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It’s cabbage harvest season, when the nights begin to dip down and days turn crisp, ushering in autumn. While summer harvests had us making coleslaws and cabbage leaf wraps with early-season varieties, now it’s time to harvest the late-season cabbages for storage and processing.If you don’t have a root cellar or cooler to store your cabbage harvest, the best way to preserve it is through lacto-fermentation — in other words, to make sauerkraut.Lacto-fermented foods are filled with probiotics to support a healthy gut biome. Unlike canning, which uses heat or pressure, lacto-fermentation uses salt to preserve food. As the salt content kills bad bacteria, lactobacillus (good bacteria) thrives and transforms the vegetables into a tangy preserve through a process of converting lactose and sugars into lactic acid.While you can use any cabbage to make sauerkraut, certain varieties are better suited to processing than others. Our favorite is Passat F1. Bred specifically for Holland’s kraut making industry, Passat F1 grows 6-8 lbs heads, which means you can make over a gallon of kraut from just one cabbage.A close second favorite is Capture F1, which grows 4-6 lb heads. Capture F1 doesn’t keep as long as Passat F1 in storage, so turning it into sauerkraut increases its storage time and adds value to the crop as a prepared food product. All you need for a simple homemade sauerkraut is sea salt and cabbage. My two favorites kinds of kraut, though, add a twist: curry and beets. Beet kraut is earthy and sweet, while curry kraut brings a beautiful golden color and adds the extra zing of spices.For beet kraut, try using Boro F1, who’s sweet flavor is delicious in kraut, or Cylindra, who’s shape makes processing easy.
How to Make Homemade Lacto-fermented Sauerkraut
5 lbs cabbage : 3 tbs sea salt (makes 1 gallon)
[ratio for smaller amounts, from Wild Fermentation]
For curry kraut add 1.5 tbs of curry
For beet kraut sub half the cabbage for beets: 2.5 lbs beets + 2.5 lbs cabbage
Glass jar, crock, or food-grade plastic bucket
Wooden pounder, or plastic gloves if pounding kraut by hand (this will protect your skin from irritation as you punch down salted cabbage)
Weight for the top of the crock/jar — can be a ceramic weight, a smaller jar weighted with water, or a plate. Be sure to use glass, pottery, or food-grade plastic—not metal.
[caption id="attachment_12109" align="alignright" width="236"] Fermentation expert Sandor Katz visiting High Mowing for an all-ferments potluck in 2013.[/caption]
Step 1 : Prepare
Shred cabbage with a knife, mandolin, or food processor.
Weigh out 5 lbs cabbage to 3 tbs sea salt.
For beet kraut, shred the beets with a mandolin or food processor, and weigh out 2.5 lbs beets plus 2.5 lbs cabbage. Mix the beets and cabbage thoroughly.
Step 2: Assemble
In a large bowl, sprinkle sea salt onto cabbage (or cabbage/beet mix) and mix thoroughly. Alternatively, you can add salt a little at a time directly into the jar/crock as you add cabbage. For curry kraut, sprinkle curry powder in at the same time as the sea salt.
Taking one or two handfuls at a time, pound the salted cabbage in the jar/crock, releasing water from the cabbage as you pound. Add more cabbage as the water releases and covers each layer. Continue until all the cabbage is pounded into the jar/crock and the brine is covering the top.
Weight the cabbage down under the brine with your ceramic weight, plate, or small jar. For lacto-fermentation to occur, the cabbage must be completely submerged.
Tightly cap the jar or place the cover on the crock. Every few days, lightly unscrew the jar to release pressure that builds up during fermentation.
Step 3: Let it ferment
Keep the fermenting kraut at room temperature. Taste test in 5-7 days. The warmer it is, the faster the kraut will ferment, while cooler temperatures slow the fermentation process down.
When it’s fully fermented, remove the weight and store the kraut in the fridge.
Try it with sandwiches, eggs, roasted chicken, or beef stew. Fermented kraut is a perfect side-dish to many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
Kate Spring is an organic farmer, mother, and chief inspiration officer at good heart farmstead in Worcester, Vermont. Fermentation photo courtesy of the author.