Fermenting: Easy DIY Sauerkraut

Fermenting: Easy DIY Sauerkraut

Cabbage, salt, and a container—that’s all you need to make lacto-fermented sauerkraut. During a recent Community Cooks class held at The Body and Soul Healing Arts Center in Milwaukee, fermentation instructor Julie Toman explained the essentials of fermenting vegetables.

Instructor Julie Toman gets excited when talking about the benefits of fermentation.

Instructor Julie Toman gets excited when talking about the benefits of fermentation.

Lacto-fermentation is a means of food preservation that’s been around for centuries. Recently, fermented foods, and some beverages, too (think kefir and kombucha), have gained momentum as a health food, largely due to the beneficial bacteria that thrive during the fermentation process. These are the good gut bacteria—including some of the same strains found in yogurt, such as Lactobacillus.

beans-and-cabbageAfter learning the basics, class participants were turned loose on a buffet of local veggies to ferment. Carrots, green beans, radishes, and the ever-popular cabbage would soon be tucked into brine and stored at room temperature in lightly covered mason jars.

fermenting-beansThe cabbage, however, is treated a little different. It’s considered self-brining. Here’s how it works.

Homemade Sauerkraut

  1. Pull off a large top leaf of a medium head of cabbage and set aside for later. Shred the rest and toss with 1 tablespoon of unrefined sea salt (not iodine or anti-caking agents) in a large bowl.

    Reserve a leaf of cabbage to carve out four half-circles. These will be used as a lid.

    Reserve a leaf of cabbage to carve out four half-circles. These will be used as a top cover.

  1. Massage the shredded cabbage with your hands until you start to notice liquid draining from the cabbage and collecting in the bottom of the bowl. Then let the cabbage sit for about an hour. This allows the salt to pull additional water out of the cabbage and form its own brine (hence the term self-brining). You can continue massaging the cabbage after it sits until you have enough brine to cover the cabbage once it’s in a 1-quart jar.
  1. If you’re using flavoring agents, such as juniper berries, toss them in the jar and top with tightly packed cabbage, leaving 1½ inches of head space.
  1. Top with the remaining brine from the bottom of the mixing bowl.
  1. Using a jar lid as a guide, cut 2 circles from the outer cabbage leaf you set aside in step 1. Cut each circle in half. Then arrange one of the halves on top of the shredded cabbage. Turn the jar a quarter turn and top with another leaf, overlapping the cabbage cuttings until the top is entirely covered.
  1. Place a sterile weight on top of the leaf covering to ensure all the cabbage and the top leaves are completely submerged under the brine. A small sterile spice jar often works well as a weight. Or you can buy weighted discs specifically designed for this purpose.
  1. Cover with a coffee filter, cheesecloth, plate, or loose lid and place in a warm place, about 65 F to 75 F for 7 to 10 days. When it’s ready, store it in the fridge.

“Don’t be alarmed if you find mold developing on the top,” Toman says. “It’s not harmful, but it might interfere with the other bacteria. Just scrape it off.” This is known to happen if the brine does not entirely cover the contents. Toman stresses the importance of completely covering everything with brine.

For those that prefer gadets and starter kits, Toman recommends CultureForHealth.com and encourages her students to experiment with different flavor profiles. More recipes can be found at fermentationrecipes.com.

Julie Toman is a family and consumer science instructor in West Allis and surrounding areas. She works with a variety of local organizations to conduct educational courses, such as fermentation and artisan bread making. She can be reached at julietoman@gmail.com.











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