Alternate title: Adventures in Fermented Cabbage!
Our final summer preserving class centred around preparing kimchi and sauerkraut, which was a welcome break from the warm kitchens that canning can produce! Our instructor, Benjamin Lee, started off our class by discussing the history of fermentation as a preserving technique and moved on to the health benefits of pro-biotic foods and the value of do-it-yourself fermentation as a local strategy of resistance to the commodification, standardization, and mass-production of our culture.
In accordance to this sentiment, we all made our own non-standard variations to our kimchi and kraut. For the kimchi, we all started off with basic combinations of Napa Cabbage, daikon radish, green onions, garlic, carrots, apple and pear, which was massaged with salt until wilted. We then finished it off with miso or fish sauce and Korean chili pepper.
We were encouraged to get a little more creative when it came time to making our sauerkraut. Some folks like their kraut pretty traditional, but once we had a taste of Benjamin’s homemade kraut with ginger and seaweed we were all converted to experimentation! It was a lot of fun personalizing our own take-home batches with seaweed, apple, pear, and spirulina.
After the cabbage and our chosen flavouring ingredients were wilted in a bowl with some sea salt, the kraut got stuffed into jars and pounded just enough to submerge it in its own juice. It’s important to keep the vegetables covered by liquid to keep down the growth of mold and scum – a larger piece of the discarded cabbage core can be placed in the jar to help keep the level of the cabbage underneath the liquid. Each jar was then covered with parchment paper and sealed up. In about a week, we’ll all be able to taste the fruits (or cabbage?) of our labours!
Here is a very basic, traditional recipe for sauerkraut. This method is for a bigger batch, but feel free to use the general ratios and experiment! Regular glass jars can also be used – just make sure your cabbage is submerged by liquid and you’re good to go!
5 lbs cut cabbage (approx. 2 small cabbages)
3 Tablespoons Kosher or pickling salt (non-iodized)
- Wash and cut (or shred) fresh cabbage. Remove any outer leaves that are damaged.
- Salt and mix the cabbage in a non-metal bowl. Use 5 tsp of coarse pickling salt for every head of cabbage.
- Pack cabbage into a crock or food-grade plastic bucket. Pound the cabbage with a non-metal tool (such as a mason jar or rolling pin) – but, if you like your kraut crispy, be gentle. Water will emerge from the cabbage.
- Lay a plate, fitted to the size of your container, on top of the sauerkraut. On top of the plate, rest a weight (such as a clean rock, heavy jug or bag of water).
- Let stand up to 6 weeks (depending on how strong you would like your sauerkraut to taste). If you’re keeping your kraut at room temperature it may be done in as little as 3 weeks. Cooler temperatures (less than 18 degrees Celsius) will require longer fermentation, but some say it gives you better flavour. Keep tasting the kraut as the weeks progress and refrigerate it when it achieves the tanginess you like!