A friend had a bumper crop of cute lady apples (a type of crabapple). I picked a few quarts. Some went for a plum-apple jam. What to do with the rest? Ooooh! Sauerkraut! You don’t need to use crabapples. Any apple will do.
I love sauerkraut and this is really good sauerkraut. This is a true sauerkraut, fermented for about 3 weeks (you can make it more or less tart by varying the ferment time). At 3 weeks, it’s crunchy and tangy perfection. The apples do not make the sauerkraut sweet. The sugars in the apples are food for the bacteria, making it tangier than typical. Which is just fine with me!
Some notes on making sauerkraut:
- You are going to need a good sized crock or plastic container. You don’t make small batches of sauerkraut. This recipe requires a 2 gallon container. Crocks are traditional but they are awfully heavy. I prefer a plastic container, which you can get at restaurant supply stores (brand name is Cambro). It’s lightweight, easy to see what’s going on, and inexpensive. I discovered that the plastic does retrain some of odor of fermentation. From now on, it will be my sauerkraut bucket. At about $5, a very worthwhile investment.
- It’s vital that you massage the salt into the cabbage to get the cabbage to release its liquid. The resulting brine is where the magic happens. You want enough brine to keep the cabbage covered.
- On keeping the cabbage covered – it will float, and you will need to weight it down. I mention this here because you need to consider this when selecting your crock. You want to make sure that you can easily fit something – a plate, a bowl – into your crock that you can place a weight on. This will keep your cabbage submerged.
- Sauerkraut doesn’t need a lot of care during its ferment. You are supposed to spoon off any scum. I admit that I did not (I was away on vacation part of the time). Seems it turned just fine with my neglect. I never noticed anything funky growing in it, at least while I was home. Funky growths like mold don’t usually clear up on their own, so my guess is that nothing ever started. It helps if you keep everything well submerged in the brine.
- Temperature is important. Higher temps make for faster fermenting and more sour flavors. You also run the risk of bad actors invading. I started this batch in early September, when the temperature in my house was consistently in the low 60’s. You can make sauerkraut even when the temps are running around 70-72 but the fermentation will go faster. It’s not recommended that you try it in temperatures much above that. Cold temperatures slow the fermentation. At refrigerator temp (40 degrees), it stops entirely. Given all this, I wouldn’t try making sauerkraut in the heat of summer, unless you have A/C and keep your house rather chilly!
- Many modern books say to use unrefined sea salt because of extra stuff in refined salt. I use pickling salt. There is nothing extra in pickling salt – no anti-caking agents, no iodine added. Just plain ole NaCl. It works and it’s cheap.
(makes about 1 gallon)
3 Tablespoons pickling salt
7 1/2 pounds green cabbage (about 1 1/2 large heads)
1 3/4 pounds apples, thinly sliced
1/2 pound onions, thinly sliced (1 medium)
5 teaspoons fennel seeds
Peel off the large outer leaves of the cabbage and reserve. Cut the cabbage into 1/4’s, core and shred. Place 1/2 the cabbage in a large bowl. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 Tablespoons salt and massage vigorously to release the juices. Don’t be shy. I split it into two batches because a) it’s a lot of cabbage, and b) when you are massaging the salt in, you need extra space so cabbage doesn’t go everywhere. Place the first 1/2 in another bowl. Repeat with remaining cabbage. Mix all the cabbage together with the apples, onions, and fennel seeds. Taste for salt. The salt level is somewhat up to taste. At 3 Tablespoons, I found it about perfect. But, you may want more.
Pack it all into your 2 gallon container. And I mean pack. No air bubbles and totally immersed in the brine. Place the large outer leaves on top. Then place a plate or bowl on top of that. Weight that down with something heavy – I used some heavy jars. Cover the whole thing lightly with plastic wrap. Don’t seal it tightly because you need to allow the CO2 a way out. Place your container on a rimmed sheet pan to catch over-zealous fermentation. Put the whole thing in a spot out of direct sunlight and where the temperature remains fairly constant, within the parameters discussed in the notes above.
Check daily for fermentation. You’ll know it’s happening when bubbles start to form. If any scum forms, skim it off and push down the kraut so it stays submerged. Same for any mold. For more troubleshooting tips, visit Fermentation Gone Bad. Lots of great tips and photos to help you out.
I let my sauerkraut go about 3 weeks. Your mileage may vary. Temperature, your local flora, and your own tastebuds determine when you say it’s done. Taste it and see what you think!
Once the sauerkraut is to your liking, pack into jars and refrigerate. This will stop the fermentation. Consume within a few months for best crunch. It will soften up as it sits.
Recipe proportions from Fermented Vegetables by Kirsten K. Shockey and Christopher Shockey, Storey Publishing, 2014.