When my Great Uncle Carroll died, the task of cleaning out his home was left to my parents. It was a little white house next to a church, nestled in a valley in a dying town overshadowed by a paper mill. In every nook and cranny of the house they found treasure after treasure of his life lived half abroad in Russia and the Ukraine after the Korean War and the other half tending to business at home taking care of his adored mother’s house. Many folks in Western North Carolina tended to be on the tiny side and my Great Grandmother Ada was no exception. I inherited an impossibly small wristwatch of hers that she wore everyday and a child sized pair of gently heeled, rubber shoes she wore gardening. Both of which, sit on a shelf in my home today. In the process of clearing the root cellar beneath the house, my parents came across my Great Grandmother’s crock (which also happens to be a butter churn) she used for making sauerkraut along with the hefty river rocks she chose ever so carefully for their purpose in the magic craft of turning summer’s cabbage into fall’s sauerkraut.
Using collected knowledge from family members, namely my Granny Flora, I pieced together the method and recipe my Great Grandmother Ada used and brought her old crock out of retirement.
- Two fresh heads of cabbage
- Kosher, Canning or Sea Salt
- Filtered water
- A crock and two river rocks
- A sharp knife
Peel off outer 4 leaves of the cabbage, leaving whole and set aside. Chop remaining cabbage every which way, leaving variations for texture.
Wash cabbage thoroughly in a colander then transport to a large bowl.
Add a light dusting of your preferred salt (about 1 teaspoon) and work it into the cabbage leaves, kneading and squeezing. Allow the cabbage/salt mixture to rest for 10 minutes to break down the cabbage and draw out the water. Transfer this mixture to a well cleaned and sanitized crock. Repeat until you’ve used all your cabbage. Using your hands or a potato masher, press the cabbage mixture down into the bottom of the crock, packing it tightly.
Remember those outer leaves from earlier? They’re usually pretty ugly but still serve a very important purpose. Wash them well and lay them over top your packed cabbage inside the crock. The brine should be just covering the leaves.
Place your large flat river rock on top of the outstretched leaves to weigh them down and keep the contents of the crock under the brine. If your brine level is too low you can supplement it by adding 1 teaspoon of salt dissolved into 1 cup of water at a time until you have just the right amount.
Place a cheesecloth or clean white linen on top of the crock and secure with a rubber band, or in my case the crock/churn lid. This will allow air to escape and circulate assisting in the fermentation process, and will keep any flies or debris out.
My Great Grandmother always placed the second river rock on top of the lid to keep it firmly in place. Put your crock in a dark, cool area for about 14 days to ferment. Check on it periodically to make sure the brine level is still where it needs to be above the cabbage. If the level goes down, add more brine. Keeping the cabbage under the salt solution inhibits the growth of bacteria and ensures proper fermentation.
When my cabbage caterpillar has become a sauerkraut butterfly, I’ll show you how to can your bounty to enjoy for the winter months to come.