Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of learning how to make sauerkraut along with a dozen other students at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library for the ‘Kraut it out loud’ sauerkraut making class. Historically, sauerkraut has been an important source of vitamin C, vitamin K, and good-gut bacteria for those in Central and Eastern Europe. We also learned from the Heritage Garden Coordinator that sauerkraut was a fantastic way to prevent scurvy during long journeys at sea. It’s even part of the Czech national dish, Vepřo knedlo zelo!
There were babis (Czech for grandmas) who create 5 gallon crocks of the stuff regularly, and there were folks like me who were fermentation amateurs. Our teacher assured us that making kraut is one of the simplest things you can create. After her words of encouragement, I strode into my kitchen with a sauerkraut swagger.
The museum has so many stellar programs, and not just for those of Czech & Slovak ancestry. Cedar Rapids boasts a hefty number of folks with Czech heritage. The museum staff do a wonderful job of using Czech & Slovak cultural traditions as launch pads to engage the greater Cedar Rapids community. One of my favorite programs is History + Happy Hour. The program is centered around another fermented product, pivo (beer)! The lectures take place in local breweries, and topics often include Czech beer and food history. Czechs can be credited with the creation of pilsner and the most per-capita beer consumption in the world. The events are almost always sell-out crowds, so RSVP now!
Makes 3 pint jars
- 2 medium heads of fresh cabbage
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of kosher or canning salt
- Flavorings (I chose fresh dill, garlic cloves, peppercorns, and red chilis)
- Sandwich bags
- Using either a food processor or knife, shred the cabbage into long strips
2. Sprinkle the salt onto the cabbage
3. Get your hands in there and crunch, crunch, crunch the cabbage until the salt helps creates a brine and there is plenty of liquid at the bottom of the bowl
4. Make pouches of flavorings with the cheesecloth
5. Scoop the cabbage into the pint jars and use hands or a spoon to press down the cabbage, letting the brine come to the top. You want the cabbage to be completely submerged under the brine.
6. Take the cheesecloth pouches and press down into the jar, letting the brine rise to the top. Take sandwich baggies and put a few tablespoons of water in it before sealing the bag. Press the bags into the jars so that it holds the cabbage beneath the brine.
7. Now the easy part! Let the cabbage ferment somewhere between 65° and 75°F with a tea towel covering the jars to protect them from dust and bugs
8. Check on the kraut every day, pushing the cabbage beneath the brine. After around a week, your kraut should be ready to go! The green color will turn into more of a yellow/white color. It’s safe to eat at every stage, so feel free to taste. When it has reached optimum tartness, remove the flavor pouch, screw on the lids, and pop them into the fridge. The kraut will be good for a few months, if it lasts that long!