Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Lacto-Fermented Sauerkraut; the real thing

This is the easiest and tastiest way to preserve cabbage and get that all satisfying lactic acid, cabbage juice, which tastes kinda like vinegar but isn't. Lactic acid is much more satisfying and healthful and not as "sharp" as vinegar. This process comes from Sally Fallon's book, "Nourishing Traditions". I tried the large-ceramic-crock-container with plate-and-stone-on-top version and it sometimes worked and most times didn't. This process works every time I've tried it and it's easier.
You will need...

1 head of cabbage organic or from your garden
1-2 clean, wide-mouth quart jars
3-4 TBS whey from yogurt ( see previous blog about lacto-fermentation)
1 TBS Real Salt or other natural, high mineral salt
chopping board, large knife, meat pounder, spatula to fit quart jars and large plastic or glass bowl

According to Sally Fallon, this making of sauerkraut goes back in time indefinitely and sometimes involved the whole village or family. Lacto-fermented vegetables were a staple in the diets of our ancestors. They didn't realize they were nurturing friendly, tiny, living organisms, they just followed old, handed-down traditions and got foods that tasted great and were very health promoting and would sustain them through the winter.

The first step is chopping and it is just messy. If you do this right, cabbage will fly all over and on the floor and counter...everywhere. Don't try to coral it and be tidy, just chop, cut and slice. Don't chop the core, just through it away. Clean up later.

As you chop and cut, load the bowl and sprinkle about a third of the tablespoon of salt over it. Chop some more, layer the cabbage and salt. Do this until the cabbage is mostly in the bowl. All the salt should be in the cabbage. Pounding the cabbage with the meat pounder will start the juice to flow. With a large spoon scoop the cabbage into the wide-mouth quart jar. Use another tool like a spatula to pound and chop the cabbage further. You want the cabbage to fit very tight in the jar with salty juice submerging it. My black, heavy meat pounder fits the wide-mouth jars so I use that and a spatula to further break down the cabbage.

The cabbage I had today was really big so I was prepared with a second jar. My pounded, salted, chopped, cabbage filled one jar but partially filled another jar. For the lacto-bacillus to work it's magic, it needs to be under the salty water with very little exposure to air and oxygen. Cabbage coming from the garden will naturally have lacto-bacillus bacterium on it even when rinsed with plain water and this cabbage should ferment just fine, but.....to be sure we add the 3-4 tablespoons of whey which have living lacto-bacillus in it. The whey can be added as you are pounding the cabbage in the bowl or in the jar. Bottles should be filled to within 1 inch of the top and then sealed with the rubber lined lid and band.

To "seal" my second, partially filled jar, I found that using a "scooby", or mushroom from my Kombucha does the trick very well. I ferment green tea called Kombucha. (In the above photo, the "scooby" is in the dish on the cutting board. It is a gelatinous material made by the microbes to protect their environment) The synergistic microbes of Kombucha are different from the lacto-bacillius used in fermentation but they seem to be compatible. The "scooby" grows to fit the inside of the jar. I think they feed on the sugars in the cabbage juice. They tolerate the salt as well as the lacto-bacillus.

I'm placing the "scooby" in the partially filled jar then I tighten a lid like the other jar.

These jars will sit at room temperature for 3 days and allow the bacillus to grow, then they will go into cold storage for at least 3 weeks. Label the jars with date.
Lids should be tight otherwise during the 3 day incubation, liquid will seep out. Vegetable ferments can be opened and eaten withing 3 weeks of cold storage and should be completely consumed by 2 months after opening. Unopened cold storage vegetables can be stored for several months I am told but have not let mine go that long. After 3 weeks I cannot wait any longer; they are opened and eaten.

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