PRESERVE THE HARVEST SERIES
Preserve the Harvest Series presents a new fruit or vegetable every Tuesday with the goal of helping you get the most out of fresh fruits and vegetables harvested during peak season. Whether you grow your own fruits and vegetables, buy them at the Farmer’s Market or your local grocery store, it is good to remember the best time to preserve your bounty is when it is plentiful. Preserving the harvest stocks your pantry shelves and freezer with whole foods that you can feel good about, foods that taste great, and this approach saves you money. A sane approach to sustainability! Next up…Cabbage and How to Make Sauerkraut.
LET’S TALK CABBAGE
Cabbage is a leafy vegetable from the Brassica family, rich in vitamins and minerals. A cool weather crop, cabbage doesn’t like the heat so it should be planted in early spring and/or mid summer. Depending on the climate, it is best to plant seeds indoors or in a green house and transplant out into the garden. This method gives the cabbage plants opportunity to fully mature before the heat of summer kicks in or the possibility of damage from frost in late fall.
Multiple varieties of cabbage provide a little something for everyone, each with their own unique color and flavor. Mother Earth News does a great job of listing all the varieties and their particular characteristics which you can see here… All about Growing Cabbage as well as more detailed information if you are thinking about starting a few plants for the fall.
When harvesting cabbage look for firm heads that have reached the desired weight for the variety you have planted. That can vary from 1-3 pound heads so be sure to pay attention to the type you have planted. You will know you have waited too long if the heads start to split. If this takes place harvest immediately. It is best to harvest in the cool of the morning like most other crops. Use a sharp knife and cut heads away at the base. Bring heads indoors or place in the shade until ready to bring indoors. If you would like to continue having cabbage during the summer, leave the main plant intact after the cabbage has been cut away and small cabbage heads will form. The new heads will not be as tight and will be quite small, but will taste great just the same.
Cleaning cabbage is fairly simple. Cabbage flies and green worms love to snack on the leaves and may burrow a bit if left unchecked in the garden. To rid your cabbage of these pests, simply remove all the outer leaves that have been infested. Rinse the outer head and you are good to go. To store cabbage, make sure to first dry completely, then lightly wrap the cabbage in plastic and place in the refrigerator. It should last for two weeks or more.
HOW TO MAKE SAUERKRAUT: THE RIGHT EQUIPMENT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE
- Harsch Fermenting Crock – When I first started making sauerkraut it was a tedious and messy process. It entailed cutting my cabbage by hand to get just the right size pieces and pounding it forever to release the juices that were needed to cover the cabbage. Once the cabbage was snug in its place the messy job was only beginning. I then had to skim white scummy bacteria off the top of my fermenting sauerkraut every few days. The bacteria was harmless and the sauerkraut always came out delicious, but I knew there had to be a better way. I did a little research and discovered the Harsch fermenting crock. Making Sauerkraut is now as simple as 1,2 3! You can read more in detail about the German made fermenting crocks at the Canning Pantry.
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Fermenting Crock can be purchased here Schmitt 5L Gairtopf German Fermenting Crock Pot – ME3205 (affiliate link).
- Vegetable Stomper – The next thing I searched for was a vegetable stomper to make releasing the juices from the cabbage an easier task. I wanted something that fit well in my hands, was hefty enough to make a difference and had a larger surface that came in contact with with the cabbage. I found one at Amazon that was absolutely everything I could ask for. The stomper is handcrafted in the USA and made of unfinished maple wood, with no harsh chemicals used in the process; something I could feel good about purchasing. This has cut the time I spend pounding my cabbage in half, if not more. It was well worth the investment for me.
The Vegetable Stomper can be purchased at amazon using the following link Vegetable Stomper – Vegetable Pounder (Afiliate link).
- Food Processor – Lastly, a food processor turned out to be a great tool to shred my cabbage. When first starting to make sauerkraut I had read that purists never used a food processor to shred cabbage because the shreds would be too small for sauerkraut. So I patiently cut up every head by hand, taking valuable time up I couldn’t afford during the busy harvesting season. I would still be doing this painstaking work if my husband Tim had not inadvertently “showed me the light”, so to speak. It happened one year when I had was gone during the harvesting of cabbage and Tim volunteered to make the sauerkraut for me while I was gone (he is a sweet guy, I know). I gave him strict instructions on how to make the sauerkraut, but he had no patience for cutting it by hand. Out came the food processor, the sauerkraut was some of the best we had ever made and I was a convert.
Food Processor – Cuisinart DLC-2009CHB Prep 9 9-Cup Food Processor, Brushed Stainless
THREE KEYS TO REMEMBER WHEN MAKING SAUERKRAUT
- Keep it Clean – It is essential when making sauerkraut that everything is sparkling clean and free of any residue. All the requirements for forming bacteria will be present and is, in fact, necessary for the fermentation process, but bad bacteria can grow in this environment too. Starting squeaky clean helps to prevent the bad bacteria from forming.
- Keep it Under Brine – It is essential the cabbage stays under the brine. If the cabbage is not weighed down it will float. Fermentation only takes place with the absence of air. Air plus cabbage equals rot. Keep it under brine.
- Keep it Salty – The right ratio of salt to cabbage is necessary for the fermentation process to occur. A simple ratio of 3 tbsp salt to 5 pounds of cabbage is the rule of thumb. When using the Harsch fermentation crock, the salt can be decreased slightly but I find that the 3 tbsps of salt does not leave the Sauerkraut tasting salty and I actually prefer this ratio.
- 3 tbsp canning and pickling salt for every 5 lbs cleaned and cored cabbage (preferably organic and freshly picked)
- A few large cabbage leaves to cover cabbage before weighting down and to keep cabbage from floating up.
- For additional salt brine if necessary:
- 1 quart water
- 1 tbsp canning and pickling salt (prepare by placing 1 quart water and 1 tbsp salt in microwave for 2-3 minutes until salt has dissolved. Remove from microwave and cool.
- Shred cabbage in food processor with largest shredding blade (can be cut by hand into small shreds if desired).
- Place all cabbage in large clean bowl. Sprinkle with salt and mix well.
- Place 2-3 cups shredded cabbage in crock and pound well until tightly packed and juices begin to accumulate. Repeat process. Until all cabbage has been pounded and juices are flowing.
- Place large cabbage leaves on top of pounded cabbage. Add weights and push down firmly to submerge cabbage completely under brine. If there is not enough juice from the cabbage to completely submerge cabbage and weights, cover with prepared brine that has been cooled.
- Once cabbage has been weighted and completely submerged place lid on the crock and pour water around the rim to complete the water seal.
- Place in warm dry area ideally between 65 - 72 degrees.
- Fermentation process takes anywhere between 10-20 days depending on temperature. The warmer the air the quicker the fermentation process.
- Once Sauerkraut is fermented it can be removed from crock and stored in the refrigerator or canned as desired (see link below).
Additional resources and references:
Ack My Sauerkraut has Mold On It: Northwest Edible Life
Sauerkraut Fermentation: FPM Knowledge Center
Preparing and Canning Fermented Foods, Sauerkraut: National Center For Home Food Preservation
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