If you find yourself picking up a can, jar, or bag of sauerkraut at the grocery store time after time, you might be surprised at just how simple it is to make your own sauerkraut for use in all your favorite recipes. (The flavor is amazing, too!)
Sauerkraut was developed in Europe as an alternative way to preserve cabbage. Recipes were brought over from Europe by Germans who settled into the Lancaster County region of Pennsylvania. Originally, mainstream American society frowned upon sauerkraut. It was looked upon as peasant food eaten only by farmers, but by the 20th century, this Pennsylvania Dutch favorite became popular throughout the country among all levels of society.
The ingredients are simple: cabbage and salt. The ratio is: for every 5 pounds of prepared cabbage use 3 Tablespoons kosher or canning salt (Penn State Extension cautions: “The exact ratio of 3 tablespoons of canning or pickling salt to 5 pounds of shredded cabbage controls pathogen growth. Changing the proportions could result in an unsafe product.”) The remainder is technique and time.
Alternative Methods and Vessels
Although there are several methods and vessels employed by cooks to create sauerkraut that involve using items such as glass jars, open top crocks and food safe containers in which the kraut is weighted down with plates, filled plastic bags, and glass weights created for use in quart jars, this recipe focuses on making kraut the safest and easiest way for beginners: in a fermenting crock.
To make good kraut, use disease-free, firm, sweet, mature heads of cabbage from mid- and late season crops. Prepare and start the fermentation 1 to 2 days after harvesting the cabbage if possible or use the freshest you can get.
After coring the cabbage and removing the outer leaves, weigh your cabbage using a kitchen scale then shred it by hand with a cabbage shredder, mandolin, or use a food processor fitted with a shredding disc.
The cabbage gets mixed with the salt, “massaged/pressed” to bring out the natural juices, packed in a crock and weighted down to keep the cabbage complete submerged in the liquid.
Stored while fermenting at 70 to 80°F, the kraut will be fully fermented in about three to four weeks; at 60 to 65°F, fermentation may take six weeks. Below 60°F, kraut may not ferment. Above 80°F, kraut may become soft and spoil. Fermentation naturally stops because the acids accumulate to such an extent that further growth cannot take place.
A 1-gallon stone crock holds 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, and you can increase this recipe to suit your needs and fit the crock/vessel you may have (a 5 gallon crock holds 25 pounds of shredded cabbage for example. 25 pounds of cabbage makes about 8 quarts of kraut) Do not use copper, iron, or galvanized metal containers or lead-glazed crocks.
The waiting is the hardest part, especially if you know just how enjoyable homemade sauerkraut can be to eat!
Making large batches and canning your delicious homemade sauerkraut for future use:
Wash and sterilize pint or quart glass canning jars. Prepare lids according to manufacturer’s instructions. Fill jars by packing with kraut firmly and cover with juices, leaving ½ inch of head-space. If there is not enough juice to cover the cabbage in each jar, add boiled and cooled brine prepared with 1½ tablespoons of salt in a quart of water. Wipe sealing edge of jars with a clean, damp paper towel. Add lids and tighten screw bands.
Preheat hot water bath canner filled halfway with water to 140°F. Load sealed jars onto the canner rack. Lower with handles in the preheated boiling water canner, or load one jar at a time with a jar lifter. Add water, if needed, to 1 inch above jars and cover. When water boils vigorously, lower heat to maintain a gentle boil and process for recommended time.
After processing is complete, remove the canner from the heat and remove the canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, carefully remove the jars from the canner with a jar lifter, and place them on a towel or rack to air-cool for 12 to 24 hours. Remove screw bands and check lid seals. If the center of the lid is indented, wash, dry, label, and store jar in a clean, cool, dark place. If lid is unsealed, examine and replace jar if defective, use new lid, and reprocess as before. Wash screw bands and store separately. Kraut is best if consumed within a year and is safe as long as lids remain vacuum sealed.
Why not start your own Pennsylvania Dutch based tradition and make your own sauerkraut. It is a great project to involve the family in and worth it. Not convince yet? Watch this video to see how easy it is.
Homemade SauerkrautCourse: Sides, VegetablesCuisine: PA Dutch, Coal RegionDifficulty: Intermediate
Easy to make, homemade sauerkraut takes just two ingredients – cabbage and salt!
- Work with 5 pounds of cabbage at a time, multiply ingredients by the number of batches you plan to make and the crock(s) you have. Example: 25 pounds of cabbage makes about 8 to 10 quarts.
5 pounds cabbage after coring and removing undesirable, bruised, or damaged outer leaves
3 Tablespoons kosher or pickling salt
Stone fermenting crock with weights.
Optional: wooden tamper
Canning jars and hot water bath canner if planning to can the kraut for future use.
- Discard damaged outer leaves. Retain some undamaged outer leaves. Rinse heads with cold water and drain. Cut heads in quarters, remove cores. Shred or slice cabbage to a thickness of 1/16th to 1/8th inch.
- Place 5 pounds of shredded cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt, alternating layers of cabbage and salt. With CLEAN hands or wearing food-safe gloves, squeeze and toss the cabbage to distribute the salt and start juices drawing from the cabbage. (Continue preparing and packing 5-pound quantities of shredded cabbage and 3 tablespoons of salt at a time until finished.)
- Place the cabbage/salt mixture into a CLEAN crock, then use a tamper or your fist to press the cabbage unto a tight layer drawing out more juices. Continue pressing until juices have been worked out as much as possible (takes awhile).
- Cover the cabbage with a crock weight the proper size for the crock(s). To avoid surface mold growth, the goal is to keep the cabbage submerged at all times. If the juice does not cover the cabbage and weights, add boiled and cooled brine prepared with 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt in a quart of water to at least 1 inch above the weights.
- Cover the top of the container with the lid. If using a crock with a trough around the top, seal by pouring salted water made with the proportion of 1 1/2 Tablespoons water in 1 quart of water into the trough on the rim of the crock.
- Store the container at 70 to 75°F while fermenting. At these temperatures, kraut will be fully fermented in about 3 to 4 weeks; at 60 to 65°F, fermentation may take 6 weeks. Below 60°F, kraut may not ferment. Above 80°F, kraut may become soft and spoil.
Fermentation naturally stops because the acids accumulate to such an extent that further growth cannot take place. Kraut should be to desired tartness, with firm texture, have brine that is not cloudy, and be free of any sign of mold or yeast growth. The very top layer of kraut may be dark, skim off this layer and discard. Do not taste if you see mold on the surface, feel a slimy texture, or smell a bad odor. Fully fermented kraut may be kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for several months, or it may be canned using a hot water bath canning process.
- When making sauerkraut, make sure all tools, vessels and your hands are very CLEAN.