… or, my first fermentation adventure.
I’ve been living in Britain for some years now, and don’t really miss any German foodstuffs. Except bread, of course, but since I’ve begun baking my own, even that craving has receded.
Then I remembered Sauerkraut. Hmmm, nice Sauerkraut with apples, juniper berries and caraway seeds. I almost felt homesick.
But then a friend mentioned making Sauerkraut and the scales fell from my eyes – why don’t I try making my own? I, like most people, had absolutely no idea how Sauerkraut is made, apart from the process being ‘complicated’. So I grabbed – no not a fresh cabbage but the computer in order to find a YouTube tutorial on how to make Sauerkraut. And here’s a good one I found (in German): it tells you a lot about the fermentation process and then progresses to show you how to make the Sauerkraut. And here’s another tutorial in English. The deal clincher for me was that I could make it in a jar and didn’t have to purchase a Sauerkraut maker: I didn’t want to spend £££ before I knew whether I was any good at making Sauerkraut, after all.
So here’s how it works:
- Cut your cabbage into four quarters and cut off the tough centre. Leave some of the outer leaves for later. Then cut the cabbage into thin strips, whether by muscle power alone or machine-supported.
- If you want a little extra tastiness: add strips of apple and/or horseradish.
- Put the cabbage (and other ingredients if using) into a large bowl. Add salt (about 2% of the weight of the cabbage plus any other ingredients). Then add caraway/cumin seeds and juniper berries, if you fancy. Just don’t overdo it, as a little goes a long way…
- ‘Knead’ the cabbage until it feels moist. Or just whack it with a pestle.
- Fill the cabbage into large jars, with lids that can be closed firmly. Really squash the cabbage in, so that there are no air pockets. The moisture should rise to the top. Stop roughly 5 cm/2 inches before you reach the top. Place one of your large leaves that are left over from Step 1 on top of your mixture.
- Then add weights – clean stones should do the trick. I used the earthenware ‘pebbles’ that you can buy for blind baking. You could use marbles, too. The point is that the cabbage (including the large leaf on top) should stay submerged in the salty liquid.
You’ll see different tutorials giving you different advice of whether to close the lid completely, close it, but not to screw it shut tight, or leave the jar off altogether. I’d filled my jar to the top and closed it firmly, but bubbles and some fluid escaped because the rubber seal had become porous. I think I’m going to get some new rubber seals for my jars and not fill them up to the rim next time.
- Then close the jar, add a sticker with the date, and leave the jar out at room temperature for two days, which should set the fermentation process going. After that, place it in a cool but not a cold location. My kitchen cupboard was perfect as the ambient temperature of my kitchen tends towards cool in the winter, but you may have a cellar, cool hallway cupboard under the stairs, etc.
- Then you need patience. It won’t harm the fermentation process if you take a peek every now and again, but you should wait about 6 weeks before the Sauerkraut is ‘ripe’. Yes, that’s why you put a date on the jar.
I opened mine after 5 weeks, and it tastes wonderful, although it’s less sour than I expected. It’s also turned out surprisingly salty, and I did use rather a lot of caraway seeds… I’ll now leave the stuff in the fridge for a while longer and see if the fermentation process continues. That’s if I can stop myself from guzzling down the lot – it is rather moreish, with a wonderfully rich flavour and nice, crunchy texture.
I think this may be the first step on an interesting journey. You can apply the same process to all sorts of vegetables. And I’m going to have to try a fair few batches before I’ll get my Sauerkraut to taste just like I want it to. I’m already looking forward to starting a new batch.