I’ve tried every method of vegetable fermentation: open crock, glass ball jars, pick-it pro air lock lids, home-made air lock with a grommet / fermentation lock and the awesome Harsch Gartopf fermenting crock pot. The Harsch Gartopf fermenting crock creates the most consistent and easy to make sauerkraut. There have been lots of third party studies regarding sauerkraut and the water-lock stoneware Harsch fermenting crock produces the healthiest sauerkraut and in my opinion a far superior taste then any other method.
The reason I started making fermented vegetables is I read somewhere that its much less expensive then probiotic pills and makes higher quality, higher density beneficial lacto-bacteria with other added health benefits. One quarter cup of raw organic sauerkraut is equivalent to many probiotic pills, rich in vitamins and digestive enzymes.
With sauerkraut there is wide latitude of temperatures that produce excellent lacto-fermented vegetables. Anywhere from 55 degrees to 80 degrees, as long as the temperature stays below 82 degrees you will make great sauerkraut. Ideally you start the process at room temp (70-74) and after 4-5 days move the crock to a cooler location. I start my sauerkraut on the kitchen table (out of direct sunlight) and after 4-5 days move the crock to cool part of the house. If the temperature of the crock goes above 84 degrees your lacto-fermented vegetables will be ruined. I let my sauerkraut ferment for 4-6 weeks depending on the time of year, shorter in summer, longer in winter. Make sure to keep the water-lock filled.
My basic recipe for sauerkraut (I have a 7.5 liter Harsch Gartopf fermenting crock):
5-6 heads of organic cabbage, caraway seeds, lots of carrots, 1 tablespoon of pink salt per cabbage (you can add more or less salt) lots of fresh dill. Process the cabbage and carrots with a fine slicing blade in food processor (the more surface area, the better). As each head of cabbage is sliced I layer it in a large container and sprinkle on the salt and dill. When everything is processed I crunch the cabbage mixture with my hands and start to release the cabbage juice. Then put the cabbage in the fermenting crock a little at a time and use your fist to pack and further release juice and create salt brine. When the crock is filled to the proper level, press the weight stones until they are covered with brine. It’s critically important that lacto-fermented vegetables stay submerged under the salt brine to create an anaerobic environment.
The cool thing about cabbage is it is covered with lacto-bacteria that become hyper-active in the anaerobic environment of a salt brine. Other vegetables have the same quality, I’ve successfully fermented many different types other then cabbage.
If you decide to launch into a lacto-fermentation adventure, do yourself a favor and get Harsch crock. I’d recommend the 5 liter model; the bigger ones become very heavy and unwieldy. Here is where I bought mine:
And America’s fermentation guru, Sandor Katz… You gota love this guy:
Lactic acid bacteria create an environment (after a week or so of fermentation) that is completely devoid of pathogenic harmful bacteria, there has never been an instance in human history of someone getting sick from lacto-fermented vegetables. Lacto-fermentation is an old world, pre-refrigeration method of preserving food. As long as the temperature of the fermenting vegetables does not go above 82 degrees you will have no problems, but cooler is better.
As long as the cabbage remains submerged under the salt brine there is no possibility of contamination. The Harsch crock comes with weight stones that are put on top of the shredded cabbage and keep it submerged in the brine. The crock also has a water sealed air-lock built into the lip that only allows the fermentation gases to escape. The Germans are geniuses! Making awesome sauerkraut is deceptively easy.
My latest batch of sauerkraut: All red cabbage, ginger, shredded beets, fennel, parsley, dill, caraway, dinosaur kale, pink salt, cardamom and black pepper. Yes, I have entered the artisan zone.
If you want to go el’cheap o’, you could use a food grade bucket filled with cabbage and salt brine, then weigh down a ceramic plate with a gallon jug filled with water to keep the cabbage submerged under brine. Cover the bucket with a towel and scrap off the yeast formation on the top of the brine everyday.