I live in a barn. Between the barn and my little house is a mud room. It’s a liminal place: half barn, half house. These days, it’s where I keep all my tack, tools, and wild/crafting materials for the camps that I run. The counter is generally littered with things that need to be put away. Like that unidentified bracket fungi that smells like apricots… and the bags of sand and gravel from October’s Fairy Gardens.
Because I keep it at about ten degrees all winter (to keep the various stored items happy and the pipes from freezing) the mud room is also where I throw all the veggies I pull out of the garden and procrastinate about dealing with. One morning a few weeks (when I had to remove 6 large pumpkins from the top of the washing machine so I could do a load of laundry) I realized things were out of hand. The pumpkins were still too intimidating. I couldn’t quite look them in the eye. Plus they were in great shape so there was no need to rush processing them. The cabbages on the other hand… and the bowl filled with unwashed root veggies… oh dear. Definitely starting to go. I cut away the rotting bits from the cabbages, washed the salvageable carrots and beets, and then did the only responsible thing: I made Kraut.
Sauerkraut is the best way to make a large volume of cabbage store in as small a space as possible. The lactic acid fermentation process loads it with helpful wild gut bacteria, boosts its nutritional value, and enables us to store it for a long time. It also makes a boring vegetable delicious. ‘Kraut- while traditionally just cabbage, salt and water- is also flexible and can accommodate the addition of a wide variety of veggies and flavours. For mine, I used the 3 small heads of cabbage, two handfuls of carrots and beets, kale stalks and leaves from Four Beat Farm, and two wild apples that I picked on the way home from Clinton last summer. For flavour, I added a small thumb of ginger, a handful of dried Saskatoon Berries, and five Juniper Berries.
- First, shred or chop your cabbage. If you are going to play with adding other veggies, make sure you keep about 75% cabbage to make sure achieve a good lactic acid ferment. You add use almost anything you can think of to flavour your ‘Kraut. Caraway seeds. Black peppercorns. Seaweed. Dried fruit. Spruce tips. Citrus zest.
- Add salt, and mix/rub it well into the veggies with your hands. You want to macerate your cabbage, as you want the salt to break down the cell walls and begin to release water. How much salt should you add? Well… more than you think you should. The salt acts as a preservative, and will help your ‘Kraut keep its texture so it doesn’t ferment down into a goopy mess. Taste your cabbage/veggie mix. It should taste quite salty. As you rub them, the veggies should start to shine a little bit, as well as moisten and soften.
- Pack your crock! I use a small pottery crock I found at a thrift store. You can also pack your ‘Kraut into a large mouth Mason Jar. You can use utensils for this, but I prefer to use my fist. It’s fun to punch your food, and you can put more pressure on the ‘Kraut. You want to REALLY mash it down so that all the air pockets are squished out and it starts to release water. Add more handfuls of cabbage/veggies, and press down. Continue in this way until all your Kraut-to-be is in the crock. You should have enough water that’s been released at this point that it covers the top of the ‘Kraut when you apply pressure.
- Because you can’t stand there squishing it forever, you need to add weight to the top off your ‘Kraut. The ‘Kraut needs to stay submerged in its own juices so that it doesn’t mould as it ferments. (Fermentation=good, mould=bad.) I use a large class coaster that’s a little smaller than the diameter of my crock, topped with a Mason Jar. You can also use rocks as weights, provided they’re clean! Then you can cover the top of your crock with cheesecloth or a dishtowel to keep out dust and mould spores but still let it breathe, which is essential for the Lactic Acid fermentation process. If you don’t have enough juice that’s been released from the veggies to keep your ‘Kraut submerged, you can top it up with a little water or brine.
- Wait and taste! How long it takes your ‘Kraut to be done depends on how warm your environment is, and how tangy you like your ‘Kraut. The usual window is one to four weeks. The longer you let the fermentation go, the stronger the flavour will be, and the more beneficial bacteria you will cultivate. However, the longer you wait the softer your veggies become. If you keep tasting the ‘Kraut as it progresses, then you will be able to stop the fermentation it when it reaches your favourite balance of flavour and texture.
- When you’re smitten with your ‘Kraut, take it out of the crock and compost any bits with surface mould. (Sometimes a little ‘Kraut will stick to the sides of the crock and turn white and fuzzy, but the rest of the batch that is still submerged will be fine). I pack mine into clean half pint jars and keep them in the fridge. This stops the fermentation process, but does not kill any of the lactic acid and other goodness.
- Enjoy! Yum. Cleaning up and making more space was never so delicious…