From Scratch: Stomp your way to a superfood


Years ago, before refrigeration, our great-grandparents weren't able to run to the supermarket to buy overpriced containers of yogurt containing probiotics, the friendly microorganisms that contribute to our intestinal health.

Instead, when the weather turned cool, the cabbage boards and stompers came out, and people made sauerkraut that would last them through the winter. Shelf life rather than health benefits was their main concern. They would have been surprised to know they were eating a "superfood."

Healthy: Along with loads of probiotics, raw sauerkraut contains a significant amount of vitamins C, B6 and K in addition to fiber. The fermentation process makes these nutrients more available to the body than they were in the original cabbage. Although canned sauerkraut is cheap, only uncooked and unpasteurized kraut contains the live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes.

Fermentation is a process that uses the naturally occurring microorganisms on cabbage leaves to turn the sugar in cabbage into lactic acid that preserves the kraut. Salt is used to draw out the liquid in the shredded cabbage to start this process.

Now is the best time to make sauerkraut, as cabbage grown in the fall has a higher sugar content. Though a little labor-intensive, it is basically a low-tech process. With a couple of adults to do the cutting and a kid or two to do the stomping, it takes about an hour and a half to make a very large batch.

Process: You can use almost any container to make sauerkraut, from a food-grade plastic bucket to a water-sealed ceramic crock. I have a friend who makes his by the quart using a Mason jar with an air lock lid. I invested in a European-style crock with a water lock, as I use it for pickles and other fermented vegetables.

The first step is to shred the cabbage. You can buy a special board to do this or use a sharp knife. For every 5 pounds of shredded cabbage, mix in 3 tablespoons of pickling or kosher salt. You can't use regular table salt, as it has additives that will hinder the fermentation process. I use a kitchen scale to weigh the cabbage.

Once the cabbage is mixed with the salt, pound until the volume is reduced and liquid has formed. I have a special cabbage stomper that a friend made for me, but you can use anything as long as it does the trick. Continue with the next five pounds and do the same. You can vary the amount you make as long as you maintain the salt/cabbage ratio.

Storage: When you are finished, cover the kraut with a plate and place weights on the top so the plate is covered with one inch or more of liquid. Fermentation is an anaerobic process, so it is important that the cabbage is completely submerged. If not, you will end up with rotten cabbage instead of sauerkraut.

Cover the container to keep out dirt and dust, and put it in a cool (60 to 70 degrees) place. Within a day, it will start to "burp." When the burping stops, the sauerkraut is done. This will take from two to four weeks depending on the temperature. At any point, feel free to taste it — being sure to cover it with the weights again.

When the kraut has achieved the taste you want, you can refrigerate, freeze or just eat it out of the crock.

— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.

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