A Sour Kraut Tale and How to Make it

A recent conversation I had at the grocery store prompted this column. I believe that conversation certified the need and my obligation to your grandchildren–I don’t have any grandchildren-- to share this important survival knowledge. To assume we will always be able to buy everything we need at a local air-conditioned fancy grocery store is assuming a lot. Those of us who still remember how to do some things our parents and grandparents taught us need to share it. Some of the reasons our early schools were so successful is that older students taught the younger ones. Today we call it mentoring. I’ve also noted that New York and California are turning back the clock to smaller schools and using the older students to mentor the younger ones.

To get back to the story, on a recent trip to the grocery store I bought a can of SAUERKRAUT. The cashier was excited to see someone who actually bought kraut. He commented that he had recently seen a television program on making kraut and was totally fascinated by it. I told him that I knew how to make kraut and had actually made it many times. He then told me that he really liked chopped kraut; but most of the time when he was served kraut the kraut was shredded. He had noticed that kraut required quite a bit of salt and wondered if the salt shredded the kraut. I told him, “Oh, no, a machine does that.” Frankly, I think a better name for the commercial product would be “sour kraut.” To keep it from being so sour, I rinse the kraut in water before frying it or adding it to a pork roast. Homemade kraut is delicious just out of the jar, but the store-bought kraut if just too sour for my taste. The conversation would have gone on much longer, but we were holding up the line. Now for the lesson:

The day before you plan to make your kraut, wash and scald your jars and let your jars dry. If you make very much kraut, you’ll be glad you have done this. Wash your lids as well. I like to use the old fashioned zinc lids with can rubbers. You can use the newer two-piece lids if you wish.

Hopefully, you will have grown your own cabbage or can buy it from a neighbor so that it will be really fresh and crisp. Peel off the outer leaves that may have been visited by cabbage worms and trim away any damaged spots. Wash the cabbage and cut it into large chunks placed in a large aluminum or stainless pan. Don’t try to use granite ware/enamel ware because the chopping will chip your pan. You are now ready to begin chopping. My mother’s favorite cutter was a tin can that had been cut around the top and sharpened. If you don’t have a Cuisinart, that can is the next best thing! When you have finished chopping the kraut, place 1 teaspoon salt in each quart jar. Tightly pack the jar with the chopped cabbage and then fill the jar with cold SPRING WATER.. If you use treated water, the kraut will spoil; and your time and effort is wasted. Seal the jars and set in a somewhat cool place. We always placed the kraut on a shelf on the back porch. That way it was easy to check on the kraut. As the kraut ferments, water will need to be added every day or so for about two weeks. Keep the cabbage covered with the spring water. When the kraut “quits working” seal tightly, wipe the jars, and place with your other canned goods. The cabbage stalks were trimmed and placed–usually one to a jar–and when ready to eat were considered a special treat.

Here’s a recipe from West Virginia that I’ve kept for many years:
Chop cabbage, about one bushel, and put it down in a ten-gallon size stone jar. Put a layer of cabbage and a handful of salt. Repeat until all cabbage is used. Tightly pack the cabbage in the jar. Cover with a plate. Weight down with a clean stone–not sandstone–wrapped in a clean cloth. Let stand until brine rises. ALWAYS MAKE SAUERKRAUT IN A NEW MOON.

I do not remember about the New Moon theory. Sometimes I’m sure it is difficult to coordinate the availability of the cabbage with the signs of the moon. If I ever make sauerkraut again, I guess I’ll try to do it in a New Moon.

I should also add a vegetable preservation method that our forefathers and foremothers used to keep fresh food on the table through the winter months:

Just before the first frost, dig a hole deep enough to go below the frost line. If I recall, about three feet deep will do it around here. Line the hole with straw, then add potatoes, squash, cabbage, cushaw, pumpkin, or whatever is in season in the fall. Be sure to add a layer of straw between each layer of vegetables. This keeps spoilage down as well as providing insulation from the weather. Cover with a heavy layer of straw before covering with the soil. With some thought the produce can be packed in such a way to “dig” a variety of vegetables without disturbing the surrounding quantity.

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