Sauerkraut: A Fermented Food Story of Flops and Failures

After four weeks in the crock, my sauerkraut is finished.

‘Tis the season for a busy, bustling kitchen, concocting a bunch of homemade goodies indoors. When the weather turns cooler, it’s much more comfortable to use the oven at length. I’ve also found that the cooler temperatures help sauerkraut-making to go much smoother. I’ve had past issues with bugs and yeast getting into my crock when it’s too warm inside.

So, last month, I started a batch of sauerkraut in my ceramic crock. I’ll be honest, I haven’t had much success with sauerkraut in the past. Sauerkraut isn’t a complicated food to make, or else it shouldn’t be, but I seem to excel at making every possible mistake. I guess I learn the slow way — through experience.

I weigh my cabbage before I put it into the food processor, so I know how much salt to add.

I’ll first tell you about my mistakes, so you don’t have the same issues if you ever set out to try your own batch. (Or, so all you savvy sauerkraut superstars can laugh at my flops.)

Mistake #1: I didn’t have enough liquid in my crock. The cut-up cabbage has to be completely covered in its own liquid in order to keep it from molding and to make sure it properly ferments. That was the mistake I made on my first batch. (I had to throw it out.) I now use a food processor to chop the cabbage, because I just find it is better at getting the vegetable to release it’s natural juices than when I cut it with a knife. 

I chop the cabbage into chunks before throwing into the food processor.

Mistake #2: I didn’t keep my water-seal filled with water. My crock has a water-seal, which supplies extra protection to keep bugs out of your batch. However, the water evaporates, so you have to refill it every so often. If you don’t, bugs can still get in your crock, especially if you try to make sauerkraut in the summer. That happened to me and, again, I had to throw that batch out.

Mistake #3: Not enough salt. One of my batches did not turn out right, because I didn’t use enough salt. I believe that was the batch that produced yeasty cabbage, instead of fermented cabbage.

Some people may not like such small pieces for their sauerkraut, but I don’t mind it.

Here are the steps I take to ensure sauerkraut success: 

I wait until the “room temperature” in my house is going to be in the low 70s or cooler. (This is not the case in the summer months.) I make sure my crock and weights are very clean and dry before I make my batch. I use a food processor to cut up a head (or more) of cabbage. I use the high-end of salt that any recipe calls for. I make sure to pound the cut cabbage down so that the water line is above all the cabbage. (I make sure there are no stray pieces on the inside sides of the crock, too, because these can mold.) I use my lid and water-seal, ensuring that my water-seal stays full. I then check the water-seal every couple of days, refilling as necessary. I usually take a peek at the cabbage once a week to check that it is all still submerged.

I add Kosher salt to the chopped cabbage in the crock before pounding it and placing the weights on top.

I checked my batch after four weeks in the crock to see if it was finished. A taste test showed that it was ready to be put into glass jars and stored in the fridge.  

My finished sauerkraut goes into Mason jars that I put in the fridge.

Sauerkraut is a tangy vegetable that is loaded with probiotics. Many people like it on hot dogs or bratwurst. I serve it as a side at dinnertime. For more good info and a sauerkraut recipe, you can check out this homesteader’s blog:

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