Wash the cabbages, reserving some of the outer leaves for lining the bottom (and eventually the top) of the crock. Quarter and begin grating the cabbages. You'll have plenty of practise to develop your own technique, but we've found holding the cabbages at an angle 20° to the grater works best. And, no, you may not use a food processor. It won't chop the cabbage finely enough. Besides, you're making enough of a mess already. Nor should you grate the core.
When you have 5 lb of shredded cabbage (here's where the scale comes in. You cannot measure by volume, but if you don't have an adequate scale, you might be able to pass muster by marking the weight of the cabbages on the stems at your grocer's scale, if you remember to compensate for the outer leaves and core), mix in 3½ Tablespoons of the pickling salt. Use your hands: you want to distribute the salt evenly. By the final half Tablespoon, you'll find the volume has been greatly reduced, and the juices will have begun flowing. If you haven't already done so, line the bottom of the crock with 2 or 3 layers of leaves. Put in half of your salted cabbage mixture and tamp it down evenly with the potato masher. Be thorough. You want it packed very tightly, and you want enough juice so that the cabbage is completely immersed in brine. Repeat with the other half of your mixture.
Repeat until you've filled the crock to about 3 inches from its rim. Now cover the top with a layer or two cabbage leaves. Cover this with a layer of clean white cloth. Now the plate. Weigh down the plate so that the cabbage is compacted and completely covered by brine. Set the lid in place.
Remove the crock to a dry place where the temperature is between 70° and 75° You can use your basement if the temperature's ok, but keep the crock well away from your furnance, and warn your spouse that it'll reek. Leave it there for about 3 weeks or until it has stopped effervescing and forming scum at the surface, indicating that the kraut has finished curing. How long it takes depends on the exact temperature. Every few days, remove the scum and clean the plate. The truly anal among you can clean the cloth, the plate, and the weight every other day.
Your sauerkraut will keep for several months in the crock with the lid and weight, but you'll probably want to store it elsewhere. Don't bother canning; it freezes extremely well.
We've also read that you can make 'kraut in 2 lb batches and cure it in mason jars, but we've never tried.
The pickling process preserves the vitamin C content of cabbage, which is why Captain Cook included sauerkraut as one of his staples on his expeditions. For more detailed information on the microbial processes involved, consult McGee. For a thorough discussion of pickling at home, call your local Cooperative Extension office, or check Univ. of Minnesota's.
Some people add dill, caraway or an apple to their kraut, but we save such flavouring for the cooking, not the curing.
First served: Samhain 1995
Last modified: © May 2001