This fall we made sauerkraut.
It all started in the spring, when we were looking at plants and seedlings in a little make-shift greenhouse outside a local farm supply store. We live in a very German area. My husband is nearly full German, and the biggest distinction among many area farmers is whether they are German Catholic or German Protestant.
That’s not to say that we don’t have a more diverse population in area towns now, but the original agrarian pioneers to this county were overwhelmingly German.
I myself have full Norwegian blood from my father, and a mix of German, Norwegian, Danish, and French from my mother.
Back to the plant nursery.
As we picked out an assortment of peppers, tomatoes, and other seedlings we wanted to transplant, JR noticed a large section of cabbage.
He picked up a four-pack which was simply labeled “kraut.” And that was that. We bought three or four packs of the kraut cabbage, and he vowed we’d try to make our own sauerkraut this fall.
The cabbage grew aggressively in our light soil, and before we knew it, it was the only thing left in the garden. We got busy with fall silage and harvest at the farm and the poultry project and freezing tomatoes at home. Cabbage is a hardy cold-weather crop, and it is supposed to be fine or even improve if you leave it in the garden for a few hard freezes.
I think it was early November before we finally picked the cabbage. Some of the heads had to have weighed over 10 pounds. I was slightly terrified by the success of our crop.
Not having a proper kraut crock or wanting to spend $$ to get one, I washed and sanitized a large cooler to pack our kraut in. We read up on the food safety instructions from the home extension service, and then we started shredding with the food processor and packing it with salt into the cooler.
I will be the first to admit JR was the true brains and energy behind this undertaking.
Once it was all processed, we packed it under some clean cabbage leaves and filled my largest pots with water and placed them on top to press everything together.
Then, it was about 6 weeks of waiting, checking the top for signs of spoilage, and hoping the kraut would ferment properly. Right before Christmas, we just had to taste it and see. I let JR do the honors and after both eating it several times we proclaimed it safe. No food poisoning. 🙂
We knew we’d met with decent success when my mother-in-law, who always had homemade kraut growing up, even thought it was good.
For my part, I don’t know that it fermented quite long enough. It is good but a tad salty and lacks the fully pungent vinegar tang I was expecting.
That said, apparently homemade sauerkraut is nutritionally superior. The fermented cabbage has probiotic benefits and contains more of the beneficial bacterial organisms than most store-bought kinds. It’s also high in Vitamin A and C. As a little kid I figured all nutrition must be zapped from cabbage by the time it turned into kraut. If it’s good for me that’s a plus!
I can’t say that we took on this endeavor because of the health benefits though. JR likes to grow things in the garden, and this combined growing giant vegetables with a nod back to his German heritage.
We packed the finished product in canning jars and were going to can them in a water bath. However, we ended up giving away multiple jars to family (who we told to refrigerate them), and we’re just storing the remaining ones in our fridge.
I thought I may write about the kraut making process this fall, but instead I decide to wait and see if it turned out. Now that it has, it’s fair game for my blog.
I think the best way to eat sauerkraut is with pork. You can cook it in the crockpot with a pork loin or roast, or sausage and brats.
I always remember my mom serving it over boiled potatoes growing up, so usually I make potatoes to accompany the meat.
Yesterday we just had leftover baked ham with potatoes and — you guessed it — sauerkraut!
I know I didn’t provide the best instructions, so if you’re thinking about tackling this next summer I’ll share a few of the main websites we used for info.
From University of Wisconsin Extension: “Make your own Sauerkraut”
From University of Minnesota Extension: Sauerkraut Recipe
Have you ever tried to make traditional heritage foods or re-create a favorite you normally buy? If so, tell me about it!