Arts & Leisure

Ask a master gardener: What to do with all that cabbage?

BEFORE MAKING SAUERKRAUT, assemble all the ingredients and equipment needed. Photo by Joyce Amsden

Fermentation has a long tradition as an effective method of food preservation. Eating fermented food provides beneficial bacteria that can help maintain a healthy digestive environment. Many people find sauerkraut a delicious option.

I learned the traditional method of fermenting cabbage to make sauerkraut from my mother. It is an easy-to-master method for preserving cabbage from your garden, farmers market or grocery store.

I have found that weighing ingredients gives the most consistent results. Metric weights provide more accurate measurement and are available on most digital scales. 

Cabbage naturally contains lactic-acid bacteria and water. Adding salt creates a brine, providing an ideal environment for gut-friendly Lactobacillus bacteria while inhibiting unwanted yeast and mold.

Too much salt inhibits fermentation while too little can allow development of pathogens. The correct proportion of salt to cabbage falls in a range of 1.5–2.5% salt to cabbage.

Because various types of salt measure differently, I recommend using a digital scale to ensure success. Avoid salts with added ingredients as they can inhibit fermentation. Himalayan salt is free of additives and found in most grocery stores. I have found it to be very reliable, especially if no scale is available.

To determine the salt, multiply the amount of cabbage by the percentage of salt desired. For example, for 2% salt: cabbage (800 grams) x salt (.02) = 16 grams salt.

To make sauerkraut you will need:

Digital kitchen scale

Cutting board and chef’s knife (or mandolin)

Large mixing bowl

1 quart wide-mouth canning jar with plastic lid

4 oz. jelly jar or fermentation weight (no metal)

A medium fresh cabbage (about 2 pounds or 900 grams)

About 1 Tbsp fine Himalayan salt (16 grams)

Keep your hands and equipment squeaky clean throughout the process.

Using a fresh cabbage ensures adequate brine. Discard any limp outer leaves. Reserve one nice cabbage leaf. Set the cabbage on its flat end and cut into quarters. Slice into very thin ribbons and discard the core. Place the bowl on the scale. Turn it on to set it to zero. Add 800 grams (1 3/4 pounds) cabbage ribbons.

Sprinkle salt over the cabbage and mix. Cover with a clean towel. Let stand 30 minutes.

Pack cabbage in the jar, pressing down tightly to remove all air bubbles. Brine should rise above the mixture. Top with a section of reserved leaf. Add the fermentation weight or small jar to press the cabbage down into the brine. Loosely screw on lid.

Place in a bowl to catch any normal bubbling overflow. Ideal room temperature is 65-72 F for the entire four-week process. I have used my oven turned off with the light on for the entire fermentation with a note on the controls to remove before heating the oven.

Or place on top of the refrigerator or other warmer location. Ferment for up to a month. The sauerkraut should be free of mold, slightly tart and crunchy. Refrigerate for up to one year.

Note that U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines recommend that a pH of 4.6 or less for the finished product. You can purchase testing strips online or at a local garden store.

Joyce Amsden is a UVM Extension Master Gardener Intern from Sharon.

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