I was just out for a day-off walk with our new pup, and it was great to have the sun shining and buds appearing on the lilacs and other shrubs. As our plants’ juices get running again after the long cold winter, my thoughts turn to perusing the seed catalogs to plan this year’s garden. We have an ever growing forest behind us, so our sun and space for growing is limited. I try to think about what I might want to grow to ferment for the harvest to last through the winter, and two of my favorites are cabbage for kraut and beets for kvass, a fermented beet drink.
Now that the weather is warming, we can all get our green thumbs out of our warming gloves and look forward to taking advantage of our gardens’ bounty. Or, alternatively, we can purchase Organic cabbage from the market and make our own sauerkraut.
For the cost of a cabbage and little sea salt (or cabbage from your garden) you can make many jars of vitamin C and probiotic rich kraut. By fermenting your cabbage, you can enjoy the bounty from your garden throughout the coming winter. Making sauerkraut (cultured cabbage) requires a natural process called lacto-fermentation.
Lacto-fermentation is a form of food preservation that employs various lactic acid bacteria to convert sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid. The bacteria required for this food transformation are already present in raw cabbage (and in the air) so no special cultures are needed. Some sauerkraut producers will add starter cultures, cultured whey or just sea salt. If you have a jar of raw kraut from a previous batch you purchased at your health food store, you can use the leftover brine to support the fermenting process.
Foods preserved via lacto-fermentation can last several months in airtight containers in your refrigerator. The shelf-life can be extended dramatically by canning the sauerkraut but the heat involved in the canning process destroys much of the vitamin C and all live ”colon loving” cultures present in the raw sauerkraut.
In her book, Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon Morell provides some excellent instructions and historical background on the fermentation of vegetables and fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, fish and meat. Below is a Sauerkraut variation based on Fallon’s basic recipe.
Basic Recipe for Sauerkraut
• 1 quart wide mouth ”mason” jar
• 1 cabbage, medium sized (or ½ each red and green cabbage)
• 1 level tablespoon sea salt
• 4 tablespoons of cultured whey (optional)(for a dairy free recipe, omit and use twice the sea salt)
• 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds, dried dill weed, or juniper berries (optional)
In a large bowl, mix chopped cabbage with caraway seeds (or dill), salt and whey. The sea salt will help pull the juices from the cabbage and keep it crisp. The addition of whey supports the growth of beneficial organisms that will support improved colon inner-ecology. A great source of cultured whey is to save the liquid that accumulates in your yogurt containers when you buy a size larger than one serving. With or without the addition of whey the resulting kraut will be tasty and support optimal health!
Pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for a few minutes to release juices. Transfer a little at a time to the jar, pressing down firmly with the pounder. The pounding, and the salt will help form a brine as you squeeze the water from the cabbage leaves. You can put one of the outer cabbage leaves on top of the pounded cabbage. The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar to allow for some expansion. This process requires an anaerobic (or lack of oxygen) environment, so make sure the brine covers the kraut. Cover and keep at room temperature for three or more days before transferring to your fridge. The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately, but the flavor improves with age. I try to keep mine in the fridge for a couple of weeks, but can’t always wait. Do try this at home, Salud!
The Eugene chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation has traditional ”Krautpounders” available for sale online: http://krautpounder.com/buy-a-kraut-pounder/
Resources available at your library and at Natural Grocers: ”Nourishing Traditions” – Sally Fallon Morell with Mary G. Enig and ”Wild Fermentation” – Sander Ellix Katz
For more information on this and other health-related topics, come in to see me at the Eugene Natural Grocers store. We offer free classes and free one-on-one health coaching sessions, so call 541-345-3300. Find our store’s schedule of free classes at naturalgrocers.com/store-locations/eugene/