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During my early life, my exposure to sauerkraut was limited to the rare occasions when my dad took me to a baseball game. We'd get Dodger dogs with yellow mustard, relish, chopped onions and a dab of sauerkraut. And for years, that's how I knew it. A topping for hot dogs and nothing more.
It wasn't until my twenties that I discovered just what a powerhouse sauerkraut is. It's the way people have been preserving cabbage for generations. It's incredibly high in vitamin C and since it's a fermented food, it possesses all those live cultures that do such good things for your digestive system.
I realize that a few of you out there might be raising your eyebrows, wondering why I'm writing about sauerkraut in a column all about pickles. Well, kraut is essentially a lacto-fermented pickle, much like the sour garlic dills available at your local deli.
Historically, people made their sauerkraut in large batches after the first frost (a freeze makes cabbage sweeter and slightly more tender). It would be finely sliced, salted, packed into large crocks and pressed until it released liquid. Then it would be allowed to ferment in a cool place. It's typically ready to be eaten after a couple of weeks, though in the old days, it would be allowed to ripen and mature all winter, as there was no other way to preserve it.
Most of us don't have the space for large sauerkraut crocks or the desire to eat it every single day of winter (thankfully, it's not our only way to keep away the scurvy anymore). However, for those of you who have a taste for homemade sauerkraut, here's a way to make it in small batches without any special equipment (beyond a single quart jar).
Before You Get Started
The more thinly you shred your cabbage, the better. Sharpen your knives before getting started or use a good, serrated bread knife.
The warmer the environment, the faster the sauerkraut will progress. Find a corner of your home that stays between 60° and 70°. This means that you might need to stash your sauerkraut in a closet or near a window.
Check the sauerkraut every other day. Skim off any bloom and press the cabbage back down (with clean hands, please) if it has started to float above the surface of the liquid.
Once the sauerkraut reaches a level of pucker that you like, simply pop the jar in the fridge. This is the point at which you could start another jar, should you want to keep the kraut flowing.
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About the author: Marisa McClellan is a food writer, canning teacher, and dedicated pickler who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her jams, pickles and preserves (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars.