal and will not harm your sauerkraut underneath the brine, just skim it off, and clean whatever your using to weight it down. If you notice mold growing in your sauerkraut (almost certainly because of an air pocket) it is time to pitch it.


Gloria Kovacevich said...

When my mother made sauerkraut she would put a small apple in the top of the jar. It was amazing to have that 'apple' taste in the jar. She did not peel it or slice it. She put it in whole. Try it.