I didn’t know it was so easy to ferment things. Well, that’s not totally true. I’ve accidentally fermented a lot of stuff. Recently, trying to infuse honey with clover flowers, I wound up making a thick mead (boozy toast, anyone?)
But intentionally fermenting? I thought there must be some trick to it. People told me it was easy, and I even got a friend to outline the steps for me, but I didn’t really believe it was that simple.
But it is. Fermenting is both easy and simple.
Actually, now that I’ve fermented my first sauerkraut, I realize that I’m not really doing it at all. The little ferment-y creatures are doing it for me. All I have to do is make an inviting home for them, and they’ll do their job.
Linda Conroy tells me that all fermented food is wild food. That is, the tiny ecosystem in your jar isn’t domesticated, it has all of the benefits of food gathered from the wilderness. Fermented food also tastes great (once you incorporate it into your palette, which may take a few tries), stores well, helps with digestion, and even makes you happier (more on that coming soon). And fermenting is so easy.
Here’s what you do:
Easy, Simple Sauerkraut
- Peel off the outer layer of leaves (save these), then slice the cabbage into thin strips.
- In a large bowl, massage the salt into the cabbage. Use enough salt for it to taste salty without being overwhelming. Massage well. Brine should start to pool in the bowl.
- If brine doesn’t begin to pool, set aside for 45 minutes and massage again.
- Put cabbage and brine into a jar, and place a leaf on top. Weight it down so the cabbage sinks into the brine as much as possible.
- Optional: for faster fermenting, inoculate with some apple cider vinegar.
I made a few mistakes. I put in too much salt, so I washed it off and tried again. I also forgot to save the leaves, so I used part of the stem. Ferments are forgiving. They thrive on their own, as long as we don’t interfere too much.
I can’t describe the pleasure of massaging the cabbage, or the joy of tasting it for the first time. I used a purple cabbage, so my sauerkraut was a gorgeous bright pink.
As I take these beginning steps on my journey with wild and traditional foods, I realize that I already know all of the secrets. They are embedded deep in my DNA. They roam the collective unconscious that I inherited from my ancestors. I wonder how many men and women in my genetic line created ferments, and were just as amazed as I am to see this remarkable natural process.
By Nicholas Tippins