Category Archives: cultured vegetables

How to Make Sauerkraut in a Few Simple Steps

You’ll need a bowl, knife, cutting board, cabbage and sea salt, container for fermentation

I’ve been making sauerkraut for several years now. I remember the first couple of times being really nervous about fermenting anything—I didn’t trust the process. It just didn’t sound safe. After reading about the nutritional benefits of raw sauerkraut in Autoimmune Disease: The Cause and The Cure, I found that buying raw kraut in the store was about $8 a pint. I could make almost two quarts for approximately $5! So, I decided to give it a try. I’m sure glad I did! It is very easy to make, and is just about fool proof thanks to mother nature. Homemade kraut tastes so much better than anything you could buy in the store and is loaded with probiotics and enzymes that aid digestion. Here’s a very basic kraut recipe and procedures. The procedure is pretty much the same whether you’re making kraut, kimchee or fermented veggies, including pickles. I’ve bolded the basics in each step. Recipes for flavored sauerkrauts and other fermented veggies can be found on my Kraut Recipes page.

Note: The secret to fermenting success is to keep the veggies submerged in liquid. This will prevent failures and moldy, slimy kraut. Details are here on the Wild Fermentation web site and I recommend you read it. It will save you from ruining a batch and will give you peace of mind.

I like a variety of sizes in my chopped cabbage. The bigger pieces stay crunchier.

Ingredients
1 medium cabbage (about 4 lbs)
2 TB finely ground sea salt (I prefer the pink Himalayan)

1. Remove the outer tattered leaves and set aside for later use. Quarter and core the cabbage and then cut it into shreds and place in your bowl. Save the core for later as well. It’s your choice on the size of shreds — I like a variety as the bigger pieces will stay crunchier.

2. Toss the salt over the cabbage in the bowl and set it aside for an hour or so. The salt will break down the cells in the cabbage, causing them to release their juices. If after an hour the cabbage is still pretty hard (some cabbage is drier than others), you can massage it lightly using your bare hands. Don’t overdo it! The cabbage will soften during the fermentation phase and if you over massage it will turn to mush after a couple of weeks.

Softened cabbage with juices.

In this photo you will be able to see the juice in the bottom of the bowl. It looks good at this point, so I’m ready to put my cabbage in a fermenting container.

Containers: Rule #1 is don’t use anything metal—the acid created during fermentation will corrode metal. Yucky. You can use an old fashioned crock, a glass bowl or—my favorite—a half gallon canning jar. I have had the most success using the canning jar with an airlock lid. There is less surface to worry about and the airlock keeps out dust, bugs and air while allowing the gases created during fermentation to escape. The water in the airlock not only makes a seal, but also filters out some of the odors that may be associated with fermentation.

3. Spoon the cabbage into a clean container. Here I’m using just a basic Ball jar funnel to make things a little less messy. Once it’s full, press the cabbage down in the container using something firm: your pounder, a wooden spoon, etc. The cabbage should be packed in tightly, with extra juice at the top. If there isn’t a lot of juice, you can make some extra brine by mixing 1 tsp of salt with 1 cup of filtered water.

Pressing down leaves and core to submerge the cabbage.

4. Pack the saved leaves and core on top of the cabbage and press down. This will keep the shredded cabbage under the juice. This is very important! Details are here on the Wild Fermentation web site.

5. Add a cover to the container. If you’re using an airlock lid, assemble according to instructions. If you don’t have one, you’ll need to put something heavy on top of the leaves. You could use a small canning jar filled with water (no metal cans!), a smaller bowl with water, or if using a crock you can put a small plate on top of the leaves with something heavy on top. Some people even have a rock for this purpose. Then cover securely with a cloth, towel, paper towel, coffee filter or even a shower cap. DO NOT seal the container. Gases are released during fermentation and you could explode a sealed jar. I put a larger bowl, plate or Pyrex casserole under my container to catch any fermentation overflow.

Ready to ferment!

Ready to ferment!

6. Place your container in a cool, darkened area. I write the date in Sharpie on mine. I check it every 3 days or so to make sure it’s fermenting (bubbling) and looking good (good color, no mold or slime). If using the airlock, some of the juice may escape into it. No worries. You can open the jar after a week to smell and taste your kraut. Don’t taste it if the smell is off or it looks yucky. This will not happen if you’ve kept the kraut under the brine. Continue to ferment if you prefer a more sour flavor.

7. Once the flavor suits your taste, you can place the kraut in the fridge. I prefer to split mine into pint jars for easier serving. It will keep for months in the fridge. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.

Recipes for various flavored krauts can be found on the Kraut Recipes page.

Preserving Food: More options than just canning!

A few ways to preserve foods.

I’ve been so busy putting food up that I haven’t had time to write. This is going to be a long post, but extremely informative as well! So, here goes…

As a kid, I remember our basement being full of canned tomatoes, pickles and peaches. The basement always smelled like dill and garlic (and mold, we’re talking about Jersey after all), the colorful jars lined up on metal shelves. We always had more than we needed.

Time to put on an apron and dig in!

Later as an adult I tried my own hand at canning. It was a long, hot and arduous process. I shopped for the best vegetables at farmers’ markets miles away from home; cleaned and prepared the vegetables, jars and lids; cut and cooked vegetables and washed and boiled the glass canning jars and lids. The the hot filled jars would go into a boiling vat of water. Due to Colorado’s high altitude, I had to increase the boiling time quite a bit to ensure bacteria-free food. The extra boiling time turned them to mush and probably killed off whatever nutritional value they originally had. I could also only can high acid fruits and vegetables safely (again, because of the altitude) and so restricted myself to peaches, tomatoes, jams & jellies, various pickles and pickled beets. After reading in my canning book about Botulism (Putting Food By), I never felt completely comfortable eating what I preserved, despite all the care I put into the process. When I moved 15 years ago, I sold all of my canning paraphernalia and gave up on the idea of preserving foods.

Yet, I garden, therefore I am. I want to provide my family with real, healthy and organic food. And at times we have more vegetables than we can eat. I end up giving a lot away. I really wanted to find practical ways to preserve my fresh, organic foods so we can still be eating them during the winter. I started looking around for new ideas, and these are what I came up with. If you decide to try any of these preserving methods, please do your research and follow instructions and recipes from reputable books or web sites. If not preserved properly, food can spoil and even kill! A great resource I found this summer is SB Canning. There you’ll find loads of information about how to can, great recipes and the author will even edit your favorite recipes to make them canning-safe. Here we go:

Ball Jar Freezing of Foods

Although pressure or water bath canning is my favorite way to preserve food, this summer I discovered “freezer safe” Ball jars. I made a batch of green chili, then some chicken, beef and pho stock and most recently tomato soup, poured them into pint jars and froze them. What a great thing! The pints are a great size and stack really well. To get the frozen contents out I put hot water into a pot in the sink, set the jars in (without the bands) and let them sit until they can be slide out of the jars. I love these jars so much I’m thinking of throwing out all our old plastic storage tubs and replacing them with the jars. Also since I’m not using the lids to “seal” the contents, they can be washed and reused. The glass jars are airtight and the contents don’t get freezer burned like they do in plastic.

Cellaring or Root Cellaring Vegetables

My parents used to harvest all our green tomatoes at the end of the season, pack them between heavy layers of newspaper and keep them in shallow cardboard boxes in our chilly covered cellar door well. Not all of them survived, but a lot would very slowly turn red so we could have “fresh” tomatoes well into the winter. Once in a while we’d pull a few out of the basket and put them on a window sill in the kitchen to finish the ripening process.

In the past I’ve kept butternut and acorn squash in my basement, but they were gone by December because they were so incredibly delicious. You can also keep root vegetables such as turnips, beets, potatoes, etc. this same way. The secret is storing them in a cool dry area with very little temperature fluctuation, which with modern housing is harder than it sounds. But it’s an ancient method of food preservation and still a good one.

Culturing Foods

Last year, thanks to an article on Dr. Mercola’s web site , I learned about cultured vegetables. These are raw, cut up vegetables that are fermented with naturally present lactobacillus (good) bacteria for a few days, or weeks, in a crock or glass container at room temperature. When ready, they can be processed in canning jars (this will kill the cultures) or kept safely in the refrigerator for months. I think it’s a great way to preserve some the fresh organic vegetables I grow all summer that can’t be frozen or canned. I found this cultured veggie recipe and made a couple of test jars. DELICIOUS! Not only are the vegetables raw, which preserves their nutrition and crunch, but they are loaded with probiotics which is great for the gut and digestion, and the culturing process makes the nutrients and minerals super absorbable for our bodies. It’s also extremely easy to make and if you grow your own vegetables, costs about nothing! These folks were showcased in a couple of Dr. Mercola articles and are out of stock quite often, even at about $18 per jar!  Recently I bought The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods, written by Wardeh Harmon. It’s a great book containing lots of information on how nutritious cultured foods are, the science behind it, and loads of recipes I can’t wait to try. I’ve also been making milk kefir, water kefir and sourdough and will try making my own Kombucha and butter next. Food culturing is a natural way to preserve all types of foods, probably as old as mankind, and is an excellent alternative to canning.

I’ve also made  sauerkraut, dill pickles, kimchee and green beans using the culturing process and they turned out delicious as well. A couple of friends have tasted my mixed vegetables and begged some jars off of me, validation that they are tasty for sure!

Basic Freezing

Last year I tried freezing a few things from my garden. My sour cherries did will. Apples turned to brown mush. Tomatoes tasted horrible when defrosted — sort of over-ripe/spoiled tasting. The apples and tomatoes went straight from the freezer to the compost. What a shame! The National Center for Food Preservation web site is an amazing resource for information on how much time vegetables should be parboiled prior to freezing. I did make a couple of jars of stewed tomatoes at a time there were not enough to warrant dragging out the pressure canner. The stewed tomatoes are delicious and I’ve already used a jar to make a pot roast last week. I used this recipe, but omitted the sugar.  I also made several baggies-full of pesto with all the basil I had. This is my favorite pesto recipe.

Now that’s a carrot!

There are some things that supposedly freeze well, such as green beans, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, collards, peas, summer squash, lima beans–the things you’ll normally see frozen in the grocery store. Tomatoes freeze well only if made into a sauce or stewed. All fruits and veggies need to be washed, cut and parboiled before freezing. Herbs can be chopped and frozen in water in ice cube trays.

Basil can be made into pesto.

Pressure Canning

This summer I broke down and bought a pressure canner. The pressure canner took the “fear” out of preserving at high altitudes, doesn’t turn food to mush since processing time is so much shorter, and can also be used to cook meals when not being used for canning. I still have to make altitude adjustments but it’s not too bad. Once I had my routine figured out, it ended up being an efficient process and took little time. I found a great tomato sauce recipe and was able to can a dozen pints fairly quickly. And yes, she really means 6 bulbs/heads (not cloves) of garlic. I also canned a few jars of apple sauce and apple slices, so I won’t be throwing apples into the compost pile next spring!

Air Drying

My son and began air-drying some things a few years ago. I grew a stevia plant this summer, and it ended up being huge. I pulled it up by the roots, rinsed it under fresh water, tied some twine around the base of the stem and hung it up-side-down in the pantry. It’s dry now and ready for me to grind the leaves to powder in the food processor or just drop a leaf into a hot cup of tea. My son is drying mint, lavender and lemon balm for teas. We also have garlic hanging in the pantry. Fuss free preservation.

Dehydrating

I had a batch of tomatoes that were not quite ready to can when I made my sauce. These extra tomatoes were ripe a few days later and there were not enough of them to can. I washed and sliced them, sprinkled with a little garlic salt and laid them out on parchment in my old trusty dehydrator. I’ve gotten so much use out of my dehydrator!  Now, after 20 years, the plastic is cracking a little but it’s still in working order. Previously I would spray the plastic shelves with Pam, but still had trouble getting the food off. Smearing olive oil on the trays works as well.   Parchment adds a little expense but it’s definitely a great solution as well. I’ve recently discovered Reynolds Wrap Pan Lining Paper. It’s parchment with a foil backing so you can “shape” it to fit different surfaces. I just rip off a length to fit a shelf in the dehydrator, press it over the shelf to make an impression, and cut out the shape with kitchen scissors. I’ll be using my dried tomatoes to make pesto, which I will freeze in baggies and use through the winter. I keep any leftover dried tomatoes in a Ball jar in the fridge for other recipes. I even use them in salads during the winter and spring since I can’t stand “fresh” store bought tomatoes. But they mysteriously disappear around here: tomato chips. You can also dehydrate kale, broccoli leaves, kohlrabi leaves — probably more.

Fruit rollups
Since the parchment worked so well with dehydrating tomatoes, I decided to try using it to make some fruit roll-ups. Our apples were badly damaged by the June hail storm and have been falling off the trees for weeks. I gathered up a few pounds of the ones that had some good flesh on them, washed them and cut out the best chunks. I put the good apple chunks, skin and all, into a big pot, splashed in some lemon juice and about 1/2 cup of filtered water and set it to simmer for about 45 minutes (until the apples were soft). When they were cool enough, I pureed small batches in a food processor and poured them back into the pot. They simmered, uncovered, for 1-2 hours until they were the consistency of frosting and a nice caramel color. Using a spatula, I spread the apples about 3/8″ thick and as evenly as I could on parchment covered dehydrator trays and sprinkled some cinnamon on top.  By the end of the day we had beautiful deep gold fruit bark, which I cut up and put in a container in the fridge. It’s supposed to keep for up to 6 months, but the first batch I made was gone in a couple of days. Not a speck of added sugar and it tastes like the most delicious apple pie! 

You can also dehydrate foods in your oven, but I prefer the dehydrator because the heat is consistent, it doesn’t heat up the whole kitchen and I can use the oven for other things while the dehydrator merrily hums away on a counter. I’ve wanted to try stringing up apple slices to air dry, but that will have to be next summer since my apples are such a mess.

I think I’m done preserving for this season. I have some carrots I picked today, which I may dice, parboil and freeze. I may even make some carrot soup and freeze that. I’m curious how long it will take me to use up the vegetables and fruits I’ve preserved this late summer and fall. My ever-evolving garden project will contain a different variety of vegetables next summer, maybe geared even more towards what I can preserve for use throughout the winter. I have this idea that next summer I want to challenge myself to being totally self-sustained (no trips to the grocery story) for a month, just living off what is growing in our garden and what has been preserved through canning and freezing. I can see me upping the ante in the next few summers to stretch out the month to two, and then three… Of course living in Colorado, with such a short and dicey growing season, really makes more than that challenging. But then I love a good challenge!

Everybody Wants My Fanny(‘s)…

…fabulous recipe for sauerkraut soup!

In a former life, my in-laws were Jewish. They still are Jewish, but no longer my in-laws. My grandmother-in-law Fanny was a buxom, very short sweet white haired woman who shared recipes with me.  Once, back in the late ’70s, she was shocked that I’d been using toothpicks to test my cakes. She made her son Terry drive her all over Sarasota, Florida to find a wire cake tester for me. I still have (and use) it today.I still marvel at the fact that she was named Fanny at birth. It was not a nick name as far as I know. I mean, do you see your newborn emerge from the depths and suddenly think, “this one’s a Fanny?” I do realize that Fanny Bryce, a Jewish Ziegfield Girl, was pretty famous at the time. Or maybe Fanny was born breech, like me? Anyway, I digress…

One of my favorite recipes of hers is for Sauerkraut Soup. Most people would never think of making soup from this unusual delicacy. But you would be amazed how delicious it is! Her recipe combines the tang and texture of sauerkraut with meat to balance it out, plus a little lemon juice and honey. I like to add dried mushrooms. Complex flavors and textures that work so well together! Every once in a while I have a craving for it. Also this summer, in my attempt to find various ways to preserve my summer’s harvest, I came across recipes for making cultured vegetables. The most common one is to make sauerkraut using only a few simple ingredients: shredded cabbage, salt, water. The good bacteria on the cabbage cause fermentation that turns ordinary cabbage into crunchy, tangy and super-probiotic sauerkraut.

So, what’s Sauerkraut Soup without good ol’ Jewish Rye bread? I used to make it regularly when I lived in Sarasota, but when I moved to high altitude Denver I gave up in exasperation. But last weekend I got brave. I found a great Hungry Mouse rye bread recipe and high altitude baking adjustments here. Sunday I pulled all of the ingredients together, spent a couple of hours mixing, kneading by hand, etc. and was ready to put my two little masterpieces into the oven. But… my gas oven would not—gasp—turn on! The stove top worked, the broiler worked, even the self-cleaning setting worked. But  it would not BAKE. Wow. With great disappointment I put my two loaves into big baggies, placed them carefully in the freezer and wished them luck.

On Monday I had a repair person take a look at the oven. It was a striker mechanism that had burned out after 15 years of use. $200 dollars later I was back in business. I took one of the frozen loaves out of the freezer and set it on parchment on a cookie sheet. I raised the sheet off the counter to allow the bread to defrost on the bottom as well as all sides. Two or three hours later it was defrosted and had risen a little more. I put some boiling water in a glass baking tray on the bottom shelf of the oven (to make up for our extremely dry air), hand-wiped the bread with raw egg mixed with water and proceeded with the baking directions. About 45 fragrant minutes later I pulled a perfectly browned loaf of bread out of the oven. It lasted about one day in my house. I just pulled the second loaf out of the oven the next morning, repeated the above and had another gorgeous loaf. They were the perfect accompaniment to the soup and also made for fantastic toast in the morning. My thanks to Fanny and the foodies on the Internet that keep me cooking and eating great food! Update: On my second batch I reduced the oil to one TB and added the raw egg/water coating to make a crisper crust and it worked beautifully!

Sauerkraut Soup
Print Recipe
Rich and flavorful with a variety of textures: this is one delicious soup that you'll never find in a can, or at Panera.
Servings Prep Time
6-8 peeps 40 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings Prep Time
6-8 peeps 40 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour
Sauerkraut Soup
Print Recipe
Rich and flavorful with a variety of textures: this is one delicious soup that you'll never find in a can, or at Panera.
Servings Prep Time
6-8 peeps 40 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour
Servings Prep Time
6-8 peeps 40 minutes
Cook Time
1 hour
Ingredients
Servings: peeps
Instructions
  1. Sauté onion in olive oil. As it softens, add meat and sauté until brown.
  2. Add sauerkraut, water or stock, mushrooms and tomato sauce and simmer for 30 minutes. Add lemon juice (about 1 tbsp or so), honey, salt & pepper to taste. Let simmer for another 30 minutes or so to merge flavors.
  3. Serve nice & hot with a good crusty bread.
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