My love affair with all things pickled began at an early age. It might have started because of Thanksgiving, and my Grandmother’s obsession with stocking the perfect pickle platter. Thanksgiving food is so boring to me. Turkey, eh. Everything is white, and fatty, and eh. Except for pumpkin pie, pickles, and Grandma’s dressing, Thanksgiving is gross. I know it’s all supposed to be about tradition, and family, and blah blah blah….but really, people freak out about shit when it’s not perfect, and put a lot of pressure on it. Thanksgiving and Christmas. My two least favorite days. Except for pickles. And pumpkin pie, which will probably have it’s own post, once I make a vegan version that rocks harder than Norwegian black metal.
I bought this book a couple years ago that was all like “I’m skinny because of smoothies!” (load of crap), but yeah I bought it because I have a vagina. Anyway, this book had this recipe for “probiotic salad”, I’m reading this bullshit, and was like “this is fucking sauerkraut!” – except some fucked up version of it with ginger. So I made the stupid stuff – and it was bad. Some horrible hippie version of rotten cabbage with ginger thrown in there. It was a load of fucking crap, but, it did have a little bit of that sour awesomeness, that reminded me how much I like fermented foods. Things like Bubbies pickles, seriously, if your grocery store stocks those, fucking buy them, they’re awesome, you’ll never look at pickles the same way again.
Most people associate this awesome stuff with hotdogs, and Germans. Really this magical stuff wasn’t even in Germany until after Ghangis Khan invaded China. Fermenting foods has been a method of preservation for friggin’ ever. There were no refrigerators 2000 years ago, so the Chinese accomplished long term food storage by putting shit in rice wine. Once this magic was unleashed upon the world, it was used on ships to ward off scurvy because it’s all chocked full of vitamin C, and it also has magical gut properties because of lactobacillus (like yogurt).
Sauerkraut that you get in the grocery store in a bag has none of the good for you properties that traditional sauerkraut has. Like everything else, it’s processed with preservatives and additives, and then the shit is boiled out of it until it is really just a bag of fiber that tastes kind of sour. I can’t seem to find an ingredient list, but the next time you’re in the grocery store and you see a bag of kraut, look at the back. You’ll likely see a whole list of things, when really, the ingredients to traditional sauerkraut are salt and cabbage. It’s kind of like real bread. Real bread, this will be another post for another time, but real bread has 4 ingredients – flour, yeast, salt, water. Real sauerkraut has 2 – salt, cabbage.
You don’t have to buy a fancy stoneware crock, but it makes life easier. You can do this in mason jars, but you will need an attachment that allows the gas to escape, or be extremely vigilant in checking to make sure that your jars are open just enough to allow gas to escape, but not enough that it’s consistently exposed to bad bacteria (this is difficult, just buy a thingy to make it so you don’t make something that causes death, because botulism is no fucking joke). Personally, I go traditional on my kraut, and I have the $90 fermentation crock. It keeps the smell, mess, and danger of botulism to a minimum, and it’s pretty. I do have a couple of the mason jar attachment things for when I make Kimchi, because I usually make that in smaller batches – although, if I find a better vegan recipe, I might just break out the crock for that too. If you choose to just cram it all in a jar, which is totally doable, find a corner of a cabinet, and line it with towels, and be prepared to change out those towels on a daily basis.
How to make real fermented sauerkraut (sour cabbage)
Coffee (no really you’re going to need this, at least 2 cups of the good french press kind)
10-15-ish lbs of cabbage. if you choose a mixture of purple and green, you get pink kraut, this last time I had 2 purples, and 7 greens.
Quality sea salt, I have a special affection for grey sea salt, but really you can use any kind so long as it’s not regular table salt or any salt with an additive (a lot of salts have additives to prevent caking). Get real sea salt. Once you start buying real salt, regular table salt starts tasting metallic.
A bottle of wine (or other preferred libation) – for after, trust me, you’re going to need it. And don’t even think that this is a drinking project, do not open that fucking bottle until the end. This is the hardcore shit right here. If you start imbibing, you’re going to get through 4 cabbages and be like “fuck this shit”, and then you end up with a bunch of leftover cabbage, and the cabbage that you’ve already shredded rots instead of ferments because you pass the fuck out on the couch before finishing. But I don’t know anything about that.
About 4-5 hours of time, with enough physical energy to shred and squeeze 10-15 lbs of cabbage. Your hands, back, and feet are going to hurt. For real.
1) Chug 1 cup of coffee, and prepare the second cup.
2) Wash and dry your kraut receptacle thoroughly. Make sure that it is free of pet/people hairs and fibers. Wash it with the hottest water possible. It’s impossible to sterilize the gigantic fermentation crocks, but if you’re doing this in mason jars, run that shit through the dishwasher, and then prior to packing, dip them in a boiling water bath. I’m a lady of science, and I respect pasteurization with a lot of things, but I also know that our gut microbes have been severely damaged by the food industry. We need bacteria, this is a way to get good bacteria. Don’t be fucking stupid with it though.
3) Reserve clean outer layers free of any type of spoilage from your cabbage. I usually pull off 2 per head.
4) Shred your cabbage. This is going to be done in batches, using stoneware bowls – or ceramic. I don’t remember right now why you’re not supposed to use big metal bowls, but I do this in giant ceramic mixing bowls. I have two, a small one for measurement, and a large one for salting and squeezing. You don’t have to have a cabbage shredder, but it does make things a hell of a lot easier. I usually just use a kitchen knife to cut my cabbage into approximately 1 mm strips and chunks. When you have 1 lb of shred, put it in your large bowl and sprinkle it with 2 tsp of sea salt – approximately – don’t go over though, you want to preserve it, but you also don’t want to retard the bacteria. Coarse grey sea salt like the kind I use doesn’t really measure out pretty. It’s also kind of wet, and I don’t pack it down. I just stick the scoop in, draw out about a tsp. and then sprinkle. Shred another pound of cabbage, add it on top of the first pound, and then sprinkle salt.
5) Massage your cabbage. If you notice, I did not include water in my list of ingredients. You shouldn’t need it. The salt draws the water out of the cabbage. This process has begun prior to you adding the second lb of cabbage. Massage the salt all up in the 2 lbs of cabbage, and start shredding your 3rd lb. Once the 3rd lb. is shredded, a fair about of water has been expelled from your first 2 lbs of cabbage. You’re going to grab a handful, and squeeze the shit out of it. I mean squeeze. You want to pack it as tight as possible in your hands, while retaining the water in the bowl. KEEP THAT FUCKING SALT WATER – KEEP IT. Once you have a good handful squeezed, pack it in to the intended receptacle as tightly ass possible. Continue to do this until the bowl is empty, and then add 2 more lbs of shredded cabbage to the bowl – salt – repeat – retaining the water left behind. This is important.
After last nights shred fest I had at least a gallon of water squeezed out. You really shouldn’t need to add water to your jars when you’re done, but if you do, DO NOT USE TAP WATER. This is very important. Tap water has chlorine, which retards bacterial growth. Bacteria is what is needed to ferment this shit. If you use tap water, your cabbage will rot and not ferment, and you will end up with a pile of slimey fart goo, and not delicious sauerkraut.
Once your receptacle(s) are packed. and this is really where the fermentation crock is nice, there is just one thing to deal with, not several, press down with your hand or another object just to make sure that everything is packed in as tightly as possible.
If you are using a fermentation crock: Place the leaves you’ve reserved on top of the shredded cabbage, kind of like a saran wrap layer, blocking it from the outside as much as possible. Then apply your weights, I really need to order more weights, I only have one set, and really what you want to do is make it so that there is no chance that the gasses released can move your cabbage shreds from the bottom of the pot. Right now I put down the full leaves, to keep things down – then I put in a round tupperware lid, I put the weights on that, and then I jam a square tupperware in there in a way that the corners are trapped by the top of the crock. Basically, you’re preventing expansion. When things ferment, the escaping gasses cause expansion, expansion allows air in, air has additional bacteria, additional bacteria will cause rot rather than fermentation.
If you are using Mason jars: Make sure to pack the jars as full as possible, leaving about an inch to an inch and a half from the top. You can use the reserved leaves by tearing a piece to cover your shreds, and then rolling up the remainder into a tight ball to place on top. The pressure from the lid pressing on this ball should be sufficient.
Whichever method you use, I cannot emphasize enough, that you make sure that your shit is packed as tightly as possible. CONTROL YOUR SHIT. PACK YOUR SHIT, Think like you’re going to Europe for a year with only a backpack. PACK YOUR FUCKING SHIT.
Once your shit is packed, add your cabbage water. You’ll notice that when you’re squeezing and massaging, that this water is kind of foamy. That’s the exotoxins from helpful fermenting bacteria! I get stoked when I see that. That’s the beginning of the fermentation process. Microbiology is fucking RAD! Anyway, fill your jars or your crock with your water and seal them up.
I let mine sour in my crock for about 2 weeks, you can do the whole thing where you break open the receptacle and taste it, but that is just potentially exposing it to more bacteria.
When the 2 weeks are up, I open up my crock, take out all the bullshit weights, and start loading my kraut into jars, keeping it packed tightly, and then I add a little bit of the cabbage water – just a little, you really don’t need but a couple tablespoons. This is where it’s easier if you’re doing the jar method. Take out the folded cabbage leaf balls, stick it in the fridge. Your kraut will continue to sour, just at a much slower rate. Back in the day people just buried their jars/crocks etc, or moved them to the cellar. I know with kimchi, they would pack up the crocks, bury them, and leave them for months before retrieval. I have a refrigerator, so I just stick the shit in the fridge.
This should keep for a very long time. I don’t have an exact time frame to give you, but common sense should tell you that if anything looks weird, or is slimey, or a totally wrong color, DON’T FUCKING EAT IT. I make kraut once or twice a year. I add it to salad, or put it on a dish as an appetizer, or just eat it because it’s delicious.
Anyway, that’s the basic food fermentation method. It’s probiotics, in your house, for super cheap. And it’s so delicious.
I think after this crock is done I’m going to maybe try bubbies style pickles – that is if I can find pickling cucumbers out here. Haven’t found those yet.
For fun, if you want an awesome reading assignment, read A History of the World in 6 Glasses it talks all about fermentation and how the first human beverage was not water, but beer. Fermentation is the foundation of humanity. For serious. For science n’ shit.