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The Sauerkraut Chronicles: Book 1

13 May

Ex 1: The sad truth of failure.

Ex 1: The sad truth of failure.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it a million times: we’re obsessed with gut health.  By which we mean, the efficient and healthy functioning of the digestive system.

The reasons for our obsession are varied, and range from less bloating and constipation, to more overall-body health.  The connections between the gut and the brain, and the gut and the immune system are vibrant and strong: there are more messages flowing FROM the gut TO the brain {instead of vice versa, as is true for most other systems’ interactions with the brain}, and 90% of your immune system is wrapped up in your gut.  To us, it’s only logical to foster a healthy gut as an important step to being the vibrant, healthy person we all want to be.

And one of the most important aspects of a healthy gut are germs.

By which we mean, bacteria.  The “good” ones that live in your intestines and help you break down 3-4% of the food you eat that your body’s enzymes can’t break down on their own {thereby leaving their nutrients untapped}.

The good news is there are lots of ways to get good bacteria back into your guts if you’ve lost them {and the most common ways to lose them include antibiotics, stress & a diet high in sugar}: organic, full-fat yogurt, probiotic supplements, and the shelves of Kombucha in the refrigerator section of any healthy-food store are good places to start.

Then there are all the fermented foods and beverages you can make at home.  You can make just about any vegetable into a delicious, fermented superfood.  And the most common of these is fermented cabbage: Sauerkraut.

Here’s how you make Sauerkraut:

Chop or shred a head of any kind of cabbage.

Add 1 Tb salt per pound of cabbage.

Mix it all in a bowl, and massage it until there is almost more cabbage-juice than cabbage {this can take up to 10 minutes}.

Transfer cabbage and cabbage-juice to a glass jar.

Tamp down cabbage until it is fully submerged in its own juices.

Cover jar.

Place in a warm-ish spot for 5-14 days, depending on your taste preferences.


Here are some fun facts about Sauerkraut:

* Since it’s lacto-fermented, it’s a wonderful source of healthy bacteria for our guts.  The good bacteria are “wild” {all around us at all times}, and lacto-fermentation provides an ideal environment for them to settle in and reproduce so we can eat them!

* Many, many cultures throughout history have developed similar fermented food products for health and the preservation of ripe food, ie: fermented pickles and Kimchi.

* Everyone says it’s EASY!

* We CAN’T DO IT!!!!!

We’ve watched countless YouTube videos, read hundreds of blog posts, gone to fermenting workshops, and tried different implements to ensure delicious fermenting.  We’ve tried airlocks, fermenting weights, Weck jars, Ball jars, and my grandma’s antique crock.

Between the two of us, Ryanna and I have made 8 batches of Sauerkraut.  All but one of them have molded in various and disgusting ways {and Ryanna didn’t like the taste of the one “good” one}.

We ferment Water Kefir and Kombucha.  We eat sauerkraut nearly daily.  Ryanna is an amazing home cook {and I’m pretty good myself}.  We are intelligent women who love food and are relatively fearless in the kitchen.

But the *&%%#& sauerkraut is not happening!!!!

Why are we telling you this?  A few reasons:

1.  Sauerkraut is a good excuse for talking about gut health and probiotics.

2. We’re pretty sure we’re not alone, and that’s something we all need to be reminded of every so often.

Whether you are trying not to eat sugar or gluten, quitting diet soda, eating according to the Auto-Immune Protocol, vegetarian, in love with {good, clean, nitrate-free} bacon, or any other way of eating you’ve found that feels good in your body: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  We’re doing it too, or have tried it, or know someone who’s done it, or have read a book about it.  We don’t think you’re weird or crazy.  We think you’re doing your best to rock your own awesome body and life.  And we’re so happy you’re doing it.

3. When we say that you are your own best authority, we mean it.  Yes, we are obsessed with food and health and the place where the two collide.  But we are by no means the authority on what works best for you, YOU ARE.

Which leads us to Why-We’re-Sharing #4:  HELP! IMG_2352

If you know what it’s like to whip up your own, awesome sauerkraut, please weigh in!  We’re tired of wasting cabbage and buying sauerkraut.  Did your mom or grandpa teach you?  Have you done your own trouble-shooting?  What are we missing?

Yes, we want your guts to be healthy, and for you to feel supported and loved, but mostly we just want to be able to make sauerkraut!  So, help some sisters out with your love and advice, please {and if you leave them in the comments section below, others will benefit as well}.  We’ll even share the rewards of our first, good batch!


Liz & Ryanna





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Liz Flint-Somerville, Nutritional Consultant

Liz was a partner in Grub for 3 amazing years and helped author many of our most beloved recipes and posts. She is now dedicating her time to caring for her family, writing poetry, and continuing to cook delicious Real Foods.

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21 Responses to “The Sauerkraut Chronicles: Book 1”

  1. Jeremy May 14, 2014 at 11:13 am #

    Based on the picture alone, it doesn’t seem as if you have enough of a brine. If the cabbage and salt do not produce enough liquid to cover the cabbage easily, then you can make up your own brine with salt and water.
    While you can make sauerkraut with mold and just scrape it away, if you don’t like the thought of that, you will need to eliminate the oxygen that will come into the jar. If you’re using an airlock, did it have liquid in it? Are you opening the jar often? In the beginning days, with an airlock or loosely snug lid, the bacteria should produce enough CO2 to push out the remaining Oxygen in the jar and create an anaerobic environment that should also dissuade any mold.

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      The cabbage was under the brine for the fermenting process, but the gray, powdery mold kept building up on the liquid and was hard to “scrape” off. The airlock might be the direction we’re headed in now, though we keep wondering how our great-grandparents did it without sterilizing dishwashers and airlocks… Maybe the air-born molds have changed!

  2. Margaret V May 14, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    Since you’ve fermented before, I doubt this is the issue, but are you boiling your instruments before fermentation? Cleaning the cabbage? It also looks like there isn’t enough ‘cabbage juice’ in that jar which would allow the mold to grow on top. Also is your fermenting spot too warm? Have you tried fermenting for the minimum amount of time before refrigerating?

    Good luck!

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

      Good ideas, Margaret! We’re actually not putting too much effort into “sterilizing” and maybe we should be! I think we’ll also try to do it in the fridge instead of a cupboard. Thank you!

  3. Pat Rittenmeyer May 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    Sorry I can’t help, however when you find out, please teach a class. I’d love to ferment cabbage, etc
    Good Luck!

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

      Thanks, Pat. We’ll keep you posted on a class when we finally figure it out!

  4. Nathan May 14, 2014 at 12:36 pm #

    I haven’t made sauerkraut either, but comparing your directions to others out there, here’s a couple of thoughts:
    – You say store it in a “warm-ish” spot, but it looks like other instructions ( recommend keeping it cool.
    – The other recipe mentions using an inner jar to keep the kraut submerged and also covering with a cloth, so air is still flowing. Are you doing that?

    Good luck with the kraut and looking forward to seeing further entries in the kronicles!


    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

      I think trying a cool spot is spot-on, Nathan. We were using a plate to keep the cabbage submerged and then a glass cover over the crock for the batch in the photo, but are now thinking of trying an airlock again. Thanks for the link, that’s one of the few we haven’t seen before!

  5. Chris Grove May 14, 2014 at 12:53 pm #

    There is mold happening because you do not have enough liquid in the jar to keep the cabbage submerged (covered). I make my own sauerkraut and kimchee. If you do not have enough liquid try mixing whey leftover from yogurt making or milk kefir making about two tablespoons full (this helps to quicken fermentation also), the kraut should be submerged below the liquid. Keep the cabbage submerged with a small plate with a clean stone weight on top. I’d love to show you the quick process. I only ferment for three to five days then put it in the fridge to continue to ferment for as long as you like. I also preseason the cabbage with caraway seed and sea salt.

    One other thing, massage is not the word for how vigorously I work the cabbage. I use a new meat mallet on it which looks like a hammer with studs on the ends. It softens the cabbage very well.

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

      Thank you, Chris! This batch was submerged completely (we realize the photo is misleading, we’d just scooped it into a storage jar and were about to put it in the fridge).

      I think you’ve really hit it with the duration, though. We’re going to try a few days of fermenting at room temp and then finish it up in the fridge. Also, we love the idea of smashing the cabbage with the salt instead of massaging it. We’re trying that next, too.

      Thank you!!

  6. Holli Terrell-Cavalluzzi May 14, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Hello ladies,
    I’m learning about Sauerkraut myself, my mother-in law makes the best in my opinion. Here’s what she has shared with me she shreds her cabbage, mixes with salt, puts it in a crock and it ferments before it is canned. She said that how you shred the cabbage influences the flavor of the sauerkraut, and she makes it according to the Farmer’s Almanac when the sign is in the head.

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

      Hmm, Holli, this is interesting. We actually chop the cabbage instead of shredding, but you’ve convinced us to try shredding it instead. What does it mean when the “sign is in the head?” Is this like planting according to the moon cycles?

      Now we know we definitely need a Farmer’s Almanac! Thanks!

  7. Douglas Lloyd May 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm #


    That white stuff is mold. Part of your problem is air comming into contact with your cabbage. You need to be able to keep the cabbage below the waterline. So you need to press it down with something. You can scoop out the moldy part and eat what is underneath if you are up to the challenge:P If you start getting black mold, then it’s time to start over!.

    I would suggest getting a FIDO jar. They have a rubber gasket and metal lock on them. Put everything in one of those and you can forget about it till it’s done.

    They have a Facebook page. Look up FIDO fermentation. with people that use these jars to ferment all kinds of stuff.

    Hope that helps.



    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      Thanks, Doug! During fermenting the cabbage was under the brine, but the gray mold was constant on the top of the liquid, and, while the ‘kraut seemed to be ok, there was still a slight moldy flavor, and then a few days in the fridge the gray mold appeared (in the photo).

      We are looking up FIDO right now! Thank you!

  8. Laura May 14, 2014 at 9:55 pm #

    Are you using some sort of weight to keep all the cabbage completely submerged under brine? If the cabbage floats up to the top of the jar and is exposed to the air it will mold pretty quickly!

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:45 pm #

      Yes, Laura, we’ve used glass weights, as well as an upturned plate with a jar on top.

      You’re right, the mold happens so quickly! We were scraping it off the brine daily! And then it moved on to the cabbage itself when we put it in storage in the fridge. *sigh*

  9. Paige Woodruff May 14, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    I think it’s a good idea to ask other people around this area to make it and see if it works… because it’s just such a moldy town. That might be part of the problem?

  10. Paige Woodruff May 14, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    …speaking of which, I need to call Angela Cannon because she said she would do a pickling class, probably later this summer. Maybe she would know something about the cabbage. She is no longer making pickles, but I included her website which is still active.

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

      Are you volunteering to test the Wilmington-Is-Moldy theory, Paige? Do it and report back, please! Maybe the local mold isn’t amenable to cabbage, and we need to try other veggies? Beans, maybe?

      Please keep us updated on Angela’s class, we would love to go! Thank you for the link!

  11. Alexandra May 15, 2014 at 6:14 am #

    I have had success at making sauerkraut. I did add a tablespoon of whey to it. I’d recommend reading up on what is written about it at cultured food life
    Also, Anglela’s pickles are heat processed so they won’t have the good gut bacteria (although they taste better than anything!)

    • Liz Flint-Somerville May 18, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

      We are trying to avoid whey, but did try some Bubbie’s cabbage juice as a starter of sorts. Thank you for that link, cultured food life is really helpful.

      Thanks for the info on Angela’s. It does bring up the difference between pickling and fermenting: pickling with vinegar and sugar for a “fermented” flavor, and fermenting as a more natural process wherein the bacteria create the “vinegar” flavor. Please add any more thoughts on this! Your homesteading wisdom is priceless!

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