Fermenting is being revived because of its tremendous health benefits, but historically people have fermented food to preserve it. Nutrition is a relatively new discipline; it is only recently that people have become concerned with the nutritional value of what they are eating, in the past they were more concerned with getting enough to eat. Sometimes fermented food will last up to a week at room temperature but often it will last longer. Sauerkraut will last from harvest to harvest, for example, making this method of preserving food a valuable (and healthy) preparedness skill. Fermenting is my final frontier when it comes to food storage - I talk more about it here. Like canning it takes a little knowledge and a bit of confidence to get started, but it's a relatively simple process.
Making Sauerkraut With Mason Jar Fermenting–3 Different Set-Ups
Fermenting cabbage is super easy. Fermented cabbage makes sauerkraut, which means sour cabbage, a dish humans have been enjoying for thousands of years. Really all you need to make sauerkraut is salt and cabbage. That's it. It can't get much simpler than two ingredients. Of course there are a few things you can do to help your ferment be successful and ensure that your cabbage crop (or cabbage bought in season at a low price) is preserved, then ready and waiting for you when you take it out of storage.
One thing you can do to work toward a successful ferment is to ferment often. It's like most things, you get better with practice. You also get familiar with how fermenting works in your kitchen and in your cold storage. Since you're dealing with live bacteria it's going to work a little different for every environment. To make sure you practice fermenting often you need to have tools that are easy to use and accessible. Mason jars are an easy to use vessel, you can find them almost anywhere and they are inexpensive. So I wanted to show you 3 fermenting set-ups using Mason jars.
Wash your cabbage. Be sure to use veggie wash. Remove the core.
At this point you can decide what method of shredding will work for you. I think a food processor would be overkill and pulverize the cabbage too much. You could be old fashioned and cut the cabbage up using a knife.
I wanted to use my Bron Slicer because I thought it would give me the most uniform shreds.
As you can see the slicer did a pretty good job with the size of the shreds.
Add 1t + ½t of salt to 1 pound of cabbage. I have about 3 pounds of cabbage here so I used 4t + ½t of salt.
Then crush up the cabbage with your hands and walk away for about 10 minutes. When you return you'll see the cabbage has released quite a bit of liquid. This is a good thing. You want to create a brine for the cabbage.
Fill your jars about ¼ full.
Now, it's time to crush the cabbage. You can use a spoon but it was fun to use this sauerkraut tamper. Crushing the cabbage will make even more brine for your cabbage. A lot of cabbage will fit into a Mason jar. Make sure that your jars are packed and that the brine comes up over the cabbage. After you have packed your jars you're ready for your fermenting top.
The first set-up I want to show you is from Fermentools. It's a great set-up with an airlock, stopper, a stainless steel lid, a gasket for the lid, a stopper for cold storage (not pictured) and a weight. This set even came with a cloth bag to protect the glass weight and a large bag of mineral salt. You will need to use the a standard Mason jar ring to keep the lid in place.
You can see how large the weight is in the picture. The kit is intended to be used with a wide-mount quart jar.
You don't have to have a weight to ferment but it's just an extra step to help prevent mold or other unwanted things from getting into your ferment. You can see here all of the cabbage is under the brine. If you have too much liquid you can pour some off. Don't fill the jar too high or the liquid could rise up into the airlock. So about 1 inch headspace is a good rule of thumb.
You can see here how the airlock fits together. The purpose of the airlock is to allow the gas created during the fermentation process a means to escape while not allowing any of the outside air in.
Fill the airlock with water to the fill line. Then set the jar on the counter for about 14 days.
Next, I used a Re-Cap lid, a standard airlock, a stopper and a glass weight. You assemble this set-up exactly the same as the Fermentool set-up. This set-up worked fine but it was a bit of a hassle having to find all of the parts. I had to buy them all separately. Then some of the parts came as a set. For example, the weights came as a set of 3. If you take into account that I had to buy items as part of a set/pack then this set-up is more expensive then the Fermentools set-up.
The last fermenting set-up I tried was a Tattler lid. (Watch the video below to find out how to make a fermenting lid out of a Tattler lid.) After the hole is drilled in the lid and the grommet is in place, you assemble this set-up just like the previous two. Again, two big drawbacks were finding the items as they are all sold separately and then having to buy the weights and the Tattler lids as a set/package. Then, of course, with this set-up you had to actually drill the hole into the lid so if you're not comfortable with that then you might not want to use Tattler lids.
After you've assembled your fermenting jars with your cabbage then you're ready to let the cabbage ferment. Sauerkraut is "done" in about 7-14 days. Remember when I said we're dealing with live bacteria? Since this is a live culture it will be affected by it's environment. So it could take 7 days or it could take a little longer. Be sure to watch for mold and bad odors which will indicate that something has gone wrong in the fermenting process. Sauerkraut is one of those foods that gets better with age and tastes a little different as it ages. To determine what stage you like the taste try tasting it at various stages, which would be anytime after the initial 7 days. Your jars can be moved to the fridge or cold storage after about 14 days. If you don't have room in your fridge you can put them in the coolest place in your house, just be sure to keep a close eye on them. Make sure it doesn't develop mold or a bad smell. Of course the refrigerator is going to be your safest place for this kind of food storage, especially if you live in a warm climate or if you are making sauerkraut in the summer. But if you live in a cooler climate and/or have a basement then you might be able to store your sauerkraut without placing it in the fridge.
Watch the video as I demonstrate all the above Mason jar fermenting set-ups and even take a look at Fido jars.