Easy Sauerkraut

green or red cabbage
unrefined salt

big jar
carefully selected smaller jar
big bowl

(optional) bowl and towel

1. Wash your hands! Then grate the cabbage into the bowl. If you don't have a grater, cut it finely with a good knife. Organically grown cabbage is better, and I find that green cabbage makes better tasting sauerkraut than red. You can also add other vegetables like carrots, beets, or garlic.

2. Add salt and work it into the cabbage with your hands, which will draw juice out of the cabbage. The best way to get the right amount of salt is by tasting. It should be noticeably salty but not unpleasantly salty, just like store-bought sauerkraut. I recommend unrefined salt because it has valuable trace nutrients. The most common brands are Redmond "Real Salt" and Celtic and Lima sea salt. "Sea salt" is a marketing term that is often applied to heavily processed sodium chloride that happens to be derived from sea water. Healthful salt will not be pure white and free-flowing. But if you care more about the texture of your sauerkraut than your health, fully refined non-iodized salt is supposed to make it crunchier.

3. Put the cabbage-salt mixture into the big jar. If the bowl is not big enough, you may have to do two batches. When you're done, the big jar should be roughly three quarters full. It's good to err on the side of making too much cabbage and then you can just eat what doesn't fit.

jar in jar in bowl 4. Here's the tricky part that makes this recipe "easy". Most sauerkraut recipes have a painfully complicated way to cover the mixture so it doesn't get moldy. You need to keep all the cabbage below the level of the juice, even as it rises with air bubbles, and you also need to allow air to get out, and you need to stop mold spores from falling in. I used to put layers of cabbage leaves on top, which would be sacrificed to the bad microbes, and then some kind of weight, which would be too heavy at the beginning of fermentation and too light at the end, and then some kind of cover.

But you can do all of those things with one jar. The trick is to find a cylindrical jar that barely fits the opening of the big jar. I find a quart-size pickle or olive jar has a good chance of fitting snugly in a half-gallon or gallon jar. Then I pour water into the smaller jar to give it enough weight to hold the cabbage below the level of the juice, but not so much weight that the juice overflows. The juice level will rise during fermentation, so if it's already pretty high, you're going to want a bowl under it to catch any overflow. It's also a good idea to throw a towel over the top, to further reduce stuff falling in out of the air.

5. Put the whole thing in a dark place at a temperature around 70F (21C). Too warm and it can get soft and spoil, too cold and it will ferment very slowly or not at all. Now check it at least once a day. You want the juice level to stay in the neck of the big jar, without going so low that cabbage is exposed to air, or so high that it overflows. Generally the way you do this is by gradually adding water/weight to the small jar, to balance the force of fermentation, and maybe pushing it down sometimes to squeeze bubbles out. It sounds complicated, but in practice it's easy to figure out what to do if you keep in mind that the juice level should stay above the cabbage but below the rim of the big jar.

6. Fermentation time varies greatly, mostly depending on temperature. The easiest way to know when it's done is to taste it. Throw out anything that tastes moldy, tastes bad, or turns a strange color! But if there's some bad stuff on top, you can probably take it off, plus a bit extra to be safe, a still eat the stuff on the bottom. A trick to prevent mold is to add some vinegar to the original mix. When it's done, put it in the refrigerator to stop fermentation. If you don't have a refrigerator, keep it in a cool place, and eat it as long as it tastes good.

Note: Because sauerkraut involves microbial action, most recipes are super-careful to avoid being sued. If you're worried, there are more cautious instructions available, like this University of Minnesota page on making fermented pickles and sauerkraut. By using this more casual recipe, you agree to not get sick, and not hold me responsible if you do. If you have a weak immune system, you should start with professionally made raw fermented foods before making your own. The best book on homemade fermented foods is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

(last updated October 2011, public domain, anti-copyright)