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Monday, July 28, 2014

Makin Kraut

Had to go out and about today... Got a glorious head of cabbage at the fruit exchange for $1.95. So guess what? It's kraut making time :)

Kraut is a lacto-fermentation. Remember those yummy ass carrots? Same thing, veggie, salt, and mother natures preservation. And by luck, I happen to have a crock I can ferment in- thanks sis!


Here's the crock, weight plate, and that lovely head of cabbage.

Most folks only see a cleaned head of cabbage- just the head with all those wonderful outer leaves stripped off. I stripped off the outer leaves too, and bagged those up for some stewing greens. That left me with a 5 pound head to shred up. You want to use 1/4 cup of kosher salt per pound of cabbage, so it's important to weigh the head before you start shredding.

And right off the bat, you need to sanitize your crock and weight plate. Simple, some white vinegar and water, bring to a boil, and fill your crock up with the plate sitting on the bottom. Let it sit till it's needed. But sanitizing is necessary, to kill off anything that might be around- just like when you do canning, you sanitize the jars, even if they are freshly washed.

I used my serrated bread knife to shred the cabbage. Just a bit easier than using great-grandmas mandolin, though I wanted to use that instead. The bread knife is long and sharp, perfect for making those super thin slices. You want to stay within a quarter to dime thickness- over a quarter thick is just too darn thick, thinner is better. I halved, then quartered, then cut the quarters into eighths before cutting off the core section and shredding. The cabbage was rather big, so eighths made for easier shredding and better final shred lengths. 

Big ass bowl full of 5 pounds of shredded cabbage. Why use a bowl, and not just right into the crock? It's easier to mix the salt in this way instead of having to sprinkle in layers, and gives you a better idea on what your liquid yield is after wilting. And the cabbage all fluffy crunchy won't want to pack down into the crock, but after salt wilting it packs up right fine. I used 1 1/4 cups salt for the 5 pounds, keeping in the 1/4 cup per pound ratio. I placed a clean floursack dishtowel over the bowl during wilting to help keep out any bugs or nosy kitties. Gotta keep it clean!

So here's what it looks like after an hours wilting. I went for a stroll to check out the blackberries to kill time during this so I quit peeking at it. It's noticeably less fluffy, and pressing it there is no more crunch to it. If it had still been crunchy, I would have let it wilt longer.

Here all those 5 pounds are packed down into the crock. Packing is important, get the air out. Now, if I had layered and salted, this thing would have been super full and harder to manage and pack, harder to tell if the bottom was crunchy or not. So I took a couple handfuls at a time, packed them down, and repeat. And hell yes, you make sure you pour all the rendered cabbage juice into that crock too- that's vital. You can't really see it, but the juice is just barely up to the cabbage top. With the weight plate and a bit more break down, the cabbage will be fully submerged. Shouldn't need any saltwater addition.

Now for the weight plate. It's not the weight itself, but makes sure to evenly press all the cabbage down.

This is the weight- a quart bag full of saltwater. Just a couple tablespoons of salt and hot water. Why saltwater? Just in case the bag leaks, you are adding brine instead of water. And after an hour of the crock sitting like this, the liquid was well over the cabbage.

Then cover the crock with the floursack dishtowel to keep dust, bugs, nosy kitties out. Since we are having a rather cool spell right now, it can sit on the counter. If it turns hot, it will need to be taken down to the cellar. This fermenting does better under cool conditions- makes for a far tastier fermentation.

How do you know when the stuff is fermented? Well, during fermentation, there are bubbles, and once the bubbles stop, fermenting is done. This can take a couple weeks, but by keeping it cool and letting it ferment longer, you get a tastier kraut. I've seen some folks say it can be done in days, but slow and low is better as far as I'm concerned. So this will probably sit for a goodly month before I do anything else with it. Some folks just leave their kraut in the crocks till eating time, but alas, I only have one crock right now. So when it's time to take it out, I will either vacuum pack it for the fridge, or more likely, can the stuff in a hot water bath to make it shelf stable. That is, if there is any left over to store once we chow down on it :)

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