Question: I have been trying to find out how to make sauerkraut but so far have been unsuccessful. Can you help?
Answer: The U.S. Department of Agriculture gives the following directions for making sauerkraut in its Home and Garden Bulletin No. 92 on making pickles and relishes at home:
25 pounds cabbage
3/4 cup salt
Remove outer leaves and any undesirable portions from firm heads of cabbage. Wash and drain. Cut into halves or quarters and remove core. Shred or slice very thin, about 1/16 inch thick.
Thoroughly mix 2 to 3 tablespoons salt with 5 pounds shredded cabbage in large container. Let stand several minutes to wilt slightly. This permits packing without excessive breaking or bruising of shreds.
Pack salted cabbage firmly and evenly into large clean crock or jar. Using wooden spoon or hands, press down firmly until juice comes to surface. Repeat shredding, salting and packing of cabbage until crock is filled to within 3 to 4 inches of top.
Place plastic bag filled with water on top of cabbage, sealing surface from exposure to air and preventing growth of film yeast or molds. Use heavy-duty bag intended for use with foods. Adjust amount of water to give just enough pressure to keep fermenting cabbage covered with brine.
Formation of gas bubbles indicates fermentation is taking place. Temperature of 68 to 72 degrees is best for fermenting cabbage. Fermentation is usually completed in 5 to 6 weeks.
To store: heat sauerkraut to simmering (185 to 210 degrees). Do not boil. Pack hot sauerkraut into clean, hot jars and cover with hot juice to 1/2 inch of jar top. Adjust jar lids.
Process in boiling water bath, 15 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts. Begin counting processing time as soon as hot jars are placed into actively boiling water. Remove jars and cool. Check that jars are sealed before storage. Makes 8 to 9 quarts.
The bulletin also includes the following information on common causes of spoilage in sauerkraut:
Off-flavors and off-odors develop when there is spoilage in sauerkraut, indicated by undesirable color and soft texture.
Softness in sauerkraut may result from insufficient salt, too high temperatures during fermentation, uneven distribution of salt or air pockets caused by improper packing.
Pink color in sauerkraut is caused by growth of certain types of yeast on the surface of the sauerkraut. These may grow if there is too much salt, an uneven distribution of salt, or if the sauerkraut is improperly covered or weighted during fermentation.
Darkness in sauerkraut may be caused by unwashed and improperly trimmed cabbage, insufficient juice to cover fermenting cabbage, uneven distribution of salt, exposure to air, high temperatures during fermentation, processing and storage, or long storage period.
Address questions on food preparation to You Asked About . . ., Food Section, The Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053. Personal replies cannot be given.