Monday, November 21, 2011

Grandpa Gunk's Kraut

This post is dedicated to my great-grandfather who, according to family lore, had a love of sauerkraut. My great-grandmother, however, did NOT like the stink of the kraut as it fermented. What does a happily married couple do to make this resolve this situation?

The marketplace will always provide a solution when there is a consumer demand... So Grandpa Gunk struck a deal with a local farmer. Grandpa Gunk would buy the fermenting barrel and pay for all the cabbage and salt if the farmer would make it and let it ferment in his barn. I don't know any more specifics (did he pick up kraut weekly, or just for special occasions), but I love that I know the story. My dad told it to me when he was visiting awhile back. He was visibly amused by the little sauerkraut party fermenting away on my kitchen counter.

Why sauerkraut?

Well... turns out I *LOVE* sauerkraut. Once I tasted it and realized it is sour + crunchy + salty I was hooked. Anyone else a recovering chip-a-holic? Anyone? It can't just be me... Sauerkraut is my new chip. I adore it. But I only like it made from purple cabbage and I only like it with cabbage + sea salt, no brine. If there is brine it takes me a long while to go through a quart jar of kraut because I am not totally wild about a salty kraut.

Sauerkraut is an amazing food. Through the fermenting process the kraut goes through three totally separate stages of bacteria. From Wikipedia (which I usually wouldn't quote but I don't feel like typing it all in from a book I have on fermenting foods):

In the first phase, anaerobic bacteria such as Klebsiella and Enterobacter lead the fermentation, and begin producing an acidic environment that favours later bacteria. The second phase starts as the acid levels become too high for many bacteria, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides and other Leuconostoc spp. take dominance. In the third phase, various Lactobacillus species, including L. brevis and L. plantarum, ferment any remaining sugars, further lowering the pH.

Did you hear that? Lactobacillus species? Without paying $20-$50 for a pack? I have worked out the price of my sauerkraut and it runs me roughly $4-$5 per quart jar and that includes some labor since I've turned over my kraut production to Chef Steve. It is a DEAL! Also, for people who are not yet healed enough to eat the raw cabbage they just use the sauerkraut juices which are plentiful since you can add some brine whenever they run low.

Oh, and kraut will last for a YEAR in your fridge once it is fully fermented. A year. Even if the power goes out and you have to toss other foods, your kraut will be fine. Hurricane? Earthquake? Power disruption? Your kraut is still ready for you, even when you have run out of every other food in the house.

Recipe please!

Like I said before, I am a bit picky with my sauerkraut. I take great joy and personal pleasure in the fact that sweet little Neely only likes *my* sauerkraut. Of course, it would be even better if my own children would say that, but se la vie! So here is my method, adapted from a recipe in Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

  • Buy heads of red cabbage that are heavy for their size and note their weight on your receipt. Heavy cabbage = high water content. Make sure to go right home and make kraut that day or the next - you don't want to pay for water and have it evaporate.
  • I use purple cabbage because it ferments faster and in my experience is more crunchy than slimy. It also is a lovely shade of hot pink which is awesome for our goal of "eating the rainbow" on our plate. I also have daughters so the hot pink was a nice selling feature. I tried a lot of different cabbages before I decided on my favorite so experiment and find out what you like! It is so good for you and there will be many, many opportunities to make kraut so just play with it. It is very forgiving, a wonderful quality in a food!
  • For every five pounds of cabbage use 3 Tbsp of Celtic brand Sea Salt, course grind. You will layer this into the jars with the cabbage as you pound.
  • Cut each head of cabbage into eighths, remove the white core from and finely shred each section.
  • Tightly pack the cabbage (+ sea salt) into wide mouthed quart jars using a heavy, wooden mallet of some sort. I use this masher
    my mom gave me to push tomatoes through a Squeez-O-Strainer and instead of it being stained red from tomatoes it is purple from the cabbage!
  • I recently noticed an ad for a "kraut pounder" which is as close to a description as I have ever heard. I have not bought from but I would in a heartbeat if I needed one. I have yet to find a good alternative although another Mama and I spoke to a local wood spoon carver last weekend about making an artistic kraut pounder so if anything comes of that I'll put up that info too!
  • Pound, pound, and pound some more. Get out the anger at the _________ that totally screwed up the ___________. Bring peace on earth (or at least to your household) by bottling up your rage and saving it for a weekly/bi-weekly kraut pounding session. As you pound you break down the cell membranes of the cabbage which will release the liquids into the jar. About the time your arms are crying out for mercy just ask someone else to take a turn, rest up, and then get back in the ring! We call that tapping out in our household. ;-)
  • Once the kraut is sufficiently pounded into the jars (I usually fill a quart jar close to the top, leaving an inch to an inch and a half at the top so there is room for the liquid/brine) find a juice glass, partially fill it with water, and set it on top of the cabbage in the jar. The purpose of this is twofold. First, it provides a bit of weight to help squeeze out the water from the cabbage. Second, it will keep the cabbage submerged below the water so it does not get moldy as it ferments.
  • Gather your jars together in a reasonably cool/darkish space and put a towel over top of them to keep dust (and flies / eggs, but I am not admitting to having flies in my kitchen) from settling on the top of your kraut.
  • Twenty-four hours after you make the kraut check to make sure there is water covering all of the cabbage. If your cabbage was a little dry then you will need to add brine so it will not get moldy as it ferments. If you need to add brine mix up some water with sea salt (~1 tsp of salt to a cup of water).
  • Every day or two lift the towel, push down on the glasses, make sure things are not bubbling over (you don't want to lose the precious juice) and make sure none of the cabbage is exposed to air. Sometimes I end up taking the water out of the juice glasses so they are not pressing so heavily (if the water is overflowing) and other times I have to add a little bit of brine as things dry out.
  • Your sauerkraut is fully fermented when you push on the juice glass and do not see bubbles making their way to the top of the jar. At that point screw on a lid and put it in the fridge. It'll keep for a year!

I hope if you too are a recovering chip-a-holic that this will satisfy some of the crunch you have missed. I find it is particularly helpful in keeping the kids healthy during cold / flu season. In Zi's class last year strep must've gone around a dozen times (at least it felt like it) and took out almost all the kids AND the teacher. The most amazing thing happened. ZiZi, who was previously very susceptible to all colds/flus/fevers/viruses did not get sick. At all. Not even a sniffle. I credit her daily portion of sauerkraut (mostly because once the spring came and I eased up on the sauerkraut and forgot it for a whole week she got sick).

Sauerkraut: It's not just for scurvy anymore!


  1. This post is so helpful!! I'm inspired and definitely making this. Thank you!

  2. Kati,

    Thanks for this :) Just sent a link to this post to my folks.

    Question about using coconut oil mixed with Espom salts in case a person can't bathe for 20 minutes, etc.. My dad's pain is severe enough that he can't get in and out of the tub to do the soaks you recommended for constipation. Once you mentioned mixing the epsom salts with coconut oil to get the same effect. Can you tell me exactly how to do that and anything else about it I should know? Thanks xoxoxox

  3. Jenny - I would try soaking just his feet in epsom salts for 20-30 minutes. He can keep it in a bucket and add hot water when he is ready to do another soak so the salts would last a little longer that way. If this is for constipation then I would recommend the lemon + water and also oral magnesium. Natural Calm is the brand we love and it is quite effective.

    The coconut oil + epsom is not my favorite thing. It works but it's kind of messy and annoying when the water + oil separate and you have to warm it up to use it. My friend Molly uses a magnesium spray that is magnesium chloride + water - you can buy the spray on or buy the magnesium chloride and add it to water and make your own spray. That stuff does sting a little so just to warn you!

    Wishing your dad much healing. I'm glad you liked the post.

    - Kati

  4. Oh, and if anybody wants more info on fermenting in general check out Sandor Katz's website:


  5. I'm curious to know what your thoughts are on cabbage as a goitrogen food for someone with subclinical hypothyroidism? I am so torn, started fermenting veggies with cabbage in them, even love it just raw, but then I worry that I might set my health back with my thyroid.

  6. Jessica - I actually take thyroid meds and can feel the fluctuation in energy/exhaustion throughout the month based on hormones / food (my meds are at a "just right level" so if I dip I can feel it). That said, I find that eating sauerkraut in condiment/small side dish quantities does not bother me. I actually notice the histamines moreso than the goitergenic properties.

    You can get a lot of the probiotic properties (and I assume none of the goitergen properties) of sauerkraut by drinking the juice - so maybe do that daily and eat small quantities of kraut here and there until you decide if your body is handling it...

    - Kati

  7. Elli posted this on the GAPS forum and since it has some good info I thought I'd link it here!
    Fermentation is anaerobic. This means it works when no air is present. Submerging the veggies in liquid, their own juice or water, ensures an anaerobic state.

    The sea salt used in fermenting knocks back the bad bacteria. The good bacteria, the pro-biotics, are not affected by salt.

    That said, keeping the veggies submerged in salty liquid is key. Use a narrow jar or rock on top of the cabbage to aid in submerging.

    Add brine, if nesseccary. I use 3 tbsp sea salt to 1 quart filtered water. It is okay to top it off as needed.

    Sauerkraut is done when the bubbling stops. This can take anywhere from 1 week to 6 weeks. Cold slows down fermenting. Warmth speeds it up. Too warm makes for a mushy ferment, which you can always pop into the blender and turn into a relish.

    You can tell the kraut is done by passing down on the cabbage. If it bubbles, it is still fermenting. If not, it is done.

    Hope that helps!