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An Inside Job

November 8, 2013

Yyesterday I finally got to the annual shredding of the cabbage for kraut.  Those little baby cabbages that I started in June and transplanted in July grew into big sweet cabbages.  Now it’s November.  On one hand it seems like yesterday, on the other hand I can barely remember tending the tiny seeds and starts in the greenhouse while we were putting up hay.  Summers blur with annual tasks.  Brassica planting and hay become rote in a good way.

fall/winter brassica starts - kraut in a flat

fall/winter brassica starts – kraut in a flat

Now it’s the time of year that your jobs are even more determined by the weather.  Usually I make my first batch of kraut before I get the garlic planted. This year the tasks were swapped.  Some chores get done rain or shine, like milking, or moving the cows to a fresh paddock.  But others depend on dry, in the case of the garlic with its huge planting window, I need to do bed prep, that requires a stretch of dry.  Kraut is an inside job that can be done day or night, wet or dry, as long as the cabbage is harvested before dark.

It’s more work to assemble the tools to make the kraut than to actually make the kraut.  Over the years we’ve gathered tools for putting up some quantities of food.  For kraut I use an old enamel baby bath tub to hold the slicer and the shredded cabbage, a big enamel dishpan for weighing and mixing and of course, a scale.  For the fermenting I use crocks, some prefer canning jars, but you can put your ferment in any food safe vessel you wish.

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After trying every fermented vegetable under the sun, we’ve gone back to the simple plain old kraut.  The food that disappears over and over again is the keeper.  Cabbage, salt and time.  I bartered a lot of kraut last year, but early on this year I decided to back off a bit on that.  I started less cabbage, tended less cabbage and now I’m making less kraut.  Five gallons should hold us, although I got some Storage No. 4 beckoning that may become kraut too later.

Sorry about the flash photo - it was a dark day

Sorry about the flash photo – it was a dark day

To keep semi-accurate I weigh out the cabbage after I have cored and prepped it instead of weighing the heads.  Most of these heads did weigh six pounds and by the time I removed any damaged leaves and cut out the cores they weighed in at approximately 5 pounds.  I don’t worry about an ounce or three, the next head may weigh a little less.

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I shred as much as I can without adding fingers, and chop any remaining leaves and large pieces with a knife for each five-pound batch.  The difference in sizes doesn’t make any difference.

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Then I measure the salt and just mix the salt and cabbage with my hands.  As the salt touches all the cabbage you can feel the juicing begin.

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Because I am using the same dishpan to weigh each five-pound batch of cabbage, I pack each mini batch into the crock as I go.

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I live on a farm with livestock and pets, so to that end I try (big emphasis on try here) to keep things semi-clean.  Vacuuming up stray dog hair before embarking on this hour-long project is a big help.  After washing the crock that has been storing things like empty whisky bottles and shell casings all summer – don’t ask, the crocks are Hangdog’s bailiwick – I wipe it down with food grade hydrogen peroxide and call it good.  One thing I have found with our own food supply is that besides being fresh, we can control what happens to it from the garden to the pantry.  We see what gets on it since the supply chain is pretty short.

Like any other preserving project, repetition is the name of the game.  Weigh, shred, chop, salt, mix, pack, and eat as much sweet raw cabbage as you can stand.  Repeat until the crock is close to full.  Don’t be tempted to fill the crock to the brim because once you put the weight on top, the brine will overflow.  Now all we have to do is wait.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. November 8, 2013 10:27 am

    Thanks for sharing! This was interesting.

  2. November 8, 2013 11:35 am

    What a crock. This is my jealous face.

    While we are slicing cabbage Julie makes a non-mayo slaw with carrots, lemon juice, honey and I don’t know what else. Good stuff.

  3. November 8, 2013 11:48 am

    Mmmmmmmm… KRAUT! You’ve inspired an urge to get my hands juicy! Kraut & brown rice; kraut & quinoa: kraut & buckwheat: kraut & millet; ANY of these combos for a favorite breakfast bowl.

  4. November 8, 2013 1:08 pm

    YUM! Haven’t made homemade kraut yet , but I’ve thought about making it. I was going to invest in a crock and do it right. Your crock looks Redwing Pottery (Redwing, MN) — Is it? — I was born there and would love to start some collecting old pieces. I still have my mother’s dinner plates that were made there.

    Funny, I was just thinking about sauerkraut this morning. Beef short ribs are on sale at the market. An old polish lady I knew many years ago, who was the best cook I’ve ever known, made the simplest and most delicious dish — I make it a few times a year – It’s addictive too, it’s so good.

    I have no idea what the name of this dish is. but I’ve been making it for 30 years and everybody loves it. 3 indredients — beef short ribs, a combination of half sauerkraut and half fresh chopped cabbage, salt and pepper. Season and brown the short ribs, add the kraut and cabbage and a little broth or water and simmer gently, covered, for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove the ribs when the meat is starting to fall off the bone, and very tender – discard the bones and cut the meat up in chunks — add back to the cabbage/kraut — Also adding new potatoes the last hour of cooking is optional — sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. In this dish adding the fresh cabbage to the kraut gives it an entirely different flavor than either on their own — Use your own judgement as to quantities — I prefer lots of meat though.

    Thanks for the lesson — Homemade Sauerkraut is on my to do list! 🙂

    Cindy G.

  5. November 8, 2013 1:18 pm

    I forgot to add — be sure to simmer the dish in the same pot you brown the meat in — the browned bits at tons of flavor. Also not too much liquid, for a dutch oven maybe about 1 cup or so of either broth or water, not too much, but enough to get the meat braising, not swimming — This is more of a stew.

    I added cabbage to my grocery list — starting my kraut tonight. Yeah!

  6. November 8, 2013 2:16 pm

    We like kraut made with white wine instead of salt. I have to get it where they sell German foods as that is where it is made. Would it be possible to make home made kraut with wine instead of salt?

    • November 8, 2013 3:14 pm

      Ellie, I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure some of my readers will chime in. Sounds delicious!

  7. Amy permalink
    November 8, 2013 5:27 pm

    Hello Dear One!

    Love your blog. You teach us so much. I am thankful you are willing to teach and share. You may have answered this before and I missed it but is the little picture of the calf Jane? Also my son loves your dog. Thanks for sharing things about him too. I enjoyed the piece recently about him aging and when he was a pup.

    I hope to be joining the ranks of full time homestead living when I retire in a few years. It’s full time-part time right now if that makes any sense. Be encouraged that you are living well and encouraging us to keep on plodding our way homeward.

    From a small Mississippi shareholding,

    Aj randolph

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • November 9, 2013 6:52 am

      Amy, keep on plodding 🙂 Soon…

      The calf in my avatar is actually Della, Jane’s sweet mama 🙂

    • November 9, 2013 7:22 pm

      Just a quick search turned up this link contains a comment from “kshe95girl” about cooking kraut in white wine. I like the detail about not getting kraut from a can as it tastes like metal. I don’t usually notice that but now that they mention it…

      Anyway, looks like a good idea for cooked kraut. I think you have to use salt to draw the moisture out of the cabbage. She says to rinse it well which would wash away the salt and, I would think, flavor. But that’s probably why she adds the wine, garlic, onion and apple.

      Julie cooks red cabbage with onion, lemon juice and a green apple and stirs in a sliced kielbasa. Awesome. I have to believe the cooked kraut recipe above would be similarly wonderful.

      I have to add that KSHE 95 is a 40 year old St. Louis rock station and the commenter claims to be from Florida. Weird.

  8. November 8, 2013 6:13 pm

    Lovely shots, John makes his with whey from my cheese making.. yours looks better.. It has been too warm here to plant the garlic yet, but we are slowly cooling down! Never stops does it! c

  9. Catherine permalink
    November 9, 2013 4:52 am

    Hello there! Kraut, wow, haven’t thought of that in years. Dear Darlings Aunt used to make that, she’s the only person I knew who did.

    Could you recommend a good book on fermentation?

    Thanks for sharing. Always love a good idea or three.

    • November 9, 2013 6:42 am

      Catherine, probably Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz would be a good one.

    • November 10, 2013 8:47 am

      Yes, Wild Fermentation is an excellent book, and he even talks about variations on kraut. I like to add carrots and apple to mine. Sandor Katz’s most recent book is called The Art of Fermentation–also very good and more comprehensive.
      Apparently, one of my great aunts would make kraut underneath the oak tree on the day of a full moon. I suppose the theory was that the full moon would help jump-start the fermentation? Interesting to think about, anyway.

      • November 10, 2013 9:00 am

        Meg, I can’t attest to the oak tree bit, but the moon makes a difference on castration, haymaking and having enough dirt (or not) to fill a post hole.

  10. Ben permalink
    November 9, 2013 10:02 am

    Where do you get your Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide? We’re thinking of using it in our washing station but haven’t figured out where to get it.

    • November 9, 2013 10:37 am

      Funny you should ask, when I posted that I went to get the link from Azure and lo and behold, it’s an in-house item now, probably due to Homeland Security no doubt. I used to buy it by the gallon from them for our mesclun side business, and now I am getting down there. In-house means not available for sale to the public. 😦 I’ll ask around – I know people 😉

  11. steve permalink
    November 9, 2013 6:21 pm

    any specific salt you like to use? and how much per 5# batch?

  12. November 20, 2013 7:54 am

    Please share your complete recipe, my mouth is salivating from all this “kraut” talk today! I’m sold on the idea of kraut-making after this one informative blog. Love to read your blog!!! I also enjoy all the comments, as well. Retirement can’t get here quick enough! Just four more months!!!

    • November 20, 2013 8:21 am

      Vikki, it’s pretty simple really, 5 pounds of shredded cabbage mixed with 3 Tablespoons of salt. Pack in non-reactive container of your choice – canning jar, crock, food grade plastic, weight with plate or ziploc bags filled with water and then wait for the magic.

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