Sauerkraut is undoubtedly one of the simplest and best known ferments in America, especially if your family is a Polish/Ukranian/Austrian/northern French hodgepodge like mine is. I also think sauerkraut is a gateway ferment. People think they’ll try to make it once as a lark, or maybe they give in to peer pressure. Then they realize how simple and delicious, how fun it is and they go to town. Before too long has passed they’re making kimchi in the bathtub, finding themselves passed out in a pool of their own vinegar, stashing flasks of kombucha in that old pair of boots in the back of the closet and sneaking out of bed to make mead and miso by moonlight. I’ve seen it happen. (No, I haven’t.)
Sauerkraut isn’t something I make every week. I really like it, but it tends to be a seasonal treat for me. Its salty tang inevitably brings delicious memories of Christmas Eve eve (yes, two eves) to mind: watching my dad prepare the kielbasa and sauerkraut before sitting down to roll an imperial amount of gumpke (stuffed cabbage) over the course of an evening.
As with every ferment I make regularly, I like to tweak the recipe whenever I make it. With sauerkraut, I usually prefer caraway over juniper and I generally use mustard seeds if I have them on hand.
When I heard Sandorkraut speak at the Free Library in June, he mentioned talking to someone who included mashed potatoes in her sauerkraut. Neat, right? Never done it before. I’m more of a sweet potato person than a potato person, so that’s what I used when I made this batch. As always, use your discretion. Too salty? Add less salt! Not enough “rye bread” taste? Double the caraway. Like it to remind of you of gin? Add a few juniper berries. Feeling funky? Add some sliced or pureed ginger or a load of garlic! The only essentials are cabbage and salt* so make it your own!