By Stanley A. Fishman, Author of Tender Grassfed Meat
Sauerkraut is one of the oldest foods. It was used by the ancient Chinese, the Romans, the steppe nomads, and many others. “Sauerkraut” means sour cabbage. In its purest form, it consists of cabbage and salt that has been lacto-fermented. The fermentation process uses beneficial bacteria to transform the cabbage into a nutritional powerhouse that is an excellent source of Vitamin C, minerals, B vitamins, and many other nutrients. Sauerkraut is loaded with beneficial bacteria. These beneficial bacteria improve digestion, strengthen the immune system, and protect against many diseases. Alternative physicians in Germany use sauerkraut to treat many illnesses.
Making sauerkraut used to literally be a matter of life or death for many people in Europe and Asia. For most of these people, sauerkraut was the only source of vitamin C available during the long cold winters. If people do not get enough vitamin C, they will develop scurvy, a disease that first causes the teeth to fall out and which will eventually kill the victim.
Sauerkraut was traditionally eaten in small quantities, as part of a larger meal. I eat 3 to 4 tablespoons a day, as part of a larger meal. In fact, my body craves some sauerkraut with every meal. Traditional peoples usually had some form of fermented vegetable with every meal.
Traditional sauerkraut is a live food, whose nutritional value is dependent on the beneficial bacteria it should contain. Unfortunately, most of the “sauerkraut” found in the supermarket is a dead food, where the beneficial bacteria have been killed by vinegar and other ingredients. This allows the “sauerkraut” to stay on the shelves indefinitely, but I see little point in eating it. There are some brands of sauerkraut that can be found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. These brands have some live cultures, which is why they must be refrigerated. You can also order traditionally made sauerkraut over the Internet, and some of it is very good, especially the sauerkraut made by Amish farmers. This sauerkraut tends to be very expensive, both in price and in shipping cost.
What sauerkraut do I recommend? Well, the best sauerkraut I ever had, by far, is the sauerkraut we make ourselves. I found that making sauerkraut is much simpler than I thought. I only know how to make sauerkraut using a Harsch Crock, which is a stoneware container that has been specifically designed for making sauerkraut. The crock is not cheap, but it should last a lifetime if you are careful with it. Harsch Crocks are widely available over the Internet and you can often find a deal.
I recommend the following equipment for making sauerkraut:
•Harsch Crock, 7.5 liters
•Weight stones, (these come with the Harsch Crock)
•Stainless steel tongs
•Stainless steel potato masher
•Large stainless steel bowl
•Cabbage slicer, (you can use a food processor or anything that can shred cabbage)
If your Harsch Crock is a different size than 7.5 liters, adjust the amount the amount of cabbage and salt proportionately.
7 medium organic cabbages, about 12 pounds.
Approximately 5 tablespoons coarse grey French sea salt, (we use Celtic Sea Salt®)
1.Remove the core and outer leaves from the cabbage, and then wash well with filtered water, preferably reverse osmosis. Dry the cabbage. Save a few of the outer leaves.
2.Do the following steps, one cabbage at a time:
a. Shred the cabbage into a large bowl. (We use a cabbage slicer, but I think most food processors could be used for this.)
b.Use tongs to pick up enough cabbage to form a layer in the bottom of the Harsch Crock. (I use three large tongs full, but you might need more, depending on the width of your crock.)
c.Sprinkle between ½ to 1 teaspoon of salt over the layer.
d.Use a potato masher to crush and compress the cabbage layer as much as you reasonably can. This is very important, as it is crucial for the cabbage to release some of its liquid. You usually won’t see much liquid in the first few layers, but don’t worry, the repeated compressing will eventually give you enough liquid.
e.When the layer is well compressed, repeat steps b through d until you have used all of the shredded cabbage in the bowl. When you have used all the shredded cabbage in the bowl, shred the next cabbage, and repeat steps b through d until all the cabbages have been shredded and compressed into the crock.
3.Place a couple of the outer leaves you saved on top of the compressed cabbage. Place the weight stones on the leaves and press down gently but firmly on the stones (we press with the tongs) until they are covered with liquid. Put the cover on the crock. Move the crock to a convenient place in your kitchen (not next to the oven or stove), where it can rest for three days. Fill the gutter at the top of the crock with filtered water (preferably reverse osmosis).
4.Let the crock rest in the kitchen for three days. Check each day to make sure the gutter is fairly full of water. Do not open the crock, not even once.
5.After three days, remove some of the water from the gutter, so the crock can be carried without spilling. Move the crock to a cool place. We use our garage, but a basement or root cellar would be even better. Fill the gutter with filtered water. Let the crock rest for 21 days. Do not open the crock before then, not even once. Check each day to make sure the water gutter is full. How much water you will need is totally unpredictable. Don’t panic if the water gutter is empty, just fill with filtered water. We never check more than once a day and every batch has been great.
6.After 21 days, the sauerkraut should be ready. Use tongs and a ladle to put the sauerkraut and its juice into Mason jars. It will keep in the refrigerator for many months. Then get started on the next batch.
Now you have my secret recipe for sauerkraut. It gets much easier each time we make it. Making sauerkraut is a job for at least two people, but the rewards are great.
Stanley kindly sent us some of his Sauerkraut last month and it was the best we’ve ever tasted. So good we bought a crock (see a great resource on the links page) and have made our own. We can’t wait until it’s ready! Stanley’s amazing cookbook, Tender Grassfed Meat is available at Amazon, link below.
Read more great Pennywise Platter Thursday posts here: http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2010/01/pennywise-platter-thursday-12710.html
Read more great Real Food Wednesday posts here: http://kellythekitchenkop.com/2010/01/real-food-wednesday-12710.html