Sauerkraut evokes memories for me of visiting my dad's only living sister in her modest mountain home in North Georgia. I would pull up to her table and be served a big dish of fermented cabbage, chopped up by hand, and fermented in crocks. I eagerly anticipated not only eating kraut while I was visiting my family on Lookout Mountain, but also enjoying my own personal jar of this delicious treat that my aunt never failed to send home with me each time we visited. As an adult, I decided to try to replicate my aunt's delicious kraut and I asked her for instructions. From a lifetime of kraut making memories, she told me how the cabbage must be chopped by hand, salted, pounded, weighed down in the crock to keep it under the brine and left to ferment. My aunt is now in a nursing home and dreams of going home to spend time in her kitchen again. Each summer, I make kraut, think of her, and carry on the tradition passed down from generations of women I am proud to call family.
Sauerkraut is a fine German word that simply means "sour cabbage". Cabbage is transformed to kraut by the magic of lactic acid which ferments the cabbage. This process is not only a great method of preserving cabbage for long term storage but has excellent health benefits as well.
I have fun making my kraut in an antique crock, but it's not necessary. One can also make kraut in a glass gallon jar. I like to make kraut in large quantities because it keeps so well. When making kraut, you want to be sure to use only unchipped enamel or glass jars. Wooden, glass or enamel utensils should be used when making or dipping the kraut. (No metal or stainless)
Fresh, organic cabbage is best for making kraut.
You will need approximately five pounds of cabbage for a gallon container. Measure out three Tablespoons of canning salt (salt that does not contain iodine) per five pounds of cabbage. Shred your cabbage. (While my dear Aunt swore that it must be chopped finely by hand, I admit that I don't have the time or patience and use my food processor for this task, especially since I tend to make five or six gallons per batch.)
Layer your shredded cabbage by sprinkling a tablespoon of salt between each layer. (Remember that you are using three tablespoons per five pounds of cabbage.) You will want to end with salt sprinkled on top.
At this point, I have found that walking away and letting the salt begin to draw the moisture from the cabbage is very helpful. I usually return in about an hour and begin pounding the cabbage. Once enough juice has been extracted from the cabbage, then you need to press the cabbage down beneath the surface of the brine. It's very important that all of the cabbage be covered by the liquid. You will then need to weigh the cabbage down to keep it submerged under the brine as it ferments. When I am using my large crock, I place a plate on top of the cabbage and then put a gallon jar filled with water on top of the plate to hold it down. I cover the whole crock with a flour cloth sack to keep it clean.
As the cabbage begins to ferment, a scum will form on top. Simply skim this off, keep the cabbage submerged, and allow to ferment for 7 to 14 days. Warmer temperatures will make the fermentation take place more quickly, although you don't want the temps to be higher than 70 degrees if possible. The fermentation process will be slower at less than 70 degrees.
That's all there is to it!
After your kraut has fermented, as long as you have a cool place to store it, you can actually leave your kraut in the crock (or glass jar) and dip out what you need. The kraut keeps well in a climate of 40-50 degrees. I don't have a place cool enough to keep my sauerkraut year around, so I put it in quart jars and store it in the refrigerator. I currently have some that I have kept for eight months in this manner and it's delicious! Made and stored without heating, the kraut retains all it's nutritional properties.
In the event you need to "can" your kraut, simmer for ten minutes, pack in sterilized canning jars, fill within 1/2 inch of top, cover with brine and process for ten minutes in a hot water canner. If you don't have enough brine, you can make more brine by diluting two tablespoons of salt in a quart of water.