Sauerkraut: or grow your own bacteria

We’ve been growing our own bacteria. Not nasty ones from slovenly cleaning, but useful “probiotic” ones, giving a pleasant sour taste to pickles without using vinegar.

I’d assumed making non-vinegar pickles was difficult, needed special equipment and possibly dangerous. Kitchen stores, sprouting as fast as cookery programmes on TV, have fancy, expensive German crocks (with weights to press the cabbage “right”).

A free e-book from dispelled my excuses. I used big jars, cleverly weighted with small jars fitted inside, water-filled, as weights).

The recipe is simple:

  • 1 tight cabbage (red or green)
  • Salt 2.5%, or 25g per kilo of cabbage

The method is nearly as simple. Put aside outer leaves. Remove the core, slice fairly thinly. Sprinkle with salt and mix, pound it. I used a wooden mallet we hadn’t found a use for since I stopped making Chicken Kiev, but you could use a jam jar or a rolling pin. This softens the cabbage allowing the salt to penetrate. Once it looks damp, pack the cabbage into the big jar, pushed down to exclude air. When it’s fairly full, cover with bits of the outer leaves, forming a “lid” inside the jar. Put your little jar full of water in, to press the “lid” down. Cover with a plastic bag, to keep unwanted bugs out. Soon you’ll have mysterious, bubbling jars on the workbench (on a tray to catch any spills).

After a few days (depending how sour you like your Kraut, and on weather, the precise mix of bacterial flora on your cabbage, and even perhaps phase of the moon) it will be ready: crunchy and sour, the ideal accompaniment to sausages and lentils, or salads with salami and other cured meats. For colour contrast I made both plain and red-cabbage kraut and cauliflower florets coloured yellow with turmeric (which take twice as long to mature.

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