I read about it on Lou's Penny Pinchers Pantry Blog; making Sauerkraut at home. It seemed easy enough and I thought it worth a try. Since my cabbage never made it in the garden this year, I picked up a nice head from my favorite local produce stand. Mom and I attempted to use my little mandolin to shred it, to no avail. The enormous head of cabbage we chose just would not fit on the blade neatly. As always, my ever helpful prep artist, Mom finely chopped that whole head of cabbage by hand. I can see now why people invest in (or rig at home) full sized slaw slicers.
As Mary Lou teaches in her blog, the kraut is easy to make. We just chopped it like we would have for cole slaw and packed it as tightly as we could into quart jars. We used the pestle from my grandmothers conical food press to aid in the packing. I thought maybe there was some magical process to making this traditional treat, but I was sorely mistaken. The magic ingredient is actually a process - fermentation. After packing the jars as tightly as we could, we added some canning salt and filled the jars with hot tap water. Next, we used a canning bubble releaser to remove as much air as we could from the jars, giving them a little wiggle every now and then to encourage the air to escape. Last, we applied a new lid and ring, tightening to finger tight.
Because the process calls for setting the jars outdoors in a protected location, I asked Mom to take them home with her to put in her pole barn to "work." I didn't know how much smell there would be and I didn't want it in my attached garage. Setting them outside would have surely meant their demise, as I have mischievous raccoons about. She agreed and transported them home for their two week cycle.
Once she had them home, she loosened the lids as instructed to give the fermenting fluids and gases room to escape. She cleverly set them on a tray and then set that inside a shallow storage tub to prevent any of the juice from ruining the surface they were setting on. This worked beautifully, as it did indeed catch the juice and kept the jars safe from marauders and curious critters inside her pole barn. After just two days, the fermentation process was apparent and the color of the cabbage had begun to change. It was beginning to look golden, rather than soft green. The smell was nothing like I expected (not so bad at all) and I began to get really excited about the results. After two weeks, the fermentation had ceased and it was time to clean up the jars and seal them! Mom washed the outsides of the jars, the lids and rings, wiped the top of each jar (so nothing prevents a seal) and topped off the water level in each jar to the proper headspace. Just like that...we have four quarts of homemade sauerkraut in the pantry. She tried it and said it is not like store bought kraut...she actually likes it! :) The color has become a really nice gold and the aroma is delicious! I can't wait to get it out at our next cookout for adding to some tasty turkey dogs! Until then, it has assumed its position on the pantry shelf.