I think if you are interested in fermentation then sauerkraut is where you should begin. Cabbage is cheap, really cheap. And if you're like me once you learn how to make it then anytime you see cabbage on sale you will grab a head or two and make a batch.
Usually sauerkraut is made in the Fall. There is a couple of reason for that. First, most people in the hinterlands that survived on sauerkraut harvested fields of cabbage in the Fall and early wintertime. And if you have so much cabbage at one time what do you do with it? You can make sauerkraut and then store the rest of the payload in cool storage. Second, cabbage gets better as it gets colder. The starch starts to turn into sugars and when the cabbage has been in the field after a couple of frosts then the root veggie is tastier. If you are a gardener that grows cabbage then you should try to leave it in the ground as long as possible.
And the benefits of sauerkraut are incredible. Not only does the fermentation process unlock more vitamins but the process also converts bacteria from the leaves into useable bacteria for your gut. Useable and useful gut bacteria, the one that is sought after and usually found in live culture yogurt, lactobacilli.
I had gone to a tour of the famous Horrock's grocery store that Kalli had scheduled for the Mid-Michigan Food Club and I came across the discount bin. I picked up two huge bags of cabbages at a steal. So I was ready to make kraut!
Below is the recipe I use but it's really hard to tell you when your sauerkraut will be done. Some batches will be ready in two weeks while others will take much longer. So you will have to first smell the fermenting product and then when it starts smelling like sauerkraut start tasting. Once you like the taste then cap it and place it in the refrigerator so as to slow down the fermenting so that it will keep longer. If at anytime you don't like the smell or see mold just chuck it out. It most likely happened because you didn't have the sauerkraut covered with the brining liquid. If you guarantee that the cabbage is under the brining liquid you can almost be 99.9% positive you will produce a fine tasting sauerkraut.
Let's get started. I started off with 5 pounds of shredded cabbage. You can decide whether you want to thinly hand cut the root or if you just pass it through the food processor shoot. I weigh the cabbage BEFORE you start cutting and I usually go a little bit over 5 pounds because I know that I will have to cut the core out of each cabbage so I lose a little. For the 5 pounds you need 3 tablespoons of pickling salt. If you don't use pickling salt then you will need 4 tablespoons of kosher salt. Don't use salt with iodine because it can be really caustic to the good bacteria on the leaves and will make the cabbage spoil instead of ferment.
Take your shredded cabbage along with salt and work your aggression out in your largest bowl. You need to squeeze the cabbage and distribute the salt. You should massage the cabbage until liquid starts to pool in the bottom of the bowl. Once this occurs you are ready to smoosh the shred into your clean Mason or other glass jars. And you need to really be mean to the kraut. You can't imagine how much cabbage you can fit in one jar. And the more you cram it into the jar the more liquid that will cover the cabbage as it ferments the better.
I mixed my carrot and radishes and some spices like cumin or caraway throughout as I mixed my cabbage so that they are distributed well.
Next you need to make sure that while the fermentation is going on NO cabbage is above a liquid line. There are many ways to do this. One is to fill sandwich baggies with a brine solution and drop it into the jar's opening. That way as the cabbage breaks down the baggie will “move”with it. A second way is how I did it. I find the baggies not to be heavy enough so I recycle my glass ice tea bottles. I fill them with water and then place them into the opening. Problem solved. Now you should expect that as the fermentation take place liquid will bubble and sometimes runenth over. The smell will be.....well smelly, cabbage smells so you might want to have a towel under the jars wherever you place them. Once the bubbling abates (about 5 days) I remove the glass bottles and pour water/brine solution into the opening just enough to cover the cabbage and place a lid on and then WAIT! Since this process is usually on day five you could start tasting a couple of days after.
The hotter it is the quicker it will happen but once you get over 75 degrees then you start to kill the bacteria. Same with light. You want a darker storage area so that the kraut isn't in direct sunlight. So you need to find a place that the fermentation can occur without it being on your counter or in the light.
And then enjoy!!!