Homemade Sauerkraut & How it Taught Me to Grow a Life I Love

homemade sauerkraut: beet kraut and curry kraut
homemade sauerkraut: beet kraut and curry kraut

I have a (slightly embarrassing) confession.  I didn’t eat sauerkraut until I was 23.  

The embarrassing part isn’t that it took me so long to eat it, but that it took me so long to know what it was.  Like kale and bok choi and hakurei turnips, I didn’t discover kraut until I began farming.  

Two years into my life as a farmer, still working on other people’s farms at the time, a new friend came over for a mid-winter dinner, bringing a jar of homemade sauerkraut with him.  I played it cool, like I’d eaten kraut for ages.  Like I totally knew what it was.

And when he left, I inspected the jar and asked Edge, what is this?  

Maybe this isn’t cause for embarrassment for you, but for me, a new sprout in the organic farming and homesteading community, I wanted to already know these staple foods.  I wanted to already know how to make kraut.  

I wanted to be past the seedling stage already.  To be fully rooted in this lifestyle that called so deeply to my heart (and belly).  

It’s not so unlike wanting to be 16 when I was only 8 years old.  But children don’t just leap over the ensuing years, and plants don’t just jump from seedling to seed head.  

In between is growth.  And that’s where the good stuff is.  

What about you?  Have you felt stuck between where you are and where you want to be?  Have you ever felt like you’re at the doorway of a new phase or community, looking in and scared to step through until you “know enough”?  You’re not alone.

After I got past the embarrassment, I ate the sauerkraut.  

It was crunchy and zingy, and while it took me a few tries to decide how I felt about it, kraut is now one of my favorite foods.  Eventually, I even began making it myself, first in jars, now in 5-gallon buckets.  

I’ve learned that stretching into the unknown is part of the seedling stage.  And while I may be scared of a misstep, the reality of my experience has been one of generous teachers who share their own mistakes and how they grew from them.  

I’ve learned that to be rooted in this lifestyle, I have to step over the threshold, put my hands in the soil, and ask questions.  I have to be willing to not know and willing to learn.

With tenderness toward my younger self, I offer you my two favorite kraut recipes.

But first, why make and eat sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented foods are like compost for your gut.  Just as compost helps grow healthy soil, lacto-fermented foods are filled with probiotics to support a healthy gut biome.

Unlike canning, which kills bad bacteria through heat or pressure, lacto-fermentation uses high amounts of salt, which kills bad bacteria but leaves lactobacillus (good bacteria) to transform the vegetables into a tangy preserve through a process of converting lactose and sugars into lactic acid.

All you need for a simple homemade sauerkraut is sea salt and cabbage.  My two favorites, though, add a twist: curry and beets.  

What you’ll need:

  • 5 lbs cabbage : 3 tbs sea salt
  • Glass jar, crock, or food-grade plastic bucket
  • Wooden pounder (can be a spoon)
  • Plastic Gloves (if pounding kraut by hand, I find gloves save my skin from the salt water)
  • Weight for the top of the crock/jar (can be a smaller jar weighted with water, a plate, etc.  Be sure to use glass, pottery, or food-grade plastic—not metal).
  • For curry kraut, add 1.5 tbs of curry
  • For beet kraut, use 2.5 lbs cabbage and 2.5 lbs shredded beets and mix thoroughly

Step 1 : Prepare

  • Get your supplies ready.
  • Shred cabbage with a knife, mandolin, or food processor.
  • Weigh out 5 lbs cabbage to 3 tbs sea salt.

Step 2: Assemble

  • In a large bowl, sprinkle sea salt onto cabbage and mix thoroughly.  Alternatively, you can add salt a little at a time directly into the jar/crock as you add cabbage.  For curry kraut, sprinkle curry powder in at the same time as the sea salt.
  • Taking one or two handfuls at a time, pound the salted cabbage in the jar/crock, releasing water from the cabbage as you pound.  Add more cabbage ss the water releases and covers each layer.  Continue until all the cabbage is pounded into the jar/crock and the brine is covering the top.
  • Weight the cabbage down under the brine.  For lacto-fermentation to occur, the cabbage must be completely submerged.

Step 3: Wait

  • You’ve done your work.  The rest happens on its own.  Now you’re in that space between beginning and finished, when you have to trust the process and give space for transformation.
  • Keep the fermenting kraut at room temperature.  Taste test in about 5 days.  When it’s fully fermented, store kraut in the fridge.
  • Try it with sandwiches, roasted chicken, or beef stew.  Anything, really.  I love kraut as a side dish to most lunches and dinners, and even with my eggs for breakfast!  

Now I’d love to hear from you.  What embarrassments or questions have held you back?  What do you want to know more about when it comes to organic gardening, homesteading, and creating an organic life?  

Leave your questions in the comments below, and we’ll find the answers together.

6 thoughts on “Homemade Sauerkraut & How it Taught Me to Grow a Life I Love”

  1. Hi Kate – I love kraut but have never made it. Sounds easy to make. With the quantities above what is the end result? I know the cabbage will wilt down, but how much to do you get in the end from 5lbs of cabbage?


  2. I too, did not eat sauerkraut (successfully) until much later in life. I was offered by my Grandpa when I was younger – he’d often make dishes with kielbasa or other types of meats and sauerkraut. I thought the sauerkraut was foul – as most kids probably do. I was turned later in life in my 20s when it turned out that I loved it, and I finally realized how good it was for me. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. Hi! I too am a lover of kraut in my later years (I was only in my 30s when I first had it, and I was hooked! I eat it straight out of the jar!)
    I am itching to make my own and already have a collection of new .5L mason jars with metal lids at home. I see that you used the same! Are you supposed to tightly screw on the lids or leave them loose? Do you cover the entire opening with the rubber circle and then just loosely tighten the metal ring around? Also I’ve found recipes that require you to add brine, and others where you don’t. What’s right? Thanks!

    1. Hi Jackie! I’ve made small batches in mason jars, and also larger batches in 5-gallon buckets, which we then pack into jars once they’re fermented. When making kraut in jars, I loosely screw the lids — the fermentation process can produce pressure inside the jar, so it’s a good idea to loosen them and check on the kraut every few days as it’s fermenting. That way you can also do a taste test to see when it’s ready.

      I haven’t delved into recipes that require you to add brine, and instead stick with krauts, where the process of making it creates the brine. Sandor Katz’s books “Wild Fermentation” and “The Art of Fermentation” are both great resources to check out! I hope this helps!

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