Fermenting a Family Tradition: Making Sauerkraut with Kids

I may have mentioned before that while my husband loves fermented foods my extended family (parents, sibling, etc) are not so much with the fermenty love.  They often think I’m weird when it comes to my food choices, which veer sharply from the Standard American Diet. I know from an aunt that my maternal grandmother made crocks of kraut when my mom and her sisters were young and from my paternal grandmother’s cooking that she did not fear the ferments in any way. Sauerkraut, beet rossol and pickles are all parts of my heritage. Unfortunately, these things seem to have skipped a generation, and I’m the one carrying the fermentation flag for my branch of the family tree.

Ava holding a knife improperly over a wobbly head of cabbage. We got her corrected and chopping in no time!

Ava holding a knife improperly over a wobbly head of cabbage. We got her corrected and chopping in no time!

My niece chopped some mondo heads of cabbage like a pro!

This 8-year-old chopped some mondo heads of cabbage like a pro!

Given how my parents and sister wrinkle their noses when ferments are discussed or smelled (one time they said one of my ferments was “OK” and I nearly died from shock, not because they didn’t totally hate it, but because they agreed to take a bite at all), I know that if it’s to happen, the work of keeping these foods from skipping the next generation falls to me. With that in mind, I decided to spend a bit of time with my niece last week, massaging some cabbage and working to make a ferment that she’ll like the taste of.  Hopefully, like my grandmothers (and unlike my parents or myself) she’ll grow up with a rich and diverse colony of bacteria living in her gut and will grow to be healthy, happy and wise!

Sauerkraut is very hand intensive which makes it a great thing to make with kids!

Sauerkraut is requires lots of hands-on which makes it a kid-friendly ferment to !

As a fun kitchen experience to have with a kid, I highly recommend it.  Smooshing the kraut until it was loaded with liquid was a favorite of my little favorite’s, and she also dug pushing down the pump in the food processor. My niece is 8 years old, heading in to fourth grade next week. I worked with her on holding the knife properly and cutting safely. She got it just fine, and chopped the 3-8 pound heads of cabbage into food processor-sized hunks with just a tiny bit of guidance from me! (Ignore the pic, that was BEFORE our knife-safety lesson).

She had this guy watery in no time! Honestly, I've seen a lot of adults take WAY longer than Ava to break the cabbage down.

She had this guy watery in no time! Honestly, I’ve seen a lot of adults take WAY longer than Ava to break the cabbage down.

Mixing in the salt and seasonings.

Mixing in the salt and seasonings.

Mixing it good!

Mixing it good!

You don’t have to give your kid the knife, of course, if you don’t think they’re ready, but please allow me a moment to be opinionated about why you should, or go watch this TED talk, which says the same thing I’m about to write. Self-sufficiency is a trait that, as a non-parent, it appears parents are more keen to talk about than impart these days. Mushy playground floors, cushioned edges on any sharp corner and an aversion to letting a child within the vicinity of anything even remotely sharp surely do make little ones safer in the moment. But I don’t think those choices are made because of realistically assessed risks, and I don’t think they teach kids how to navigate the rough edges in life that are sure to be there when, one day, parents aren’t. For me, giving kids “dangerous” things (like knives) with oversight and instruction, dovetails perfectly with the empowerment that comes from eating fermented foods. Grow it, buy it locally, understand how it works and YOU decide when it’s ready to be eaten, and YOU decide when it no longer tastes good. In other words, you fight the man by teaching your kid to safely chop with a kitchen knife and by skipping those processed items with “best by” dates on them in favor of the world’s greatest expiration date detectors: your nose and tongue. Here endeth the rant. 

kneading sauerkraut

Packing the kraut jar like a champ. Sometimes little hands are an advantage!

Packing the kraut jar like a champ. Sometimes little hands are an advantage!

filling a jar for sauerkraut Little girl with purple sauerkraut saurkraut love smiling at sauerkraut

I’m not completely sure that she’ll love the resulting sauerkraut (she does live amongst the ferment-averse, after all), I feel good about planting the seed of how fun and easy it is to make sauerkraut. This recipe is one I hope to save for my upcoming book, so stay tuned for that! In the meantime, enjoy some pics of a cute kid making kraut and feel free to check out other recipes: basic or sweet potato kraut or lemon ginger kraut! Or maybe you want some help keeping it all submerged?

Very Pink Sauerkraut

I got Ava right out of bed to demonstrate the difference in color that happens after just a few days of fermentation. Don't mind her bedhead.

I got Ava right out of bed to showcase the difference in color that happens after just a few days of fermentation. Don’t mind the bedhead and jammies.


  1. says

    Rant ON!

    A few years ago, my Girl Scout troop did a cooking class together. They used paring knives and while some parents were nervous about their second graders using knives, they knew the instructor I lined up was going to talk about knife safety with them. The class went really well and the only child that cut themselves was of course, my own, who’s been using a paring knife since she was four. She was using a freshly sharpened knife, a mistake I often make myself.

    • Amanda says

      That’s awesome, Becky (except for the part about your daughter cutting herself, of course)! It’s easy for me to say these things because I don’t have kids, but I would love to think that I’ll be a parent like you some day!

  2. says

    I really enjoyed this post. Fermented foods in my heritage seem to have skipped 3 generations, (at least on my maternal side – I honestly don’t know much about my paternal side’s food heritage). My parents cringe at the thought of eating kimchi, and my other ferments – vegetable & otherwise – are also hard thoughts to bear. I wasn’t introduced to bacteria-rich foods until I moved to Denmark for school about 10 years ago and it changed my life. The loss of food culture in… our culture has really motivated me to work with youth. The results have been tremendous, and I applaud anyone who delves into the world of working with kids, food, and cultural revival. It’s sadly by no means easy to teach health, labor, and reward when there are cheaper, faster, more convenient food options available.

  3. says

    I’ve made sauerkraut with 2 of my 3 kids. Not only do they love to make it, they all love to eat it and this time we actually grew the cabbage too. “Purpley”, my daughters special cabbage which she planted, plus the others of his family from the punnet, a punnet of green cabbages and the kids had helped me weed, feed, water and then harvest them. We took them inside, fed the manky leaves to the goats and chooks, then chopped the cabbage by hand (I wanted to make sure there was no extra protein in the form of slugs, snails, millipedes or slaters hiding in there – we found several slugs before we started chopping, none after) before chopping a few onions into the mix and then adding the salt etc. We’re still eating our last mega batch down but there are 7 pints of homegrown, homemade sauerkraut ready to munch.
    My eldest is 6 and has been helping with the knife for the past year. He’s cut his finger once and has learned well from the experience. My nearly 5yo daughter is not ready for a knife although we’ve tried. I’d probably trust my 3yo more (with help and supervision) than her. Long live sauerkraut! :)

  4. says

    Great site! I teach Russian in small town British Columbia and come from a Russian Doukhobor background, so making kvashenaya kapusta (fermented cabbage) was and is a ritual repeated several times a year in my house. We have an old 5 gallon stone crock, a round wooden wheel, and a big ol rock (from the driveway) – from my parents with which they’ve been making kapusta (using the same wheel and same rock) for over 35 years. I love the odor the house takes on during the making process, and can hardly stand the anticipation of that first sour, garlicy, dilly, crunchy beet red bite.

    This year I’ve decided to make kapusta with my grade 8 Russian class, they’re excited and I can’t wait (one more week) – I think it should go well, and your site has given me so many wonderful ideas of things to try in the future. Thank you so much! Большое спасибо!

    • Amanda says

      Thank you so much for sharing, Robb, and for the kind words. I love hearing about these traditions! I’ve tried to convince my Polish/Ukranian family for years that kapusta (the cabbage dish we eat at holiday celebrations) was originally fermented (copious amounts of vinegar are added in my family’s recipe). No one believes me and my amazing cook of a Polish grandmother has passed, so she can’t back me up on my suspicions. I will be sharing your post with my family now, so thank you for the victory lap!

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