The first organic cabbages and kale are ready for harvest in my garden now. I’ve had some trouble getting used to the Southern California growing season, where, because there is no frost, there are more garden pests than I ever thought imaginable.
The cabbage looper worms and I have been at war for the last two months, and every day, I go out to the garden with a can of soapy water and carefully pick them off the undersides of my well-chomped cabbage and kale leaves, and drown them. I couldn’t save the collards; they were just too tasty and got eaten before they could grow enough leaves to make up the difference. So finally, I just gave up, sacrificing them in the hopes it would help spare my other crops.
It really doesn’t matter though if my cabbages have holey leaves though, because I grew them for one of my favorite homemade foods: Sauerkraut. Making your own sauerkraut is a terrific way to preserve an abundant harvest of cabbage, and it’s a remarkably simple process that requires just two basic ingredients—shredded cabbage and salt.
If you haven’t already gleaned from my other posts, the Small Footprint Family are raw and living food enthusiasts. All traditional or ancestral diets have always included raw, lacto-fermented foods with each meal: yogurt, kefir, chutney, miso, sauerkraut, kvass, ginger brew, etc. These homemade, living foods are packed with healthy, probiotic bacteria that greatly enhance digestion, improve the nutrient and enzyme content of your food, and restore the healthy flora in your gut.
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet is almost completely lacking in fermented, probiotic-rich foods, while being heavy in processed, nutritionally bankrupt foods that can damage the intestinal lining and foster the growth of harmful pathogens. Add a little American stress to the mix, and we have a nationwide epidemic of Crohn’s disease, IBS, reflux, candida, and colitis to show for it.
While we generally eat very well, Babyzilla and I still have some big digestive issues, including leaky gut and systemic candida. Because of the candida, Babyzilla’s gut has not yet matured to be able to digest solid foods, and consequently, many food proteins “leak” out of her intestinal lining into her bloodstream where they are attacked as foreign invaders by her immune system. Sadly, this means she is allergic to most foods, including milk, wheat, soy, corn, nuts, rice, most fruit, and several vegetables. And because she is also nursing, I have to avoid these foods too.
Food sensitivities and allergies due to leaky gut and “allergic colitis” are a growing problem for many people these days—especially kids—and these sensitivities contribute greatly to autism, asthma, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune disorders. And while conventional medicine has virtually nothing to offer to these conditions, there are nutritional solutions for many people. Part of healing leaky gut, food sensitivities, and candida, (as well as other digestive disorders), and ensuring a healthy immune system involves eating fermented, cultured foods with every meal. Fortunately, these are very easy to make at home.
If you’ve only eaten store-bought, canned sauerkraut, you owe it to yourself to try the homemade variety. Fresh, raw sauerkraut has a crunchier texture, a delightfully tangy flavor, and a much greater potential for interesting recipes. Because fermentation is more art than science, you can get creative and add things like radish, onion, ginger, green apples, chile peppers, dill or fennel to your batch. Here is our basic recipe:
Small Footprint Basic Homemade Sauerkraut
2-3 large heads Napa, red or other cabbage (or mix and match them)
1 2-quart latch-lid canning jar, OR large ceramic crock
2 freezer bags (if using crock) OR 2 sandwich bags (if using latch-lid jar)
Never use metal containers or utensils. Metal and fermentation don’t mix!
Thoroughly clean and scald the container and utensils you will be using.
Wash, drain and then cut your cabbages into halves or quarters.
Grate, shred or chop cabbage. You can do this by hand or with a food processor. Pieces should be about the size of a quarter, or smaller.
Grate carrots. Peel and grate and ginger. Mince garlic, if using.
With wooden spoon or very clean hands, mix the shredded cabbage, carrots, garlic and ginger with the sea salt, and toss and mix thoroughly until salt dissolves.
When juice starts to form on the cabbage from tossing, mix in the caraway seeds (if desired).
Pack the cabbage and other veggies firmly and evenly into a clean crock, glass jar or enamel container until liquid comes out of the cabbage freely. Leave 2 inches of room at the top of a jar or 4-5 inches of room at the top of a crock.
Make sure juice covers the cabbage completely! (This does not always happen unless the cabbage is fresh from the garden) I make additional brine by putting 1 1/2 Tbsp. of sea salt into 1 quart of boiling water. Dissolve salt and cool brine to room temperature before adding to the cabbage. Use any extra brine in Step 10.
Once cabbage is immersed in brine water, place a plate on top of the cabbage (if using a crock) and a large freezer bag filled with brine water on top of the plate. (I use 2 large bags, one inside the other so that if the bag breaks, it will not water down the cabbage into a tasteless mess.)
If you are using latch lid jars, place a couple small, heavy rocks (boil them first) into 2 doubled-up sandwich bags, and use that to weigh down the cabbage inside the jar. Latch the lid.
The cabbage must be completely submerged so no air can get in and contaminate the sauerkraut with unwanted yeasts or molds!
Put in a cool area where the temperature will not be above 75 degrees. Fermentation will begin within a day, depending upon the room temperature. If temperature is above 75 or 76 degrees, the sauerkraut may not ferment and could spoil!
Cover the container with a clean towel and check after 2 days. Scoop any scum off the top (it is harmless), and repack. Check every 3 days and repeat as necessary.
After 2 weeks, sample the kraut to see if it tastes ready to eat. The flavor will continue to mature for the next several weeks. Refrigerating the sauerkraut will extend its shelf life.