Adventures in Lacto-Fermentation: Cabbage

Cabbage heads

Winter cabbage

Cabbage. I have lots of it.  Even the frozen cabbage I chipped out of my garden before the polar vortex arrived have defrosted fine in my fridge without only a few lost leaves.  5 days ago, I started a batch of sauerkraut.

Let me explain about me and lacto-fermentation.  I’ve read the books, analyzed the recipes and I’ll all for it.   Nonetheless, every time I try it I end up with smelly sludge that I would never, ever bring myself to eat.

Sauerkraut mason jar set up

Sauerkraut set up.  Not shown is the linen cover, secured by rubber band.

This time, I went small; no sense ruining too much cabbage even if I do have an excess.  I also eliminated the whey starter, since that method has never worked for me before.  I sterilized the jar, shredded and packed fresh cabbage mixed with kosher salt, topped it with a small jar filled with marbles to weigh it down, and placed it at a stable 68F. Sure enough, right on time the salt worked to create a deep brine. That was the last time I was sure things were okay. At Day 2 & 3, it was quite smelly. At Day 4, it was rank but I ventured a small taste.  Tasted like salty wilted cabbage.  No trouble keeping the cabbage submerged in the brine and no mold or goo.

Day 5 was this morning.  Does it smell less?  Another small taste.  Ugh.  Not sour, but bitter — a bitterness that hits the back of the throat and lingers.  (It’s been half an hour and I can still taste it.  It’s not pleasant.)  In such a small batch, I am thinking, the fermentation shouldn’t take long.  For now, the smelly jar will linger on my counter and I guess I will keep monitoring it to see if it yet turns into sauerkraut one evening when I am not looking.

Any advice from experienced fermenters?

UPDATE:  According to this site, I may be in stage one with Leuconostoc mesenteroides proliferating, which would produce the bitter taste, and should occur in about two days.  If so, my theory that smaller jars would ferment faster seems totally incorrect — it may be fermenting slower — and I just need to be patient for a while.


9 thoughts on “Adventures in Lacto-Fermentation: Cabbage

  1. No advice, but I’m curious to see if it works for you this time. I’m very interested in fermented foods but haven’t yet taken tried making them. I’ve been a little hesitant because of some similar stories- I don’t want to go to all the trouble to end up with a slimy, smelly batch of spoiled cabbage 🙂
    My parents always made fermented pickles when I was young, and that is something else I want to learn how to do.

    • In truth it’s not that much trouble to do. It’s less effort than coleslaw. And in terms of food safety, there’s never been a reported case of food illness from home fermented foods in the US… mostly because if it’s really bad there’s not a chance you are going to actually eat it! I am hoping to make this work, though, and that I really like to eat it, because I have 12 heads of cabbage taking up most of my fridge right now!

      I want to try fermented pickles, too. Those are the one my BF likes (“Lithuanian Half Sour”) although he just knows he likes the refrigerated ones.

  2. I made a huge batch of kraut in a 3 gallon crock laudatory year. It took months to ferment, and I remember it going through what we called the “smelly fart” stage. Then it settled down, stopped smelling, and eventually turned into some amazing kraut. I did scrape off the top inch or so because of the bloom on top, but underneath, it was perfect! Can’t wait to hear how yours turns out. By the way, I did not sterilize my big crock. Just gave it a swish and rinse with vinegar, no soap. I also over salted in a big way, but that was remedied by rinsing the kraut just prior to eating it.

    • Thanks for the comment. Hopefully mine will turn out as well. I only sterilized because of my previous failures — undert he weak theory that maybe I have a strange microcritter that inhibits the process.

  3. Pingback: Sauerkraut Update: Success | Recession Gardening

  4. I got into fermenting last October. Kim-chi, kraut, all sorts of pickled veggies, keifer, and ginger bugs. It’s all been good for me.

    Are you squeezing the shredded cabbages with your hands until the moisture comes out, or simply salting and waiting? To help break down the cell walls my research lead me to grab it by the fist full, with salt, and squeeze and knead until the water comes, then season in, and place it in jars.

    On Saturday I made another five-litre jar of kim-chi. To save my hands (the chill sauce is really acidic and my gloves had a hole) I used a potato masher and great results — lots of brine. I’m very interested in what you’re doing and the results. Keep blogging! 🙂

    • I used a canning pusher to break down the cabbage once it was salted and in the jar. It took quite a bit of mashing to get it all in there, but once it was in I just made sure the salt extract enough water to cover the cabbage with brine by the next morning. Your mention of chili powder makes me wonder how this would taste with if it had a spicy kick as well as a the sour tang… or if I could add this to curry…

      Oh, P.S. I posted an update today. I do indeed have successful sauerkraut.

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