All of this could be yours….
Say goodbye to really good, but overpriced raw fermented goodness…
Instead, say hello to, extremely cheap (after an initial lifetime investment), extremely delicious raw fermented sauerkraut…
What’s that? You say you don’t like sauerkraut? Neither did Jeremy and now he’s addicted. When we have it in the fridge it’s eaten everyday at lunch and sometimes at dinner too.
Tastes great on tofu sausages, chicken sausages, salads, baked potatoes, avocados, and can even be made into dressings.
What’s holding you back? Do you have a fear of failure? or do you have a fear of success and being a raw fermented god or goddess?
Don’t. Make that crock your bitch.
This post has been a LONG time coming, but you’ll forgive me. Right? I knew it was going to be epic and I wanted to have the most experience and knowledge gathered before I shoved it out there.
I actually started making my own raw fermented sauerkraut before October 2011, I made my first batches Spring/Summer 2010 in ball jars, filled with shredded cabbage and carrots. These only took a few days to make and were fermented in the open air with (I think) just a loose tinfoil lid. The thing about open air fermenting (my term) is that it takes a lot of trial and error. Whereas the Harsch crock, the whole process is effortless and there’s a lot less guess work. Guess work like, is the room too hot, is it too cold, does it taste alright, is this how it’s supposed to taste, is there mold on top, did I get all the mold off, what’s that white stuff, checking it daily, the brine overflowing combined with then there not being enough brine left in the mixture, so then needing to add salt/water mixture, and scraping off the top ‘moldy’ bits before eating it.
The first batch I made this way, for all intents and purposes turned out fine, but I was extremely paranoid about if it had any bad bacteria or other funky things in it. I tasted it with reservation and we ate it with reservation, even though it tasted good. We did finish them though. The second batch I made months later, was off. They were definitely off and I’m not sure why or what happened but we took 1-2 bites, left them in the fridge, and then dumped them out. All with a heavy layer of guilt.
A couple months after moving to Portland, my interest for cultured veggies was renewed once again, but I didn’t feel like the trial and error of ball jar fermenting. Enter, the Harsch Crock. This is like the Cadillac of fermenting and crocks, with a retail price between $100-$130. They seem to only be made in Germany with an apparently strong patent because I don’t see anyone else trying over here.
I really didn’t want to spend that, but a 5-11 liter crock can make A LOT of sauerkraut. What I really liked about the Harsch crock is that the lid and special gullet create a vacuum seal that doesn’t allow air in…meaning…there’s no need to scrape anything like mold or scum off the top. You open that crock, remove the weights, and shove the fresh delicious pickle-y goodness straight into your mouth, mind your hands are clean.
I just opened our 5th batch of sauerkraut yesterday and I have to say that every single one of them has turned out perfect and kept us in sauerkraut fermented goodness for 1-2 months – which is consuming it everyday, sometimes twice a day. The cost savings is amazing and the initial investment of the crock is almost returned after the 1st batch.
We are at the point where we want to buy a 2nd one. We have a favorite base recipe that we use in our 5 Liter crock and haven’t deviated from that even though there are many other variations I would love to try, not to mention making pickles.
The Goodness as in RECIPES (approximations for a 5 liter vessel)
1st Batch (2 weeks) - 4 heads of organic cabbage, 1 large yellow onion, 2 lb of organic carrots, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper
2nd Batch (3 weeks) - 3 heads of organic cabbage, couple cloves of garlic, 2 lb of organic carrots, 2 large yellow onions, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper
3rd Batch (3 weeks) - 3 heads of organic cabbage, 1 large yellow onion, 2 lb of organic carrots, daikon radish and kosher salt
4th Batch (3 weeks) – 3 heads of organic cabbage, 1 large yellow onion, 2 lb of organic carrots, and kosher salt
5th Batch (4 weeks) - 3 heads of organic cabbage, 1 large yellow onion, 2 lb of organic carrots, 1/4 cup minced ginger, cayenne and kosher salt.
6th Batch (6 weeks) - 4 heads of organic cabbage and kosher salt. *opened September 10, 2012
7th Batch (4 weeks) - 4 heads of organic red cabbage, 5 organic apples, 1 organic red onion, kosher salt, and pickling spice *opened October 10, 2012
8th Batch (2 weeks) – 2 heads of organic cabbage, 2.5lb organic tomatoes, 1 bunch of bok choy, 2 organic green peppers, 3 organic carrots, 1 large jalapeno, 4 cloves garlic, 1 large onion, 1 cup cilantro, juice of 2 limes, juice of 1 lemon, and kosher salt *opened October 30, 2012
Now let’s get into the business of HOW TO
- Cutting board
- Sharp Knife
- vegetable peeler
- Grater (or use the grating blade of your food processor)
- 2-3 very large bowls or as I’ve recently found, 1 large ‘canning’ pot
- 5 liter Harsch Crock
- A shallow pan/large bowl or cookie sheet (something you won’t need access to for 2-3 weeks)
- a mandolin - this is optional – but I like to use my Swissmar Borner mandolin for the cabbage and onions
- a food processor with the grating and slicing blades - this is also optional – all ingredients could be processed quickly and efficiently this way
A special note – only organic produce should be used when fermenting. Conventional contains pesticides and other harmful chemicals that can slow down or prevent the food from properly fermenting.
- Organic cabbage – about 3 medium/large heads (approximately 8lbs)
- 2lb of organic carrots
- 1 large organic yellow onion
- kosher salt (organic or not)
- Optional ingredients (I will add to this list as I make more variations)
- organic daikon radish
- organic ginger
Making the Sauerkraut:
Start by giving the cabbage a good rinse and then slice off the bottom and discard or compost.
Remove the outer leaves and set aside. I use these to cover the top of the shredded cabbage mixture before the weighting stones are added. This keeps the little shreds from floating to the top, and helps them stay below the brine.
Cut the cabbage in half and then in half again – making quarters.
Now cut into thin shreds using a sharp knife, mandolin, or food processor fitted with the ‘slicing’ blade. I have tried the mandolin and the food processor. The food processor is fast and efficient, but I prefer to use the mandolin. It only takes an extra 5 or 10 minutes. I like the satisfaction of doing it this way and I prefer the thinness of the mandolin over the slicing blade. If you use the food processor, make sure the cabbage is cut small enough to fit in the ‘chute’. Using the mandolin or food processor guarantees uniform thickness which is nice for mouth feel and even fermentation but you could also use a knife, making uniform cuts.
If any larger pieces like this remain, they can be removed and thinly sliced with a knife. *It wouldn’t hurt to leave them this large but when you take a bite you might not want this dangling on your chin while the rest went nicely into your mouth.
If you do not have an epic-ly large container like a ‘canning’ pot (about 21 quarts), than have 3 large bowls ready. Empty the cabbage into one of them. If it won’t fit in one, divide it over two.
Grab the large onion, peel the bad boy, and slice it to your desired thinness. I love using my little kyocera mandolin because it can do thinner slices than the borner mandolin. Add the onion to the cabbage.
Grab the carrots and remove the ends and peel them. Because they’re organic, you probably don’t have to peel them, you could just give them a scrub. You decide.
I’ve grated my carrots by hand or using the food processor, this will also be a personal preference. Get to grating. If you use the food processor, you could feed them down the chute (vertically) or lay them horizontally by halving them and placing them in the wider chute. Which way you’ll do, depends on if you want shreds that are longer like the cabbage or just the diameter of the carrot. Grate them and add them to the onion and cabbage mixture.
This is the salt I used, it’s cheap and can be found at any grocery store. A good rule of thumb (thank you Sandor Katz) is 3 tablespoons for every 5 pounds of cabbage. I use probably 5 tablespoons for my 8 pounds of cabbage. If I’m adding all the ingredients (cabbage, onion, carrot) in layers, I like to throw the salt in every few layers until I’ve reached the right amount of salt. If I have everything all ready to go in one bowl, then I will add a tablespoon and toss with my hands or tongs, then add another tablespoon and repeat.
This is also the point that I add cayenne powder. I’ve never measured it but for the mildest of heats (seriously mild) I do a decent sprinkle across the surface of the bowl.
There is just SO much cabbage! If you do 2 bowls like in this picture than I would split the cabbage and carrot among the 2 larger ones and then divide the onions over the two. Once you start breaking down or wilting the cabbage, you will be able to combine them into the largest one. If you’re using ginger, that could be added here. I know I have a how to mince ginger post, but for the sauerkraut I just threw it into my mini food processor and gave it a few whirs.
This is a picture from the most recent batch I made. I realized I had bought this 21 quart canning pot and that it would be perfect! It was. I could put the carrots, onion, cabbage, ginger, salt, and cayenne without worry of it flying all over the place and plenty of room to massage the cabbage.
Okay. So now that you’ve combined the salt, cabbage, carrots, onion, etc you need to mix it up and get the cabbage to release water. To mix everything I like to use food prep gloves. Even when I wear the gloves I still wash my arms up to the elbows, trim and clean my nails, pull my hair back, and check for any loose hairs on my clothes. I don’t want anything that’s not supposed to be in my kraut get in my kraut, whether I will be the only one eating it or in the case I have guests or share with friends. I trim and clean my nails mainly because with the vigorous massaging of the mixture, my nails have poked through the gloves. I might need to find better gloves.
You could use bare and clean hands sans the gloves to do the mixing but if you have any kind of scrape or even if your skin is just dry, you will feel the burn, from the salt, the ginger and especially from the cayenne.
You want to grab handfuls of cabbage and squeeze or press with fists or a combination of both. Then repeat about 100 times or until there is a lot of brine and the mixture has reduced by half. The goal of the mixing and massaging is to release water from the cabbage. The salt initiates an osmosis like process that draws water out of the cabbage, which once mixed with the salt creates the preserving brine. The brine is what you bow down to and thank for fermenting the cabbage and preventing rot and mold.
The fermentation process goes like this, the salt acts as a preservative while the natural sugars in the vegetables are broken down or consumed by the good bacteria. Think yogurt or kefir. We’re growing live cultures here, that preserve a summer harvest for fall and winter consumption (or if you’re like us – year round). The lactic fermentation process renders the produce more easily digestible, full of vitamins, nutrients, and good bacteria to keep your body healthy, especially gut flora. Just a couple tablespoons a day for good health!
So, however heaping high the cabbage pile is, it will probably reduce to half by the time you are done massaging, squeezing and wringing. See above picture, that is reduced by half and you can even see the brine near the top.
Here is more of the brine in this super classy shot, dripping down from the cabbage and carrots. Once you can tell a lot of brine has been created, that’s how you know you can give your arms a rest and load the crock up.
If you’re going to add daikon radish, now would be the time. You could shred this too, but I really enjoyed the texture of the small chunks. Daikon radish is a very mild white radish that is usually sold by sections, as seen in the first picture above. Peel it with a vegetable peeler, rinse it, halve it, slice it into long strips, and then cut into thirds. Toss it into the mix with the rest and give it a good mix.
Grab your clean crock and start adding every last bit of the cabbage mixture to the crock. I either drop it in by handfuls or tong-fuls, making sure the brine either drips into the bowl or the crock. The brine is like gold, you don’t want to lose it. Pour any remaining brine and shreds into the crock. Using your hands, pack the cabbage mixture down, over and over for a few times. This should bring the brine level above the cabbage. You want this. Grab the outer cabbage leaves you set aside and place them on top of the cabbage mixture. I’ve never read anywhere that this needs to be done, BUT I really like when all my yummy cabbage shreds are below the surface of the brine. It’s like tucking them in for their 2-3 week slumber.
The harsch crock should have come with 2 half circle weighting stones that fit inside the crock, on top of the sauerkraut. Place one in at a time. You will know very quickly if you’ve put too much in the crock as you’ll have an incredibly hard time getting them in. My first batch was like that because I started with 4 heads of cabbage, since then because I always have carrots, I only use 3 heads of cabbage.
After the stones are in, it should look like the picture above. Out of the 5 batches I’ve made, I’ve never had the problem of not enough brine to do this. If for some strange reason, like smurfs came in and stole the brine, not leaving you with enough, you would add salted water until it reaches 1/2 – 2 inches above the stones. About 1 tablespoon salt to 1 cup of water – dissolved.
Bid adieu to the cabbage and place the lid on top. Clean the gutter first, if needed. Whether you are using a tray or a shallow bowl, place a layer of paper towel or micro fiber cloth down between the surfaces. The crock has a very scratchy bottom (oh my!) and I didn’t want it damaging my fiestaware bowl. It also scratched our cheap Ikea table so don’t try to drag it across any surface in the kitchen either. If you want to play ice capades with it, set it on a towel or pillow case. On occasion the crock may decide it wants to pee itself because you filled the gutter too high at some point. This little indecency can be soaked up by the paper towels or rags and not spoil the floor or carpet.
Once the lid is on, add water to the gutter of the crock. I add it almost to where the little spout will discard the runoff. Adding the water is essential as it creates a vacuum seal that will allow air to escape (you will frequently hear bubbles a lot during the first few days and then intermittently through the remainder of the ferment) but not allow outside air in. That subtle balance is what allows this lovely crock to do it’s job. Over the course of the ferment the water will get pulled in by the pressure of the vacuum as well as evaporate. I assure you the seal is still intact, as long as you haven’t lifted the lid (DO NOT LIFT THE LID). Just add more water like you did in the beginning, we may fill ours up to 4 times during the course of 3 weeks.
Place the crock in an out of the way area of your room or house. Ideally you want the temperature to stay between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. We happen to live in a moderate climate, in a 585 sq foot apartment, without air conditioning and radiator heat we’ve only used twice. Our living area kind of just stays in this comfortable range, so we’ve been very lucky. A room thermometer is a nice tool if you are trying to figure out which room is coolest. I would almost always say avoid having it near a window – a pantry or closet may be perfect options.
Leave the crock undisturbed besides refilling the water to the gutter for 2-3 weeks. The first batch I made was 2 weeks, which was tasty, but probably on the mild side for pickle-y flavor compared to 3 weeks. You could even go up to 4 weeks but we are clawing the walls with impatience by 3 weeks. Now, I’ve read that some folks open and taste theirs along the way and then shut and reseal the gutter but I’ve never tried that and I like the idea that the environment stays contained. But that’s up to you.
I mark my google calendar when it is time to open the crock, to make sure I remember and because I’ve enjoyed keeping track of what number batch we’re on and how long I like to wait in between before starting a new batch.
Opening the Crock:
Once the magical day has arrived, clear space on the counter or table. If I open it in the kitchen, I like to set the crock in the sink, so the level I’m lifting the cabbage out at is not above my head – it’s a nice comfortable range.
When you lift the lid off you will hear a small pucker of a noise, that is the vacuum seal releasing. Any water that was held up under the lid will come back out into the gutter NOT into the sauerkraut. Make sure your hands are clean and remove the stones and outer cabbage leaves. Using tongs (a ladle would also work), l remove the cabbage and place it in a large bowl. I find it easier to fill my ball jars when I’m filling from the bowl versus the crock. When I get to the last little bit that’s left in the crock, I grab a 1/2 cup measuring cup and grab the brine and any remaining bits. A turkey baster would be perfect but we don’t have one and the measuring cup suits the purpose just fine.
Let’s pause for a minute and think about the magic that just happened. You just abandoned a slew of vegetables to sit undisturbed in a crock for a few weeks and now there’s this delicious pickle-y harvest right in front of you, that you created. Magic. Magic that has nothing to do with vampires, zombies, witches, werewolves, or mysterious realms with giant walls. If winter is coming, you are going to have plenty of effing sauerkraut, so there!
You can now eat it! It doesn’t need to be refrigerated first or anything, grab a fork and test it out. Savor and enjoy every bite.
Here’s what yesterday’s batch filled. The smaller jars are 2 cup and the larger ones are between 20 and 28 oz. Also, we’ve each grabbed a bowlful. I then added a little of the brine to each of the jars. Store the ball jars of sauerkraut goodness in the refrigerator, they will last up to and maybe over a year in the refrigerator, though we always use ours within a month or two. Another neat thing is the sauerkraut keeps fermenting while in the fridge, just at a much slooowwer rate.
We made a YouTube video last November (2011) for the very first batch we opened and it has 3,036 views! Holy kraut! I need to put up a blooper reel from that video because during filming, one of our photography lights tipped over, while on and exploded on contact with the carpet. I go silent and Jeremy is throwing out profanity, it was like Paranormal Activity meets the Food network and pretty hilarious.
One viewer mentioned on YouTube that they just empty their crock by dumping it into a bowl. If you find that this could work for you – go for it! Our lid and edges get dusty during the 3 weeks, plus there’s the issue of the gutter water, so I prefer to use the tong method – also the crock is heavy.
How Does it Taste?:
Amazing!!! It is a million times better and more flavorful than any canned or bagged sauerkraut at the store that has been cooked and pasteurized. And I definitely like mine over most of the raw fermented brands. There’s only one brand I like to buy when we are ‘in between’ and that is Pickled Planet Organics.
It’s true Jeremy didn’t used to like sauerkraut, he had a traumatic experience related to cooked sauerkraut in the Amana colonies. Whatever happened, it created an aversion. He was way skeptical of the crock purchase in the beginning and now he thinks sauerkraut is the best thing ever.
We both would say the sauerkraut, right out of the crock, has a very fresh and crisp taste with a deli-ish pickle smell. There’s a nice subtle saltiness. I’m really liking our latest batch with ginger and cayenne, it might be my favorite combination.
Washing and Storing the Crock:
After emptying the crock, I add the hottest sink water I can, regular dish washing soap and about 1 teaspoon of bleach. The crock itself, is glazed (lead-free) which makes for easy wiping and washing. The weighting stones are more porous like terra cotta and I still wash them in the same water but scrub harder and rinse longer. I recommend storing the weighting stones outside of the crock in the cabinet or hanging them in something netted, like what lemons come in. One time I stored the stones in the crock and there was enough moisture inside that small fluffs of mold grew on them. I freaked out, then let them sit in a solution of soap and bleach and rinsed the hell out of them and then put them right into the next batch of sauerkraut, everything turned out fine.
Starting the Next Batch:
Due to our eating habits, I find that unless we are going on vacation, we usually start the next batch within a week or two of opening the previous one. The time works out well for finishing what’s in the fridge to replenishing the reserves. It’s pretty awful when you’ve become dependent on it but didn’t start a batch right away and go for weeks without any sauerkraut. Very sad indeed.
Where to Buy a Harsch Crock:
I knew they were available online through Amazon but living in Portland, I wondered if any of the local stores carried them. We found that Mirador Community store carried them on SE Division St. We hopped on 2 buses and made the journey to check them out. We went with the 5 liter and the lady working there made an awesome tape handle on the box, making it safe for our bus travel back home and epic hill climb back to our apartment. Obviously this was before we had zipcar.
So, see what’s available in your area by doing a lot of googling, it will save you shipping costs and support a local business through your eccentric hobbies. If you can’t find them anywhere go through Amazon or another site you trust.
The Cost Savings:
- The crock cost us about $120
- The average cost of ingredients to fill our 5 liter crock is between $10 and $12 and will make about 176 oz of sauerkraut
- Store bought unpasteurized raw fermented sauerkraut can be found at Whole Foods or natural health food stores for between $8 and $12 for 8-16oz
- What we made for $12 is the equivalent of 11 store bought jars that would cost approximately $88
- With each batch we save $76
- After only the 2nd batch we paid for the cost of the crock
I think the 5 or 7 liter crocks are absolutely worth their investment, they are a one time, life-time purchase. We’ve also made pickles and pickled horseradish (post coming) in the crock. There are so many things I want to make but I always want to have our sauerkraut on hand which makes me think I would like to have a 2nd one. Someday.
Getting Comfortable with Fermenting = Read, Read, Read
Still not completely comfortable leaving fresh produce to sit in a crock for weeks. Find books and read, read, read! I read so many by the time I felt comfortable with how much salt, cabbage or what to use. I hope this post has given you a great resource and the visual confidence to start your own fermentation journey. If not or you’re curiosity has been peaked, here are a list of books I enjoyed absorbing knowledge from. Any of the books I recommend, I checked out at the library first, after the many I read, there were only 2 essential resources that I found worth the purchase. The other books were helpful, just not purchase worthy, they’ll be linked to in Amazon so you can look through the book – if available as well as read reviews.
- Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz; this book is worth buying and is an amazing resource, it led to the making of pineapple vinegar!
- Making Sauerkraut and Pickled Vegetables at Home by Klaus Kaufmann and Annelies Schoneck; this book is also worth the purchase, it is thin but full of condensed raw fermenting information.
- Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation by Deborah Madison
- Probiotic Foods for Good Health: Yogurt, Sauerkraut, and Other Beneficial Fermented Foods by Beatrice Trum Hunter
- Putting Food By by Ruth Hertzberg
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Fermenting Foods by Wardeh Harmon; this has come out since my journey started but I would love to check it out.
- Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs by Wendy Brown
So, Sauerkraut is Just a Side?
I think NOT. Go crazy! I’ve compiled a list of ways I’ve used sauerkraut in simple but delicious meals. It’s more than just a side.
Here’s a page dedicated to FAQ(coming soon) regarding sauerkraut. Feel free to leave any questions you may have, I will either add them into the post or to the FAQ page.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I hope it gets you excited about your delicious fermenting journey!