How to Make Sauerkraut with Homegrown Red Cabbage
Centuries before refrigeration, people of early cultures needed a way to preserve their harvest. Sauerkraut is the result of an ancient method of food preservation dating back to the Romans, who fermented cabbage and turnips in salt. This process was lost during the fall of the Roman Empire, but China reintroduced it to Europe in the 13th century.1 Now, centuries later, fermentation is still a popular way to preserve.
Many types of fruits and vegetables can be fermented, but cabbage is a popular choice because it is easy to grow and stores well. Fall-grown cabbage varieties, such as Red Acre, are especially good for sauerkraut.
Gardening & Healthy Living
Plant cabbage seeds in early to mid-summer for a fall crop. Follow the directions on your seed packet to make sure you give cabbage seed enough time to mature before fall comes. Make holes 1/2 inch deep and 16 inches apart in your row, then place three seeds in each hole. If you are planting multiple rows of cabbage, leave 36 inches between rows.
A gentle, natural fertilizer such as Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1, provides a rich source of organic matter and releases nutrients into the soil to enhance the strength and vigor of your cabbage. Mix this plant food with water and add into the soil.
While cabbage is relatively easy to grow, pests such as cabbage worms can cause problems. Liquid Sevin® Insect Killer, available in ready-to-use, concentrate and ready-to-spray forms, kills cabbage worms and more than 500 other insect pests by contact. Tough on pests, but gentle on gardens, Sevin® Insect Killer liquids can be used on cabbage up until one day before harvest. These non-systemic products don't penetrate your cabbage or other crops, but they keep on protecting your garden for up to three months.
In cool climates, harvest cabbage at maturity and store it in a root cellar or refrigerator. In warm climates, even as far north as North Carolina, cabbage can be left in the garden unprotected and harvested, as needed, throughout winter.3 To harvest cabbage, firmly grasp the head and twist.
Preserved cabbage allows you to enjoy your homegrown produce throughout the winter months. Enjoy this fermented red kraut recipe on top of bratwurst, on a Reuben sandwich or as a stand-alone side dish.
- 1 medium to large head of red cabbage, cleaned and outer leaves removed
- 1 tablespoon of non-iodized salt, such as kosher or pickling salt
- Chop the red cabbage into small squares about 1/2 inch wide. Discard the stem.
- Combine the cabbage and salt in a large bowl.
- Using both hands, gently massage the salt into the cabbage for 5 minutes to release cabbage juices.
- Allow the cabbage and salt mixture to rest for at least 5 minutes.
- Once the cabbage leaves begin to wilt and the juice (now brine) accumulates in the bottom of the bowl, massage for 5 more minutes.
- Pack the cabbage into a half-gallon glass jar. Continue packing and pressing the cabbage into the jar until it is completely covered in brine.
- Place a clean stone or a smaller jar filled with water on top of the kraut in the jar to ensure the cabbage stays submerged. The brine prevents mold and harmful bacteria from growing on submerged cabbage, but any cabbage that floats above the brine will mold. If mold forms, remove the affected area and make sure the rest of the cabbage stays submerged until the sauerkraut is complete.
- Cover the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. The cheesecloth allows oxygen to escape while keeping bugs and dust out. The fermentation process produces gas, so never place a lid on a jar while fermenting.
- Place the jar in an area out of direct sunlight, and allow it to ferment for at least three weeks. Timing will vary, as the fermentation process is faster in warm environments and slower in a cool areas.
- Taste your kraut after three weeks. If it isn't sour enough, leave it for another week and taste again. When your kraut has reached the desired level of sourness, put a lid on the jar and keep it in the refrigerator, where it will store well for months.
- With homemade kraut in your cupboard and an abundant cabbage crop under your belt, you're on your way to enjoying the goodness and nutrition that gardening can bring to your house. GardenTech and the GardenTech® family of brands are here to help you explore and experience the joys of gardening for yourself.
Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions, including guidelines for pre-harvest intervals (PHI) and application frequency.
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1. Encyclopedia Britannica Editors, "Sauerkraut," Encyclopedia Britannica.
2. Cornell University Growing Guide, "Cabbage," Cornell University.
3. D. Sanders, "Cabbage," NC State University Cooperative Extension, January 2001