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A History of Sauerkraut

From East to West, A Long Culinary Tradition

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Julia Skinner

Julia Skinner, PhD is the founder of Root Kitchens and author of Our Fermented Lives: A History of How Fermented Foods Have Shaped Cultures and Communities.

From East to West, A Long Culinary Tradition

Homemade Sauerkraut Recipe

Sauerkraut Sauerkraut

This is the way I learned to make sauerkraut over a decade ago. The person who taught me made sauerkraut in jars, rather than a crock, to keep their small apartment from smelling like cabbage, and I find this method to be so easy (and to work so well in small spaces) that it’s become a go-to for me when I teach fermentation classes. You’ll need two pint jars with lids and bands for this method.

Preparation

Remove the outer two layers of leaves from your cabbage and set them aside. Quarter and core the cabbage, then thinly shred it.

Add the shredded cabbage to a bowl and sprinkle liberally with salt (I use about 5 ml/1 teaspoon). Toss together and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

Massage the salt into the cabbage until the cabbage releases enough liquid to form a brine (you’ll know it’s ready when it releases a thin stream of liquid when squeezed). If it doesn’t seem like the cabbage is releasing liquid, add a bit more salt and keep massaging.

Give the brine a quick taste: You want it to taste salty like the sea. If it seems like the brine needs a bit more salt, you can always add more and massage it in, though I’ve rarely found that the salt needs adjustment at this point.

Pack the cabbage tightly into glass pint jars. Using your hand—either flat or balled into a fist—or the back of a ladle, or a wooden sauerkraut pounder, press your cabbage down firmly to release any air bubbles and ensure that the brine will cover it. If your cabbage is not completely covered, add more brine. If you find there are still air bubbles, gently slide a chopstick or knife down the edge of your jar to release them.

Fold over one of the outer cabbage leaves you set aside earlier, and place it on top of the shredded cabbage in the jar. This top leaf keeps the shredded cabbage in the brine. Make sure the leaf itself is also sub- merged in the brine.

Place the lid on each jar and set the jars on a baking sheet or plate. Allow to ferment out of direct sunlight for 2 to 3 weeks (or longer, if desired, which will soften the cabbage and make it more sour). Loosen each lid and check your ferment at least every couple days, making sure all the cabbage stays submerged in the brine. If you need to add more brine, use a solution of 5 ml (1 teaspoon) salt dissolved in 473 ml (2 cups) water.

Once your kraut is as sour as you’d like, store it in the fridge in an air-tight container (like the jars you fermented it in), where it can keep for several months if it stays submerged in brine. One note: when storing ferments with metal rings in the fridge, it can be helpful to put a piece of parchment or waxed paper between the top of the jar and the lid to prevent corrosion. Just make sure the paper doesn’t come in contact with the ferment itself.

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