Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canning Sauerkraut

A couple of my siblings won't eat sauerkraut because it reminds them of the smell permeating the house when Mom canned it. She made it in 5 gallon batches, so the smell did get rather strong. I still eat it, though. Making smaller batches is easier on my nose, and I can't give up eating it. After all, how could I pass up a Reuben sandwich.

By the way, to her children's surprise, my mother's 5 gallon crock sold for 3 times the price of a brand new 5 gallon crock. Nobody paid much attention to the other crocks at the estate auction, but the company name that was printed on the side of that one caught the attention of the antique dealers. I have no idea were she originally got it or how old it was.

Back to the topic. When I wrote about pickling, I said that there were two methods. You either add an acid such as vinegar to a food, or you add salt and let the fermentation process create it's own acid. Sauerkraut uses the second method.

It is traditionally fermented in a crock, but a container made of glass or food-grade plastic will work as well. For each medium sized head of cabbage, you need 1-1/2 Tablespoons of canning salt. Put about an inch of sliced cabbage in the crock, sprinkle it with salt, and stir it up. Continue with another layer of cabbage and more salt. By working in layers, you ensure that the salt is distributed well.

The salt will soon begin drawing water out of the cabbage, creating a brine. Pack the cabbage down either with your hands or with a potato masher. You should end up with enough brine to cover the cabbage, but there are occasional years when the cabbage just isn't as moist. When there is not enough brine you can add a brine made from 1-1/2 Tablespoons of salt and 1 quart of water.

Place a plate that fits in the crock over the cabbage and weigh it down, so the cabbage is submerged. As somebody who likes reading old cookbooks, I have noticed that older recipes usually said to weight it down with a heavy limestone rock. They said that the lime adds flavor to sauerkraut. I don't really know if limestone improves the flavor, because by the time I was born, this practice had generally been replaced by cleaner weights such as a canning jar that is filled with water. When the cabbage is fermented this way a scum (caused by the growth of yeast) forms on the top. This scum has to be skimmed off every couple of days.

In the book, "Pickles and Relishes: From Apples to Zucchinis, 150 recipes for preserving the harvest," Andrea Chesman introduced me to a nice improvement on the traditional way of doing things. Instead of weighing the plate down with glass jars, fill a large plastic food storage bag with brine, put that in another food storage bag, for extra protection, and use that as a weight. The bag molds itself to the shape of the crock and prevents air from getting to the cabbage. The lack of air, prevents the growth of yeast, so you don't have to skim scum off.

I have found that this works quite well, for a small batch of kraut. For a large batch, my question would be, "where do you get a large enough bag?" I would not use a garbage bag, because plastic that isn't made specifically for food storage leaches harmful chemicals into your food.

There is also a company, now, that makes a special crock that seals out air. I have never tried it but I assume it works as well as the plastic bag idea. With either of these new methods, you do not want to disturb the cabbage the whole time that is fermenting, because you don't want to let air in.

The crock should be kept around 60-75 °F during the fermentation process. As the cabbage ferments, it creates gas (which can escape around the plastic bag). You know the cabbage is finished fermenting when it no longer gives off gas bubbles. This takes 2 to 6 weeks, depending on the temperature.

You could actually just keep your kraut in the crock, but you would have to keep skimming scum off it so it is better to can it. Leave 1/2 inch headspace and process in a water bath. Process pints for 20 minutes or 25 minutes for quarts.

High altitude instructions
1,001 - 3,000 feet : increase processing time by 5 minutes
3,001 - 6,000 feet : increase processing time by 10 minutes
6,001 - 8,000 feet : increase processing time by 15 minutes
8,001 - 10,000 feet : increase processing time by 20 minutes


  1. I'm the only one in my family that will eat this so I think I should make a little batch just for me! :0)

    I love sauerkraut on hot dogs too!

  2. I make sauerkraut in jars... easy and makes some very delicious kraut.

    I have a recipe posted on my blog:

  3. I am very fond of German food. especially the food. I will try to make at home. thank you, your articles are very helpful


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