Roasted Lemony Cabbage with Smoked Salmon Credit: Sarah Walker Caron

With funky ferments like kimchi and kombucha gaining in popularity, more and more home cooks are looking to try fermentation.

Fermenting food is a science though. To make sure what you make is safe to eat, it’s important to follow a recipe from a trusted source and keep your workspace clean, according to University of Maine Cooperative Extension food educator, Kathy Savoie.

Sauerkraut is one of the most traditional fermented products and a good starting point for folks taking their first stab at fermentation.

Savoie suggests the National Center For Home Food Preservation’s sauerkraut recipe which starts with 25 pounds of cabbage. If nine quarts is a bit too much kraut for your needs, Savoie said the recipe can be done with five pounds of cabbage and three tablespoons of pickling and canning salt.

To start, remove the outer leaves from five pounds of cabbage and rinse the heads. After cutting the heads into quarters and removing the cores, slice the cabbage into shreds the thickness of a quarter. Savoie suggests using a mandolin for this process.

Once the cabbage is sliced, layer the cabbage and salt into a sanitized food-grade container, this could be a sauerkraut crock, or a five-gallon bucket. While layering the salt and cabbage, mix the ingredients together to help begin the breaking down of the cabbage leaves. The cabbage should be firmly packed, and the mixing of the salt will draw the moisture from the cabbage out to create a brine. If enough liquid to cover the cabbage is not produced during this process, add a brine of one and a half teaspoons of salt per quart of water.

To let ferment, cover the container with a plate and something to weight the plate down, then cover with a clean towel. At 70 to 75 degrees, the sauerkraut will be fermented in three to four weeks. At 60 to 65 degrees, fermentation takes about five to six weeks. Lower temperatures could result in the sauerkraut not fermenting. Likewise, higher temperatures are undesirable — it may become soft and undesirable.

When your fermenting vegetables have reached full fermentation ― when bubbling ceases ― remove any foam or scum that has formed on top of the vegetables.

Finished sauerkraut can be cold packed into jars and kept in the refrigerator for several months. If you want to make your sauerkraut shelf-stable, processing the sealed jars in a boiling water bath is required.

This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s September 2017 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.