This week, I launched an indiegogo campaign to pursue an area of food and life that is absolutely fascinating. This, of course, is fermentation. If you haven’t seen my campaign yet, please check it out and donate! Every little bit helps so much!
If you’re a novice fermenter, sauerkraut is a great place to begin. Sauerkraut is a lacto ferment meaning that lactobacillus among other bacteria are produced during the transformation from cabbage to kraut. Lactobacillus is found in many fermented products such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, kosher pickles, and is freeze dried to put in probiotic supplements. A byproduct of lactofermentation is acetic acid which acidifies the kraut and gives it the tangy, sourness that makes it so delicious.
This acetic acid also keep harmful bacteria from growing. Sandor Katz, in his book The Art of Fermentation, discusses the safety of vegetable fermentation with Fred Breidt,a microbiologist for the USDA. Breidt is quoted as saying, “As far as I know, there has never been a documented case of food borne illness from fermented vegetables. Risky is not a word that I would use to describe vegetable fermentation. It is one of the oldest safest technologies we have.”
This being said, sometimes you will get some strange growth on the top of your vegetable ferment. Usually, this happens when vegetables aren’t completely submerged in a briny liquid. Don’t eat the strangeness. Instead, just skim it off and usually the layer of kraut below will be just fine. If it looks good and smells good, eat it. If it looks moldy or slimy or smells bad, then don’t eat it. Trust your senses.
Ruby Red Sauerkraut
Makes approximately 1 quart
1/2 shredded green cabbage
1/2 shredded red cabbage
1 beet, cut into small strips
1 teaspoon salt
Chop or shred vegetables. Put the bunch in a large bowl. Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt (or more or less). Massage or beat with some sort of wooden implement. If you make a lot of kraut, you may be interested in investing in a kraut pounder. Yes, they actually make these! Massage until the cell walls begin to release liquid and when you squeeze a handful of cabbage, liquid emerges. Then, stuff the cabbage into a clean, quart size mason jar. Put a layer in and smush it to the bottom. Continue doing this until the jar is a tightly packed as possible. Hopefully, at the end of this process they’ll be enough liquid in the jar that the top layer of vegetables in submerged. If there is not, add a few tablespoons of saltwater to submerge the vegetables. Then, put a lid on your jar and set in on the counter. After three days, begin tasting your kraut. Some people like it young and some people like it after 7-10 days or even a few weeks or months. If it’s hot outside, the kraut will ferment faster. If it’s cold, it will ferment slower. Usually, kraut that is fermented for several months is made during cool seasons like fall or winter. When you like the taste of your kraut, start eating it and move the jar to the refrigerator. The cool temperature of the refrigerator will help slow fermentation down to a crawl. Fermented vegetables will keep for several months in the fridge.
Fermenting is fun. It’s like growing a microbial garden on your kitchen counter. Or as I used to tell the kids I taught to make sauerkraut at camp, we’re making bug traps. Catch em, grow em, and eat em!