Today was the day!
With great anticipation I unscrewed the lid from my mason jar and lifted it away. A pinkish-red color greeted my eyes. One more layer to remove. I picked off the large piece of red cabbage lying atop my “green gold” at the mouth of the jar. Into the trash can it went.
And now for the smell test.
I held the jar below my nose and took a deep whiff.
Fermented cabbage. Honest-to-goodness, homemade sauerkraut.
Oh. Yes. Mmmm.
The green cabbage towards the top of the jar was tinged a faint pink where it had come in contact with my red cabbage “weight.”
Funky color or no, it smelled amazing. I wanted to dig in, but remembered what my mother had said about the prospective product a few weeks ago when she had first instructed me in the fine arts of fermentation: “It’s best to eat it raw,” said she, “but since you’re pregnant,” said she, “you’d better heat it first,” said she.
Mothers know best.
I dutifully warmed a small serving of this gut-nourishing goodness in a saucepan on the stove—just to kill any potential naughty “wee beasties,” as Anton van Leeuwenhoek so quaintly dubbed them (though it probably unfortunately killed some of the nice “wee beasties” too).
My Brassica olaracea var. capitata which had soaked in a sea salt-water bath like a Persian queen for two weeks delivered.
It was divine.
Metabolically, a hunky heap of carbohydrates had been converted by the efforts of bacterial organisms into organic acids. Metaphorically, heaven had met earth. Oh la la. (A bit dramatic, you say? Oh maybe slightly. 😉 )
My five-year-old took a whiff. “Mmmm,” he said with a smile. Then a strange look came over him and he scrunched his face as he walked away.
Apparently first impressions didn’t last for him.
No matter. If you’re a sauerkraut lover, a health junkie, or simply an adventurous soul, check out the recipe and instructions below for making your own invigorating victuals.
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1 Head of cabbage
Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt
To clean cabbage, soak it for 5-10 minutes in a bowl of filtered water with 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar added. Rinse.
Slice (or shred) cabbage and put in a clean bowl. Add 1 Tbs. salt; let sit for 10 minutes, then knead and squeeze the cabbage for 10 minutes (this helps break it down and release its juices). When finished, add another ½ Tbs. salt (1 Tbs. if it’s a particularly large head).
Fill glass jars with cabbage (I filled them just up to the bottom of the neck; one large cabbage filled 2 quart jars and 1 pint jar). Add any juice (left over from the cabbage) from the bowl to the jars. Now fill the jars with a salt water brine (be sure all of the cabbage is covered in liquid).
1 ½ tsp. Celtic sea salt for every 8 ounces of water
The last thing to add is something to make sure the cabbage stays pushed down into the liquid so it doesn’t mold. Special stainless steel “weights” are made just for this purpose but I didn’t have any on hand. Two other options would be to either use a large, round onion slice, or another cabbage leaf that can fill the neck of the jar and keep the shredded cabbage pushed down into the brine.
Screw the lids on and label the date. Store in a dry, preferably dark place for 2-3 weeks. Check every 2-3 days for white mold (I never had a problem with this).
When ready to eat, place in refrigerator (it can last 6 months here).
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So why sauerkraut for health?
The wonder-working properties of this food lies in its live probiotics, which have amazing benefits for our guts. When we eat sauerkraut, healthy little “gut bugs” take up residence in our digestive tracts; some even form long-lasting colonies! The probiotics feed these “good guys” and help fight the “bad guys” (bad bacteria).
This leads to improved digestion and immune function, a reduction in inflammation and allergies, and a host of other health benefits. Food allergies, autoimmune disorders, and many other health problems are being linked to an unhealthy gut microbiome.
The modern American diet wrecks havoc on the gut. One young man ate nothing but fast food for 10 days to see what would happen to his gut. Before he started, he had about 3,500 healthy bacterial species in his gut. By the end of this experiment, 1,300 of those species had been wiped out, and his gut was dominated by an unhealthy species of bacteria.
Antibiotics are another gut enemy, of course. One microbiologist who studied the link between antibiotics and asthma was astounded by his findings: mice treated with certain antibiotics experienced “a profound asthmatic reaction.” He concluded that this was due to a change in the gut microbiome following adminstration of antibiotics.
The composition of our gut microbes have been drastically altered through unhealthy foods/imbalanced diets, antibiotics, pesticides (like glyphosate, which damages the gut lining and contributes to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria), reduced exposure to parasites and diseases, etc. Yet the state of our health will reflect the state of our gut microbiome.
So one of the best things we can do (not just for our gut, but for the health of our whole body), is regularly eat fermented foods which help to “re-colonize” our digestive tract with our body’s first line of defense against a myriad of health issues: “good guy” bacteria. Many pills and supplements touted as containing “lots of probiotics” are practically worthless. You may basically only be paying for expensive poop (because that’s where most of these “probiotics” are going in the end—no pun). Consuming live, fermented foods is one of the best ways to help you get what your gut needs, in nature’s own complex balance. So eat up!
And happy gut health to you! 😉