For several years, we have been making sauerkraut in a five gallon plastic bucket and canning it with a water bath process. Here are some links to blogs I wrote some time ago when we first started, Making Sauerkraut More on Making Sauerkraut. The method that we have been using works well, but the other day I saw a fermenting crock an I am starting to use one.
A fermenting crock, also known as a gärtopf crock or Harsch crock, has a gutter around the top that when filled with water and the lid is in place creates a hermetical seal. In other words, it keeps the air out. This protects the food from air and decay and reduces the chance of mold or bloom forming. The mold or bloom won’t hurt you but looks disgusting, so just scrape it off if it forms.
Fermenting is an excellent way of preserving vegetables and was used for many years as a way to prevent spoilage in food. They were even used on the voyages of Captain Cook to prevent scurvy
A cutaway that shows how the gutter works
The fermenting crock that I purchased is a 5-liter crock, this holds 1 1/3 gallons and is made in Poland (at last something not made in China).
Now making sauerkraut is easy, just take five pounds of cabbage (about four medium heads) remove the outer leaves, quarter them and remove the hard cores. Slice them in small strips and place in a bowl. Mix the cabbage with 3 tablespoons of sea salt and allow it to set in the bowl for a half hour or so.
Cut the cabbage into thin strips
Place the cabbage in the crock and add any water left in the bowl. Pack the cabbage tightly into the crock. At this point, you may need to add weights to add pressure to the cabbage and force the water out of it. Some fermenting crocks come with a ceramic weight and with some; you have to purchase it separately. If you intent to do many different types of fermenting I suggest you get the weights they are inexpensive. Put about a half cup of water int the gutter of the fermenting crock and put the lid on forming an airtight sea.
Periodically check to make sure the brine covers the cabbage. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the cabbage by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate. Add about a teaspoon of salt to a cup of water and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
The crock full of cabbage ready for the water to be poured into the gutter
Now allow your fermenting crock to sit for anywhere from two to four weeks. During this time, you can check on it and make sure that there is still water in the gutter. Because of evaporation, you may have to replace this occasionally. When you check, make sure the brine in over the top of the cabbage. After two weeks or so taste it and when it is to your taste, you can either can it or leave it in the crock. If you leave it in the crock, it will continue to ferment and you can have changes in taste.
I am starting to experiment with adding other ingredients to my sauerkraut including carrots and various seasoning. This an interesting way to preserve many foods, including cabbage, carrots, broccoli, onions, peppers, beets, radishes, turnips in fact almost any vegetable can be fermented. You can also add peeled garlic, peeled ginger, and herbs such as basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, or oregano to flavor them
Once they are fermented, they can be left in the crocks for several months or canned with a water bath process.