Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sauerkraut and other delicious treats

In the late Fall, just before everything freezes, the cabbages are harvested.  After enjoying bowl after bowl of fresh cole slaw and cabbage rolls stuffed with rice or ground pork, it was time to make Sauerkraut.

I'm always a little amazed by those folks who say that they don't like sauerkraut.  For me that's the equalivant to saying that you don't like cheese.  There are so many different types and so many flavors.  Today, I'll show you the basic recipe for the traditional Eastern European sauerkraut.

Ingredients:  cabbage; non iodized salt (I use canning salt)
Tools: chopping block, large sharp knife (please be careful), potato masher, food grade bucket w/lid, cheese cloth, large press & seal plastic bag.

 How many heads of cabbage do you need?  Of course this depends on how much you are making and how large the cabbage heads are.  In 2011, I made around 60 lbs with only two heads.  Each head was about the size the a bushel basket.  Once trimmed, was larger than a basketball.  2012 was a drier year so each head was only around eight pounds and about the size of a large softball.

The cabbage selected should be uniform in shape, have no discolorations or spots, and should not look dried out.

 Before getting started at all the chopping and squashing, take a look at the tools in your kitchen.  Many folks have large food processors.  If one is available to you, don't hesitate to use the shredding disk and save yourself from the potential hazzards down the road.  I only have a small six cup variety, so my options are limited.  If you are using a knife, please be very careful.  Before starting, clear your work area of any counter clutter, small fingers, and interested puppy noses.  Check the size of your knife to the size of the cabbage you are slicing.  If it is too small, you may end up cutting yourself or at least get very frustrated while chopping.  Next: sharpen your knife and wash carefully.
Gently remove the outer leaves exposing the slightly paler head.  Chop into managable sections, avoiding the bitter core in the center.  Take each section and slice into quarter inch segments.

There are lots of different containers available for curing.  Traditionally pioneers used nonreactive crocks with a wooden disk weight.  These can still be purchased from a variety of sources for those who are interested.  What I have found is that using a standard food grade bucket that has been throroughly cleaned works just as well.  Mine used to have frosting in it and was obtained from a local bakery.
 Place the shreds at the bottom of the bucket and sprinkle about a tablespoon of canning salt over it.  Add an inch or two more cabbage and sprinkle again with another tablespoon of salt.  The salt will draw the water out of the cabbage which will aide in the frementation of the kraut. 
Be sure to use non-iodized salt!  Salt with iodine in it will turn the cabbage black and not ferment properly.
 Now the fun part: with the potato masher, smash down the cabbage shreds as much as you can pressing out the air spaces.  If you have a child or partner that wants to help, this is a great place to have them join the fun!

Continue chopping, sprinkling, and smashing until the bucket is full.  Lay a piece of clean cheese cloth over the pressed, salted cabbage.  Fill a press and seal plastic bag with water, inverting it over the sink to check that it is completely sealed.  Gently lay the filled bag over the cheesecloth so that it completely covers corner to corner and weights down the contents.

 Gently cover with the lid to keep out dust and dirt while the mixture cures.  Don't forget!  Fermenting foods need to breathe.  Don't seal up the bucket too tight or place it where the air get stale.  Place the bucket in a cool, dark place, and forget about it for a couple of months.  Not really.  I write the date made on a sticky note and attach the label to the lid.  Periodically over the next few months, I take a peak at it to be sure it is fermenting properly and not growing mold or doing something unexpected.

After two or three months, the kraut is ready to can.  Heating and processing sauerkraut, stops the fermenting process.  It is the fermentation which gives the cabbage its sour flavor.  The longer the kraut sits and ferments, the more sour the taste.  When the cabbage has turned to kraut, it should translucent with no discolorations.  Black, red, or other signs of mold should be discarded.  The liquid should be clear.

When you first open the bucket, gently lift off the plastic bag and remove the cheesecloth.  I typically discard the top inch or so of the fermented cabbage to expose the lovely sauerkraut underneath.  Using my favorite tongs, the kraut is lifted out and placed into a large pot to heat while the large mouth canning jars are prepared.  32 pounds of cabbage produced around 10 quarts of kraut, including juice.  By using the freshest most succulent cabbage produced a great deal of juice.

For a change of pace, if you like a sweeter kraut, add caraway seeds to the jarred kraut.  By adding about a tablespoon full to the bottom, middle, and top, the flavors will slightly sweeten and become less sharp.

Each jar was filled and packed down before having a bit more liquid added to 'cap it off'.  As always, if canning, be sure to leave about a half inch of air space at the top for processing.  Gently tap the bottom of the jar release any bubbles, using a knife along the inside to bring them to the surface.   Wipe the lip with a clean cloth, seal, and process in a water bath for about 15 minutes.

What to do with all the kraut?  The following are all delicious options:
This is a really nice fresh alternative to cole slaw.

Good with ham or other cured pork.  A show stopper at our house!  BTW: this website has a lot of very good recipes.  Also try their sauerkraut and apples for a lovely sidedish.

German Chocolate Cake:
Most folks think there is coconut in it but not this time!  Amazingly good without tasting 'krauty'.

Life is too short not to enjoy good food. Try some sauerkraut today! 

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