The Milkweed Diaries

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Back to Basics

The thing about experimentation is that it is experimental. Experimentation by definition has unpredictable results.

I have experimented widely with sauerkraut over the past seven or eight years, adding various vegetables and spices and trying different methods, fending off mold and throwing in a wild card ingredient every once in a while. Let me tell you, some of those experiments have been disastrous. And some have been divine. Such is the nature of experimentation.

We grew Early Flat Dutch cabbage (pictured above) this year and I harvested some this week to make a bunch of kraut. Having nurtured this cabbage from seed through all manner of pestilence over the past six months, I was not willing to experiment with it. Instead of letting my creative juices flow, I decided to go back to basics and make some plain, old, traditional sauerkraut.

Inside the Early Flat Dutch

Here's the recipe, very simple, tried and true:


  • Five pounds or so of cabbage
  • 3 Tbs. high-quality salt
  • A scant or hearty handful of each: dill seed, caraway seed, and celery seed (adjust amounts depending on your flavor preferences)

  1. Shred cabbage. I do this with a knife, slicing very thinly to make long, crimped strips.
  2. Layer into a ceramic crock, adding a couple of teaspoons of salt and a couple of pinches of seeds after each layer of cabbage.
  3. After each layer goes into the crock, smash it. I use a potato masher for this. Some people use their fists or a heavy wooden pestle-like tool.
  4. Keep layering salt, spices, and cabbage and smashing until the crock is full or you are out of cabbage, whichever comes first.
  5. If there is not enough water released from the smashing, add water to cover and a little more salt. Weigh down to submerge (I use a plate and a mason jar full of water as pictured below). I also use leftover whole cabbage leaves under the plate to keep the shredded cabbage from floating and thus being exposed to air.
  6. Cover with a clean, breathable cloth, and allow to ferment! I like to taste it along the way, and the amount of fermentation time depends on conditions in the room and personal taste, but I like to let it go at least a month. Keep pressing down the weight whenever you think of it, and scrape off any scum that forms on top. Once it's nice and sour, enjoy!

Top layer of kraut weighed down before topping off with water.

Simple is good. Here's to plain, simple sauerkraut, a staple of old-timey food preservation and of my fall and winter diet. Sour, crunchy, salty. Yum.

See more on sauerkraut on Foodista, but don't follow their recipe and heat process/kill the kraut!
Sauerkraut on Foodista


jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Many thanks. My bride has done some of this in years past but doesn't get too excited about it. As a microbiologist and a sauerkraut lover, it's time for me to shoulder the load.

Aimee said...

Thank you so much for this simple, basic recipe. I intend to try it: my first foray into lacto-fermented foods (yogurt doesn't count, does it?)
Love the blog. Keep up the good work!