Even beginners can make their own fermented foods! Fermented Vegetables (Storey Publishing, 2014) includes in-depth instruction for making kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles, and then offers more than 120 recipes, using those basic methods, for fermenting 64 different vegetables and herbs. The recipes are creative, delicious, and healthful. The following section on large-batch sauerkraut is from Part 3, “In the Crock: Fermenting Vegetables A to Z.”
You can buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Fermented Vegetables.
The basic process is the same for a large batch of suaerkraut as for a small one. The differences have to do in part with the equipment needed to manage a vast pile of cabbage, especially before it breaks down, but the bigger factors are that the fermentation time is usually longer and the brine management duties are less (this is because the weight of the shredded vegetables with the resultant larger quantity of brine achieves a critical mass that helps keep a properly weighted follower in place). It is interesting to note that large batches need less manipulation for the cabbage to release its juices. If the cabbage is evenly salted, the mass, weight, and gravity help this happen on its own in a few hours.
Prep the cabbage in the largest bowl you have or try a Tubtrug, which is a large food-grade plastic vessel. Add salt as you go. This jump-starts the breakdown of the cell walls, releasing juices even before you begin to work at it.
Large-Batch (Homesteader) Kraut
• 40 pounds cabbage
• 1 cup unrefined sea salt
• 5 gallon fermentation vessel
1. To prepare the cabbage, remove the coarse outer leaves. Rinse a few unblemished ones and set them aside. Rinse the rest of the cabbage in cold water. Quarter and core each cabbage with a stainless steel knife. Using the same knife, a mandoline, or a rotary slicer, shred or thinly slice the cabbage and transfer it to a very large bowl or food-grade tub; if you don’t have another large vessel, you can mix right in the crock. As you slice, transfer the cabbage to the vessel, sprinkling a little of the salt onto each batch, then give the cabbage a toss to distribute the salt evenly.
2. When all the cabbage is shredded, continue to massage with your hands to evenly distribute the salt, then taste. It should taste slightly salty without being overwhelming. If it’s not salty enough, continue adding salt and tasting, until it’s to your liking. You should see plenty of brine accumulating in the bottom of your vessel. Cover the bowl with clean cloths and set aside for 1 to 3 hours to allow more brine to release.
3. Put 2 to 3 inches of cabbage into the bottom of the crock and press with your fists or a tamper to remove air pockets. Repeat with the remaining cabbage. When the vessel is packed, you should have pressed out all the air pockets and see a layer of brine on top. Leave at least 4 inches of space between the top of the brine and the rim of the crock. Arrange the reserved leaves, or another primary follower, on top. Add a plate that fits the opening of the container and covers as much of the cabbage as possible; weight down with a sealed water-filled 1-gallon jar. Usually this is enough, but after 1 to 2 days, you may need two or three jars.
4. Set the crock aside to ferment, somewhere nearby, out of direct sunlight, and cool, for 2 to 4 weeks. Check daily for the first few days to make sure the vegetables are submerged, pressing down to bring the brine back to the surface. If the cabbage is “lifting” above the brine or if it seems your brine has decreased, add more weight. You may see scum on top; it’s harmless, but if you see mold, scoop it out. Later in the process you may also see yeasts bloom; generally these can be left undisturbed until you’re ready to test your kraut.
5. You can start to test after 2 weeks. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s pleasingly sour and pickle-y tasting, without the strong acidity of vinegar; the flavors have mingled; the cabbage has softened a bit but still has some crunch; and the cabbage is more yellow than green and slightly translucent, as if it’s been cooked.
6. When it’s to your liking, spoon the ferment into smaller jars and tamp down, leaving as little headspace as possible. Pour in any remaining brine to cover. Tighten the lids, then store in the fridge. This kraut will keep, refrigerated, for 1 year.
More from Fermented Vegetables
Excerpted from Fermented Vegetables (c) Kirsten K. and Christopher Shockey. Used with permission of Storey Publishing. You can buy this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Fermented Vegetables: Creative Recipes for Fermenting 64 Vegetables & Herbs in Krauts, Kimchis, Brined Pickles, Chutneys, Relishes & Pastes.