Natural Fermentation and Pickling

How to make sauerkraut and all sorts of delicious lacto-fermented foods

With our generous winter boxes you may quickly find yourself with an overwhelming amount of produce. They say, “When you have lemons make lemonade.” So, we have turnips, beets, carrots; let’s make some pickles.  Wild fermented pickles to be exact.  These fermented vegetables can be a great addition to any meal, and increase the shelf life of many vegetables.  A common ferment which is familiar to most people is German sauerkraut.  Here is an easy recipe which can easily be made with items you already have around your home.                

To make a wild sauerkraut ferment all you have to do is:

1. Chop or grate one head of cabbage

2. In a large bowl salt chopped cabbage to taste (for years, we’ve simply used 2.5% salt by weight). Pound and squeeze until moist, allowing cabbage to sweat. Or one can just patiently wait until the liquid is drawn out of the cabbage…it will come.

3. Pack the vegetables into a jar, pressing all solid vegetable below the liquid. (I use a wide mouth gallon jar, and press with a wooden meat grinder) You can add water if necessary.

3. Cover the jar and allow cabbage to ferment! (I use a gallon Ziploc bag filled with water to hold the solids below the surface of the liquid. It’s important that the liquid covers the veggies. I cover the top of the jar with a paper towel which has a rubber band holding it in place.) The amount of time fermenting is dependent on what taste you want. I’ll allow some ferments to go for months, or as little as two weeks. It really depends on my patience, and the flavors I desire. Warmer temperatures favor quicker fermentation; cold slows it down.

So that is a very basic sauerkraut recipe, but the really fun part is having variations on the recipe. The addition of spices, and even other vegetables can change the character of your ferment.  Adding whole peppercorns, or garlic during step two or three can create a really unique dinner item.  If you were fermenting another vegetable, say carrots, you would follow the exact same steps.  As an example carrots might ferment well with some dill seed, and garlic added at step two.  The variations are as boundless as your imagination. 

I just recently followed these very steps to make turnip pickles, with the addition of one or two beets which created a vibrant magenta hue. If you give this a try you will have some truly unique and funky foods to share with your friends and family.   

For more information on wild fermentation, including health benefits, and historical context I highly recommend Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation and Wild Fermentation.

---Todd Wilson, Dec. 2015