Handmade Monday: Super Crock of Sauerkraut!

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I have fallen prey to the call of sauerkraut. The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz is egging me on! For years I’ve been an on-again, off-again, make-small-batches-of-kraut-in-Ball-jars-and-inhale-the-contents kind of girl, but this time I fear I’ve fallen hard. Slipped off the sauerkrauting deep end… I have my dear mother to thank :). When we went to Lehman’s a couple weekends ago, she insisted I pick out a crock as an early Christmas gift! I may have had to wipe a little bit of drool off my chin as I browsed the options. I settled, at long last—after a great deal of careful examination of the available crocks and a little loop around the store to clear my head and think about whether or not this one was actually the right choice for me (ummm, YES!)—on this beauty.

There were smaller crocks and larger ones. Mom was leaning towards a larger version—five gallons—but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to lift the darn thing after filling it. Also, the sheer size made me wonder if I’d be scared to experiment with new recipes; if something went wrong, I’d end up losing an enormous batch.

There were cheaper options, but once you add the purchase of a set of weigh stones and a lid (included in the crock I got, but not in the cheaper options), the price was comparable. Plus, the two gallon German fermenting crock that I ended up with is designed with a little moat around the top ledge of the crock. You fill it with water, creating a seal and keeping the icky outside invaders away during the fermentation process. It seems like a good idea! Many thanks to my amazing mother for her incredibly awesome and thoughtful gift!

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The process of making sauerkraut is really simple. I like Cortido (Latin American Sauerkraut), and this is my variation off of the recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Nourishing Traditions. If you’ve followed my blog for any amount of time, you know that recipes=suggestions (probably why I don’t bake much!), so feel free to make little adjustments according to your personal tastes or the availability of ingredients; I do!

For a single batch of this sauerkraut I used:

1 large head of cabbage, thinly shredded
1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
2 tsp of dried oregano
1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon of sea salt (2 tablespoons if you don’t have whey)
several tablespoons of whey (optional)

1. Put the cabbage, onion, crushed red pepper, oregano, sea salt and optional whey into a large bowl. (I always use a stockpot for this step because it has high sides which prevent cabbage bits from flying all over the place as I pound!)

2. Pound the mixture with a pestle, occasionally mixing the ingredients, until the cabbage is soft and juices are released. For me, this takes about 10 minutes.

3. If you don’t have a crock, pack the cabbage mixture tightly into clean Ball jars, pressing down on the cabbage until juices cover the mixture. You can add some extra whey or a bit of water if you have insufficient amounts of juice. Make sure you leave about an inch of headroom in the jar to accommodate for the increase in carbon dioxide during the fermenting process.

4. Cover jars tightly with lids and leave at room temperature for several days. Transfer to fridge and enjoy!

I’ve heard different things about how long to leave your sauerkraut out at room temperature. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions, recommends about three days and that’s always worked for me in the past.

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This is my first time using a crock instead of Ball jars, so I’m kind of playing it by ear. I made five batches of sauerkraut, as described above, and packed them into the crock in layers. Then I covered the mixture with whole cabbage leaves and added the weigh stones to keep the sauerkraut-in-the-works submerged (see above) and away from oxygen. Then I filled the moat with water and put on the lid. Ta-da!

Now all I can do is wait. Wait and listen and wonder what’s going on inside. Fermentation is definitely underway. Even as I type, I hear an occasional gurgle as the crock “burps” itself, releasing the bubbles of carbon dioxide accumulating under the lid. This is a good sign. When the bacteria break down sugars in the cabbage and onions there are two by-products: Lactic acid and carbon dioxide. The rise in acidity preserves the food and kills off other bad bacteria trying to grow in the food. The sugars, broken down by the bacteria, are much easier for our bodies to digest. The beneficial bacteria (yay for probiotics!!!), still alive when the raw sauerkraut makes its way to your table, are excellent for your intestinal health. Assuming you like the intense, delicious flavor (I certainly do!), you can’t really lose…

I. Cannot. Wait. But I must. Ah, the agony… 😉

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Total side note, but isn’t this measuring spoon just about the cutest thing you’ve ever laid eyes on? I love it. This sauerkraut experiment was its maiden voyage. The spoons were totally a splurge purchase and I tend not to do that. I didn’t really NEED a new set of measuring spoons, after all. Yes, the plastic set I got at my bridal shower five years ago has seen better days; the 1/4, 1/2, and 1 tsp marks rubbed off ages ago,  but that just means deductive reasoning and I have grown very close! I didn’t really NEED new measuring tools, but I threw them in the cart anyway. These spoons will see plenty of good use and they make me smile every time I see them. Sometimes that’s all that really matters…

By the way, I was trying to get a little more information about Talisman Designs, the company that manufactures these cute little measuring spoons, and when I searched online for wooden measuring spoons I was amazed; there are some STUNNING wooden utensils out there. Wow. It’s an entire art form that I never knew existed. Lovely, lovely. Plastic has its place, but just look at all the wonderful artisan-crafted items there are available! Truly amazing. I, for one, am going to keep those sorts of things in mind during the upcoming holiday season.

Wish me luck with the sauerkraut! I’ll update in a few months, hopefully with a success story! Happy fermenting!

Oh, and if you’re wondering how my little Handmade Monday vinegar-making experiment went, I added an update to the end of that post. Check it out!

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