Sauerkraut is pickled white cabbage.
Finely sliced cabbage is placed in a stone crock, a hardwood keg, or barrel and layered with salt. As the layers are built up, they are pounded down with a wooden mallet. Then the layers are covered with a clean cloth, a board, and a heavy stone.
The mix is set aside in a cool place to ferment. In a few days, brine, tiny bubbles, and a layer of scum will rise above the cloth. The brine and scum are removed every couple of days until the bubbles no longer appear. Then the kraut is made.
Sauerkraut is said to have originated somewhere in ancient Mongolia or China where nomadic horsemen learned to preserve cabbage in brine so that they would have a ready meal on their far-flung journeys.
The Mongols and the Huns brought their pickled cabbage to Europe in the fourth century. There it evolved into sauerkraut in Germany and Alsace. Sauerkraut means sour cabbage in German. There is a similar dish in Manchuria and China today. It is called suan cai which means sour vegetable.
- Remove ragged or tough leaves from the white cabbage head.
- Shred the cabbage fine. Use a shredder or an old fashioned “kraut board.”
- Weigh the cabbage. You will use 2 teaspoons of pickling salt for each pound of cabbage.
- Place a layer of salt in the container: a sauerkraut crock, stone crock, or hardwood keg.
- Place 2 or 3 layers of shredded cabbage over the salt.
- Place a second layer of salt over the cabbage.
- Continue layering until you are 4 or 5 inches from the top of the container.
- Pound the mix gently with a wooden mallet.
- Top with a layer of salt.
- Place a clean hardwood board or a plate over the top of the cabbage and weigh it down with a rock or other weights.
- Tie a clean muslin cloth or layers of cheesecloth over the top of the container.
- Store in a cool place (45 to 60°F) to ferment.
- In a few days, a brine, tiny bubbles, and scum will appear above the board or plate.
- Skim the brine and scum away every couple of days until the tiny bubbles on longer appear. This could take a month.
- When the bubbles no longer appear, your sauerkraut is made.
- Sauerkraut can be spiced as you make it with juniper berries, peppercorns, bay leaves, caraway seeds, dill, or allspice.
You can not freeze sauerkraut. So it is best to store it in vacuum-top canning jars.
- Fill each vacuum-top canning jar with juice and kraut to within a half inch of the top.
- Wipe the sealing edge. Dip the metal disk lid in boiling water, place on top, and screw the metal band tight.
- Place the canning jars on a rack in a deep kettle and cover with hot water.
- Put the lid on the kettle and bring to a gentle boil for 35 minutes.
- Remove the jars from the water and set on a drying rack or wooden counter and cool for 12 to 24 hours.
- Serve steamed sauerkraut with pork, sausages, ham, turkey, boiled dinners, duck, or any meat.
- Serve sauerkraut raw as a relish or condiment with meat dishes, bratwurst, or hot dogs.
- Serve sauerkraut as a salad: dress with oil and onions; combine with a vinaigrette sauce, mayonnaise, or Thousand Island dressing to taste.
- Serve cooked sauerkraut with potato noodles.