Although they made a great many amazing foods at home that I feel regretful I didn’t ask about, I’m not sure if my Polish relatives ever made sauerkraut at home. They definitely ate a lot of it. Kielbasa, Polish sausages, simmering in sauerkraut is a childhood scent. My Dad, arriving home late from work, sat at the table tucking in to those sausages that snapped to the bite. He said to me recently that he is “not a foodie like you and your mother” but I know that he loves Polish food. And, of all the pierogies we ate made by my Mum or carried in a suitcase by my grandmother, the sauerkraut ones were the best. They had to be fried, not just boiled, and slathered in sour cream. People were given those plastic pierogie formers for Christmases and Mothers’ Days but really, only a tuck of the fingers and a smash with a fork can get sauerkraut juices sealed in to perfection.
But from growing up, even with self-unbeknownst “foodies” in the family, I really thought sauerkraut came in a jar or a bag from the supermarket. In fact, when I mentioned on Facebook that I was making sauerkraut, a childhood friend queried, “You can MAKE that? I thought it came in a bag.” I guess we all just thought it was an ingredient…like tuna*.
Given my love for all things fermented and the fact that the cabbages are in season and beautiful I decided to make up a batch of basic salt-based sauerkraut. You can use whey or wine if you don’t want all the salt, but whatever you do, do try and make it yourself even if it is only a one off. It’s almost as easy as finding your shoes, wallet and keys and heading out to the supermarket.
One cabbage, shredded (about a kilo)
2-3 Tablespoons of salt
A big crock or other container and something to weigh down the kraut with (I use a bottling jar full of water). I also place a plate under the weight just to keep more of the cabbage in place, but it just depends on what kind of weight you have.
Sprinkle the cabbage with the salt until it tastes quite (and by ‘quite’ I mean ‘very’ for all those N. Americans who have a different interpretation of the word!) salty and squish it up a bit so that the leaves become bruised and the water starts to be released. You can just press and roll it on a chopping board for this. Smile while you do this because it is the fun part…wait, maybe eating it is the fun part. You decide.
Place it in the container you will ferment in.I use a ceramic Chinese hot pot.
Put the weight on and push down until there is water (ie. cabbage juice and salt) coming up the sides. There may not be a lot at the start, but you just keep pressing on it over the first day or so until enough water comes out to cover all the cabbage.
Once you get it good and juicy, be sure that all of the cabbage is submerged as this is how it both ferments and stays safe from other bacteria.
Depending on how hot your house is, it takes two to five days for the cabbage to start to sour. If you find any mould on top, just scoop it off. It’s perfectly normal even though we’ve all been trained to be afraid of mould. Just be sure your cabbage is submerged and you will be sweet.
When it is the desired sourness, eat. Kielbasa optional.
*I assumed tuna was just an ingredient for mixing with mayonaise to put on a sandwich. I remember when I found out that it was an actual fish! Nobody called it “tuna fish”, just “tuna”.