Fermented Favorite

For those of you who know me well enough to know my eating habits, you know that there is one particular thing that I love well enough that in my opinion, it deserves its very own food group.  Over the years, I have become convinced that my body actually craves it from time to time, and I always have it on hand to indulge.  My beloved sauerkraut.  When the Summer harvest of cabbage is available, the first thing I do is gather my recipes and decide which ones I am going to make and can to enjoy for the next year.  Sometimes I add fennel and often times granny smith apples or carrots, most of the time I will add a small amount of turmeric for color and taste as well as additional health benefits.  This year I have actually been able to recruit my smallest root little Frannie Sotheby as a lover of sauerkraut and like me, she already can't get enough.  For the batch I am covering in this post, it is a simple 3 ingredients and a very bare bones basic recipe.  This is my classic "go to" recipe for Reuben sandwiches, cooked down with kielbasa, or even on pizza.  Yes, I said pizza.  I want to tell you in advance that because my hands are covered in cabbage and brine, my middle root, Charlie, is my stand-in photographer.  He is no HoJo (a local newspaper photographer, for those nonlocal readers) but his effort is precious, and I'd use them no matter what.  To start off, I typically get 3 nice sized cabbages.  I have grown them in the past, but this year I will wait and do a Fall harvest, so I drove out to visit my Amish community and scored 3 gorgeous heads....of cabbage.   You want to remove a nice outer leaf from each cabbage, wash it, and put it aside.  I'll come back to this later.  After washing and coring each cabbage, I feed pieces into my KitchenAid food processor, using the shredding attachment.  This is the first year I've had a food processor, and I am loving everything it has to offer.  You can shred yours using a good old fashioned sharp knife which is what I have used for several years prior.  You are going to need a big bowl for mixing because now it's about to get messy.  It doesn't seem to matter how much space or how big of a bowl I have, every time I get ready to process cabbage, it looks as though a salad shooter went rogue in my kitchen.   This year I was actually sort of impressed with the fact that I managed to contain the mess to only one small area instead of the entire kitchen space.  Now, for every head of cabbage you use, you want to add 1 tablespoon of caraway seed and 1 tablespoon of coarse salt to your bowl along with the cabbage you have shredded.  Now it's time to work a little.  You want to massage the cabbage (stop laughing) for around 5 minutes or so.  This allows the salt to bring out the water in the cabbage and makes the brine for your magic concoction.  With the brine in mind, don's stress out over whether or not you have enough brine for each jar because you can easily make your own at a ratio of 1 tablespoon of coarse salt per 1 cup of unfiltered water.  I have had to do this on several occasions.  You will notice that the cabbage becomes a bit softer, which makes it easier to pack it tightly into a container.  Let's talk about containers for a moment.  I have used several different sizes of containers, but I always use glass canning jars.  For me, I just find it easier to deal with. 3 heads of cabbage are going to fill around 7-9 pint size jars, or you can use a large vacuum sealed container which is what I opted to do for this batch.  Some of you may have actual fermenting crocks which in that case, I am a bit jealous because I have yet to acquire one.  For this batch, I managed to find a large vacuum sealed flip top jar that would hold all 3 heads of cabbage, so I went with it. Whatever type of container you decide to use, make sure it's clean and ready to go because it's time to pack it in.  Fill your container/containers carefully packing each jar relatively tightly and being sure to leave 2 inches of headspace because over the next 25 days, you will start to see magic happen, and you don't want a mess on your hands.  Pour the brine over your cabbage being sure that it is completely covered but still allowing for the 2 inches of headspace.  Now, about those leaves, we saved earlier (See I told you I'd come back to that).  These play an important role because they are going to act as a barrier that will keep unwanted organisms such as mold from growing on top of our good stuff.  The gatekeeper of the sauerkraut if you will.  You want to fold the intact leaf and cover the top of your kraut with it.  The top leaf doesn't need to be submerged in the brine.  Otherwise, we would need a gatekeeper for the gatekeeper.  You are finished with the labor intensive part of the fermenting process, but we still have a bit of a way to go before we can enjoy the goodness.  You want to seal up your container and place it in a cool, dark area that stays roughly 65-70 degrees for about 5 days.  This for me is like torture because I want to see and smell what is going on in there.  Be patient because it's working its magic without your help, I promise.  After 5 days, carefully open and swiftly close your container.  This releases built up gasses from the fermenting process.  Keep an eye on your brine, making sure that none of it has bubbled out and that you don't need to add more.  If you do, don't be worried, just lift up your gatekeeper, and replace it after you are finished adding brine.  This process of releasing the air from your container will need to be done about every 4-5 days for the entire 25 days process.  After you have crossed the sauerkraut finish line, it's time taste the fruits of your labor, or in this case the fermented vegetables.  This is the point where you have to decide for yourself if you will consume enough to just refrigerate it, or if you feel more comfortable processing or canning it.  I personally can mine, and if that is your choice, I'll cover that also.  For pint-size jars, you want to use the boiling water bath method and process for 10 minutes or if you have used quart jars, the process is the same for 15 minutes.  Welcome to the finish line you guys!  I hope you enjoy your very own pantry of fermented food.