Fermenting 101 – Sauerkraut


The importance of gut health is finally getting the attention it deserves. Trillions of bacteria and micro-organisms make up the microbiome in our gut. Studies show that these little guys play a critical role in maintaining health by aiding in digestion and strengthening the immune system.  They keep the bad bugs at bay – dangerous bacteria like Campylobacter or Clostridium difficile (C.Diff), which can cause serious illness.

So many of today’s health issues may be traced to what’s going on inside the gut. Poor diet, illness, stress, antibiotics, and environmental toxins disrupt the ecology of the microbiome, which puts it into a  “dysbiotic” state. When the system is out of whack, it shows up in different ways:  obesity, type-2 diabetes, irritable bowel disease, and colon cancer (), periodontal disease and dental decay (), atherosclerosis and endocarditis (), anxiety, and depression (). 

It’s crucial to bring the good bacteria back in to rebalance the microbiome and get it back to work as it should. (Guess why fecal transplants work?) Naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh do exactly this – they reintroduce good bacteria – the probiotics – to help diversify and “feed” the helpful flora in our gut.

One of the easiest foods to ferment for beginners is cabbage. The end result, sauerkraut, is the perfect introduction of beneficial bacteria into the microbiome. 


My family has been making sauerkraut for decades. I inherited a vintage cabbage shredder from my parents, at least 60 years old. It came from Poland, travelling in a trunk on the Stefan Batory in the mid-1950s.   It continues to shred today and will always remain a family heirloom. I recently discovered newer versions, handmade in Poland and distributed by a company out of British Columbia – https://cabbageshredder.com/.  

New shredder has arrived, but I will never part with the vintage one!

Using a regular mandolin works fine for small batches, but these big shredders make short work of cutting a whole head of cabbage in minutes, in the perfect, classic, consistency for the best fermented sauerkraut.  A food processor isn’t ideal. When I tested using a Cuisinart, the shreds were a bit too short and thick for my liking, but if that’s all you have, it will still ferment just fine.

You will also need a large bowl for mixing the cabbage with the salt. I use a giant salad bowl I found at IKEA. A stock pot could work too.

Next is the fermenting vessel. Back in the day, my parents used a wooden barrel, making enough sauerkraut to last the whole winter and then some. Smaller ceramic crocks with weighted plates are wonderful alternatives. They come in different sizes and although a bit pricey, should last a lifetime. Although I pine for one of those, it is completely unnecessary and you can make your sauerkraut in a mason jar. 

A 1 Litre / 1 Quart mason jar is probably the smallest size to use and this is big enough for one medium head of shredded cabbage. A large head will fill at least two jars, or alternatively,  one bigger 2L jar.

I use weighted glass disks to keep my cabbage submerged (to avoid mold), but if you don’t have these, you can use a folded cabbage leaf packed at the top before you screw on the lid. 


  • 1 medium to large head of cabbage
  • 1-3 carrots, peeled (depending on size and your own preference) 
  • Non-iodized sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

Sterilize Jars:

Wash and sterilize your jar(s) using one of these options:

  • In your dishwasher on sterilize cycle 
  • In your oven – heat to 275 F for at least 20 minutes
  • In your microwave – place wet jars in the microwave for 60 seconds on high. 
  • Boil lids for 5 minutes or use new ones.

Let jars and lids cool before filling.


  • Remove and rinse the outer leaves of the cabbage. Set them aside.
  • Cut the cabbage into quarters for shredding
  • Shred using cabbage shredder or mandolin into a large bowl or stock pot. Be very careful as you get close to the ends. The blades are extremely sharp!

  • Peel and shred the carrots using the large holes in regular box grater. Add to cabbage.



  • Add approximately 1 measured tablespoon salt for every 1.5 lbs of cabbage. It should taste salty, but not gross. If you don’t add enough salt, you may get mold and soft (not crisp) sauerkraut. Too much salt will inhibit fermentation and will also taste bad.
  • To be more precise, use a digital scale to weigh the shredded vegetables and use the 2% guideline. Multiply the weight in grams by .02 ( 2%) to get the required amount of salt in grams. 900 grams of vegetables would require 18 grams of salt. In my real life example, my very large head of cabbage/3 carrot mixture weighed 2283 g (X .02) = 45.6 g of salt, which, after weighing, I measured as 4 flat tablespoons.

Mix, Squeeze and Pack into Jars:

  • Mix the carrots and cabbage until the carrots are well distributed. Squeeze and toss the mixture with your hands for several minutes. This breaks down the cell walls so the cabbage can release its liquid. The volume will reduce a fair bit as the liquid is released. If it drips when you squeeze it, it is ready to be packed into the clean jar(s). 

Pack the squeezed cabbage mixture into the jar firmly to eliminate any air pockets. Push it down super hard. For the 1L jar, it may be difficult to fit your hand in to pack it down, so you may wish to use the pestle from a mortar & pestle, or the handle of your potato masher or other kitchen tool. Keep filling and packing until you near the top of the jar.

The cabbage must be submerged under the liquid. Top this with one of the large outer cabbage leaves removed earlier, folded to fit into the top of the jar. Alternatively, use a glass weight. This air-lock keeps the oxygen out which helps to keep mold and slime from forming. (Please note if you purchase the weights, they come in two sizes – for both regular or wide-mouth jars.)

Screw the lid onto the jar and place jar out of direct sunlight. I leave mine in a corner on the kitchen counter. Please note that the fermentation process creates carbon dioxide, so for the first few days in particular, make sure to “burp” the jar, loosening the lid briefly to let the gas out. It’s a good idea to keep your jar on a plate or tray, as the liquid sometimes seeps out a bit as it starts fermenting.


Fermenting cabbage has a natural, gassy smell. Bubbles rising in the jar mean it’s working. A little bit of a white film on top is nothing to worry about. BUT if you see black, green or grey mold or if the smell is unbearably bad, something has gone wrong. To be safe, dispose of it and start a new batch. 

Ferment Time

Fermentation speed depends on temperature. If it’s warm, it will ferment faster or vice-versa. Taste is the next variable as some prefer a light ferment, while others (like me) prefer a more sour, acidic flavour. You can start tasting after a week, but it’s safe to leave it for up to a month or even longer, tasting a little every once in a while. When it tastes good, refrigerate to slow any additional fermentation. The last batch I made was perfect after exactly one month on the counter.

Recipes and suggestions on how to use sauerkraut to follow soon! 



Deli-style Polish dill pickles

green cucumber lot

There is no better cucumber than a pickling cucumber. Crisp and freshly-scented, they grow well in our gardens and love to perk up our salads.  Sadly, they are only here for a short while, soon replaced by imported field cucumbers and long, plastic-wrapped English cucumbers – OK, but not the same. 

As summer ends, gigantic bundles of dill show up in buckets beside baskets of these little cucumbers at the farmer’s market. Time for pickling!

For my Polish parents, this was non-negotiable. Didn’t everyone ferment jars of pickles at this time of year? Once sour, they lived in a big cloudy jar in the refrigerator or the cold-cellar, served up as quartered spears alongside open-faced sandwiches on buttered rye, topped with ham or salami, a dab of mustard, tomato slice and some diced green onion on top “for decoration”. Whenever I smell dill, I’m back at their table.

The difference between the pickles found on store shelves and deli-style Polish dill pickles (also known as Kosher dills) are that regular store pickles get their flavour from a vinegar spice-and-brine solution with which they are canned. 

Polish dills are fermented in jars (or barrels if you’re into volume) in a brine solution, but no vinegar and they are never sealed. Once they have reached the right consistency, they go straight in the fridge. They are never sweet, but tangy and garlicky, adding an eye-squinting sizzle to your sandwich or snack. They are alive.

Fermentation is an age-old process to preserve food while also enhancing its nutrition to feed your gut microbiome—the 100 trillion or so bacteria and microorganisms that live in the digestive tract. A healthy microbiome means a stronger immune system with far-reaching health benefits.


Steps to make  a 1 quart / 1 litre mason jar of pickles (note – you may easily double, just by doubling ingredients, which I did for photos here. I made 2 L)

Sterilize – you don’t want the bad bacteria joining your good bacteria.

  • Put jars in dishwasher sterilizing cycle
  • OR wash with regular dish soap and water and place in oven at 110°C (230°F) for 15 minutes. Remove and cool. 
  • Boil the lids in a pot of water for minimum 5 minutes and allow to air dry on a rack or clean towel

Ingredients to make 1 Quart / 1 Litre

  • 1 pound/500 grams of unwaxed pickling cucumbers
  • 1 1/2 tbsp non-iodized sea salt, Kosher salt or Himalayan pink salt
  • 2 cups non-chlorinated water (preferably filtered or spring)
  • 1-2 heads fresh-flowering dill (the big flower-head on the dill plant)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic 
  • 1 or 2 horseradish or fresh grape leaves (optional – for extra crunchiness)


  • Thoroughly wash the cucumbers. If they are not fresh off the vine, soak them in cold water for 30 – 60 minutes
  • Dissolve salt into non-chlorinated water. If you are using tap water, boil the salt with water, mix well and allow to cool
  • Into your sterile jar, place a big fresh dill flower on the bottom, plus one horseradish or grape leaf if using
  • Pack your pickles tightly into jar, lining them up against the sides and filling gaps as you go, until  you reach the top
  • Stuff extra dill florets in any spaces, and add 1 clove sliced garlic pieces and 2 whole cloves among the pickles
  • Pour the brine in to cover all cucumbers, spices, garlic and make sure everything is submerged.
  • You may wish to use a weight like this to hold everything down


  • Leave the pickles until the colour turns from bright green to army green 
  • It is important to “burp” the jars every day for the first few days since carbon dioxide forms as the ferment begins. Little bubbles will rise to the top. That’s a good thing! Just loosen the lid to let the gas escape.
  • The speed at which sourness develops depends on temperature – much faster if it’s hot and humid; a bit longer in cooler temps – so the time frame may range from 4 days to 2 weeks.
  • Taste one every so often until they’re how you like them
  • If white scum appears on the surface, don’t panic. Just skim it off. That’s not a problem at all. If it is black or smells bad, compost your pickles and start over.
  • Pickles should be crispy, sour and infused with garlic and dill flavour. If they ferment too long, they may get a bit soft
  • If you feel you’re at the right texture, place in fridge to stop ferment and enjoy for up to 6 months. Seriously. They can last that long. But they never do.

Ready to Eat!



The guru of the modern fermentation movement is Sandor Katz.  His book The Art of Fermentation – An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World is referred to as the Bible on this topic.



He does have a lighter volume, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Cultured Food, that is a bit more accessible with short descriptions and more conventional recipes. Highly recommend. 



As an Amazon Associate, I earn a tiny commission from qualifying purchases of books or items. This does not increase your price at all. I never list or recommend anything I don’t own or use myself.

Tepache Time

Fermenting has intrigued me since childhood. Every fall, my parents used to shred countless heads of cabbage, by hand, enough to fill a rain barrel. They salted it, packed it in and kept it in the cold cellar. We had fresh sauerkraut “on demand” for the next year. It was great fun watching my nephews’ reactions as their grandpa removed the top layer of ferment “scum”  (“EWWWW!!!”) to reach the fresh sauerkraut below.  I make sauerkraut exactly the same way today, except in far smaller quantities. 

Now that we know how beneficial fermented foods are for gut health, I am experimenting with fermenting all sorts of other foods. 

The newest and most exciting thing I have stumbled upon is tepache (teh-PAH-chay) and the funny thing is, it’s not that new.  Tepache dates back to Pre-Columbian Mexico as a popular drink among the Nahua people. Originally, corn was the base of tepache but the contemporary recipe (tepache de piña) uses pineapple rind and core to make this drink. It’s totally fine to just cut up the whole pineapple as well, which is what I did in the batch pictured below.  In fact, there are countless variations on how to  make tepache – rules and recipes vary and that’s what makes it so fun experimenting.


  • 1 whole ripe fresh pineapple, rinsed clean (organic is best if possible)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 to 6 cloves
  • 1 thumb ginger (optional)
  • 1 large cone of  Piloncillo ( Piloncillo, named “pylon” for its conical shape, is a raw form of pure cane sugar that is used in Mexican cooking. Alternatively, use 1 cup of brown sugar, rapadura, panela, jaggery or any variation of raw cane sugar).
  • ​16 cups of filtered water, or enough to cover the pineapple pieces

Cut off the crown and base of the pineapple and compost. Cut the rest up into slices and then triangles. Put the cut pieces of pineapple with rind into a 1-gallon glass jar or  container.

Add the sugar and spices and enough filtered water to cover.

Muddle, or stir it well with a wooden spoon.

Cover the glass container with cheesecloth or small dishtowel, holding it firm with an elastic.

Place on counter at room temperature, out of direct sunlight.

The timing of the fermentation depends on temperature and can take anywhere from 2 days in a warmer climate to a week or more to get to the bubbly refreshing drink stage. If left longer, it becomes an alcoholic beverage and if left longer still, pineapple vinegar.

I begin sampling once I see a thick layer of white foam on the top. The foam means it’s alive and fermenting. I sample by moving a bit of the foamy stuff with my spoon and testing the brew below.

It should taste light, bubbly and not too sweet. There may be a bit of a musty smell similar to an overripe pineapple,  but it should not be repulsive. I find it a bit smoother and tastier than kombucha.

Aiming for the “refreshing beverage” stage rather than hooch or vinegar, I strained this batch into jars after five days on the counter. A second ferment is possible – meaning once it is strained in the jars, you let it sit another day or two to get more bubbly. It’s important to “burp” the jars at least once a day to avoid explosions from the build-up of carbon dioxide. I used one mason jar and one jar with a clip top (pictured).

Once it tastes as you like it, it should be refrigerated, where it  keeps fermenting, but at a much slower pace.

Tepache tastes best very cold or over ice.

I’m sure it would also taste great in cocktails such as a piña colada.