During World War I, British soldiers began to use the word “Kraut” as a derogatory term for Germans, presumably in referencing their love of sauerkraut. In fact, during the war, many American sauerkraut producers decided to re-named their product “Liberty Cabbage”, long before anyone had ever heard of “Freedom Fries”. EA’s grandfather was born in Germany, but he utilized the term in a more playful way. When he didn’t know the names of people in family photo albums, he would just call them “some old kraut”.
Heritage not withstanding, EA was never really a fan of the stuff until KD started making it at home. Lots of the ‘kraut available at your local supermarket isn’t “real” sauerkraut at all, just cabbage in a vinegar solution. In addition, it is usually pasteurized, killing any crunch or health benefits that the cabbage might’ve retained. Home-made sauerkraut is fermented by lactic acid, produced by naturally occurring bacteria, and is full of beneficial micro-organisms, much like yogurt containing live cultures. Because it isn’t cooked, it has a wonderfully crunchy texture and a bright refreshing tang that the commercially produced products can’t compete with.
There are numerous ways to make your own sauerkraut at home, and most are fairly easy. KD uses a stoneware Fermenting Crock.specifically designed for fermentation. It has a pair of specially shaped weights that keep the cabbage submerged, and the lid fits into water-filled channel that allows gases to escape, but prevents other things from entering the mixture. The advantage of this setup is that you don’t have to periodically skim off the “scum” that forms on the top of un-sealed fermenting crocks. KD starts by quartering the heads of cabbage and coring them. Using an adjustable ceramic slicer, she shreds them until there is enough to fill a large (8 quarts or so) work bowl. She then sprinkles the cabbage with salt and mixes by hand, giving it a bit of a squeeze in the process. The next step is to taste the cabbage. You’re looking for a good salty flavor to the cabbage, similar to seawater, but not so much that it burns the tongue (usually about 3-4 tbsp of salt for a 5 liter crock). The mixture is dumped into the fermenter and mashed, KD uses a wooden meat tenderizer, until the cabbage releases it’s juices.
This process is repeated until you’ve filled the crock, making sure to leave enough room for the weighting stones. Though not strictly necessary, KD adds a splash of buttermilk, as an “insurance policy” to ensure fermentation. The weights are then placed on top. If there is less than a 1/2” of brine covering the weights, it can be topped up with a solution of salt and bottled water, as chlorinated water will kill your kraut.
The container is then covered, making sure to fill the rim with water, and left at room temperature to ferment. Within a day or so, gas bubbles will start rising and break through the water barrier with a pleasant chirp. This is the sign that the fermentation has taken hold. After the frequency of the “burps” has slowed significantly, usually about two or three days, the crock is placed in a cooler environment, like a basement, and left to continue the fermentation process. Be sure to check the water level of the reservoir often, as it can dry out quickly.
The sauerkraut is ready to eat after four weeks or so, but we find the flavor to be even better after six weeks. You can store your sauerkraut in mason jars in the refrigerator for 6 months or more, or you can harvest a jar or two at a time and the ‘kraut will keep for a few months in the crock as long as the water reservoir is kept full, but it does get less crunchy and begins to loose its bright flavor as time goes on.
Since we usually make a pretty big batch of sauerkraut, we’re always looking for new ways to use it. Of course, it’s great piled on top of hot dogs, and reuben sandwiches are worlds better when made with the fresh stuff, but we wanted to find some more interesting uses for it.
As strange as it sounds, these chocolate-sauerkraut cupcakes actually turned out great. We baked them at 350º for about 14 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the cupcake came out clean. They were light and very moist, with the occasional fleck of crunchy ‘kraut providing a nice textural contrast. Seriously, they’re good!
We tried a few variations on the latke theme, including some made exclusively of sauerkraut, but our favorites were made with a combo of potato and sauerkraut. Initially, we used this recipe but found that we liked it it better without the apples. Also, we deep fried ours in peanut oil, as we already had the fryer out. They have a great toasty potato flavor that pairs nicely with the tang of the ‘kraut.
Once a jar of sauerkraut has been finished, there is usually a fair amount of juice left behind. Many people swear by drinking it, which got us thinking about a cocktail that included some of the ‘kraut juice. We came up with what we call a Franz Sanchez. It’s kinda like a margarita-martini. Made by a German bartender. Fill a shaker with ice and add 2 ounces of tequila (Anejo is best) and a tablespoon of ‘kraut juice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon and maybe a pinch of sauerkraut. The juice takes the place of salt and brings out the earthy flavor of the tequila, while the lemon helps to brighten everything up a bit. We’re not sure what effects the alcohol has on the beneficial microbes, but we’re just going to assume that this cocktail is very healthy.
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