Experiments in Sauerkraut

We finally chopped up two batches of sauerkraut on New Year’s Eve. They’ve been sitting on the counter ever since, bubbling away and looking tasty.

In the end, we modified a recipe from a recently gifted cookbook, The Nourished Kitchen, by Jennifer McGruther. I’m always interested to read how long folks recommend letting fermented foods sit. McGruther suggests leaving the kraut for a minimum of six weeks before tasting and confides that she generally lets hers go for about three months.

When lacto-fermenting cauliflower pickles last year, I experienced the disappointment of letting a batch go too far for my taste. The resulting pickles were distinctly fermented and ‘gassy’ tasting with that special zing I associate with overripe or spoiled food.

I’m perplexed. I’ve read so many accounts of lacto-fermented foods bubbling away for weeks or months on end until they taste just right. These same recipes often recommend room temperatures of 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Our house is perpetually cold—usually in the 50s, so our pickles and kraut shouldn’t be fermenting extra quickly. The funky fermented taste that I can’t quite love seems to kick in by the end of the first week at the latest.

So what gives? Do I have terrible finicky taste in lacto-fermented foods? Is the funky zingy taste just a stage that I’m never patient enough to see through?

Blissfully unaware of the strict six-week timeline Kelly thought we were following for the sauerkraut, I opened up the airlock jars this week and took a taste. I should stop here and say we made two versions: a straight cabbage kraut a la the cookbook and a colorful kraut fashioned after our friend Tanya’s, but using the same cookbook’s base recipe–we love Tanya’s kraut, but she is out of communication on a foreign beach and unable to weigh in or provide her recipe.

In addition to cabbage, the colorful kraut features a few chopped cloves of garlic, grated ginger, and grated beet.

A week and a half into fermentation, and both krauts are distinctly funky to my palate. There’s no mold growing, and I have no reason to believe anything’s wrong other than my own impatience and/or poor taste.

Fingers crossed I didn’t introduce any bad bacteria by opening the jars. This time, we’ll give the kraut its time and hope that that does the trick.

Spicy SauerKraut Recipe

  • 5 lbs. cabbage, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon beet, coarsely grated
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, grated

Directions

  • Quarter the cabbage, and then chop it very thin.
  • Place cabbage in a large bowl and add salt. Let it sit for five minutes.
  • Massage cabbage with salt for five additional minutes until the cabbage releases its juices (who knew a little salt would suck so much water out of a cabbage? This part was like a mad science experiment that caught us completely by surprise!)
  • Add remaining ingredients (if desired) and mix thoroughly.
  • Fill jar or crock with cabbage mixture, packing it down firmly as you go.
  • Pour any remaining juices from the bowl over the packed cabbage and place a small  jar or other weight on top of the kraut. This will help keep the cabbage from floating to the surface of the liquid. close the lid
  • Let sit for six weeks before tasting (or, if you’re like me, taste it a week in and see what’s really going on in there!)
  • Enjoy!

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Look how much the cabbage shrinks after being kneaded with the salt!

Look how much the cabbage shrinks after being kneaded with the salt!

A canning funnel comes in handy when filling the jar with shredded cabbage.

A canning funnel comes in handy when filling the jar with shredded cabbage.

The cabbage supplies all its own water. Wow!

The cabbage supplies all its own water. Wow!

We used a small jar as a weight to keep the cabbage from floating to the surface of the liquid.

We used a small jar as a weight to keep the cabbage from floating to the surface of the liquid.

The airlock lid will let the cabbage gases escape, but keep bacteria from getting into the jar over the course of the fermentation.

The airlock lid will let the cabbage gases escape, but keep bacteria from getting into the jar over the course of the fermentation.

Here's to colorful, spicy kraut!

Here’s to colorful, spicy kraut!

5 Responses to Experiments in Sauerkraut

  1. That looks so good! It looks like no sauerkraut for us this year, as the cold weather has ruined the cabbage before it could head up. Oh well. Next years will taste even better now. 🙂

  2. From Donna at Cultured Food.com:

    I have had people get mad at me when I tell them to ferment their kraut for only 6 to 7 days, or when I explain to them that using a starter culture will keep the levels of bacteria at a higher level longer than not using a culture.

    Try it– maybe you’ll like it! Also– I’ve had funky ferments that got better after being in my fridge for a while. So don’t give up on them. Like, weeks or even months.

    • Thanks, Pia! We’ll keep experimenting. Thanks also for pointing me toward this website. Is it Donna at Cultured Food Life? Looks like a great resource.

      The current batch of kraut is almost three weeks in, and Kelly is attached to following the six week directions for this round, but I’m all for doing a shorter ferment next time and/or refrigerating funky results.

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