The "Food in Jars" Mastery Challenge – November: Fermentation

The November category for the 2017 Food in Jars Challenge was Fermentation.  My husband Marshall makes wine and we had started a batch of raspberry-rhubarb wine in July that was ready to drink and bottle in November.  We also had several small heads of purple cabbage from our garden that were ready to pick in September, so we had sauerkraut going in a half-gallon mason jar that was also scheduled to be ready in November.

The Wine
Marshall has been making wine for a long time, and sometimes it turns out awesome and sometimes it isn’t as awesome. We have two large patches of everbearing raspberry bushes in our yard, so we pick (and eat, and make jam, and freeze, and make wine with) raspberries from July to October.  This year, we actually made the wine out of the berries left in the freezer from the previous year.  The rhubarb was a gift from a co-worker of mine who shares with me in exchange for a bit of jam or wine. It’s a good deal for both of us!  Anyway, I unfortunately didn’t get a photo of the wine, but we bottled a few bottles to take to family in Ohio when we went for a visit in November.  We drank some (because it’s pretty fun to have a 5-gallon bucket of wine with a spigot tap for awhile), and then we bottled the rest. This year’s batch turned out on the pretty awesome side. We don’t sweeten any of our wine as much as commercial fruit wine, so it has a nice full fruit flavor.

Usually when we put labels on, I just use regular Avery mailing labels. Sometimes we make them a bit fancier on the computer, sometimes we just hand write on them.  However, the adhesive from the labels is a bugger to get off, so this time I just wrote write on the bottles with metallic Sharpie markers.  It worked great, looks fancy, and will wipe right off with some rubbing alcohol when we are done with each bottle.

The Sauerkraut
I am not too proud to admit that our sauerkraut was once again a failure. We just cannot seem to get this right.  Three years ago in the fall, Marshall’s parents were visiting us right around the time our cabbage was done in the garden.  His mom got two mason jars out, sliced all the cabbage and showed me how easy it was to layer shredded cabbage in the mason jars with some salt and tamp it down with a wooden mallet, weight it down on the top and let it do its thing.  We ended up with a delicious batch and froze it in freezer bags.

Two years ago when it was sauerkraut time, we had a BUNCH of cabbage from the garden and decided to make a big batch of sauerkraut and we would can it in jars.  It was too much to do the fermentation in mason jars, so we used the primary fermenting wine bucket with the wine fermenter on top.  At some point in the middle of the fermentation, it seemed to get a bit of mold in it. It must have been ok, because we skimmed that off, and it finished fermenting, we canned it and it was really good.  So this batch was also a success.

Last year, we again used the wine bucket, but Marshall thought it didn’t get enough air the year before so we used a towel to cover it instead of the fermenting lid. Huge mistake. This batch got really funky on us and was not edible. What a waste.

This fall, we decided to revert to the mason jar technique.  Marshall took our beautiful purple heads of cabbage, hand cut them all, and mashed them into a half-gallon mason jar with kosher salt.  We weighted it down with one of my new Pickle Pebbles, rigged a mason jar lid with a wine fermenting top, and let it do its thing.  It really didn’t do anything. It didn’t spoil, but it didn’t ferment.  I think it was a combination of too much salt, and it being packed down too tight?  It basically was like salt cured cabbage! What the heck.

We talked about throwing it away, as it was entirely too salty to eat, but first I dumped it out of the jar into my large Pyrex mixing bowl (shown left,) and put clean filtered water over it and let it soak for 4 hours or so. After that, it was still too salty, so we boiled some filtered water with the cabbage in it, and let it cook that way for about 20 minutes or so.  We then drained it off again, let it cool, and froze in freezer bags. Basically, it’s cooked cabbage at this point. So, not a waste at least since we will eat it – but, it’s not sauerkraut.

For 2018, I am determined to get this right.  I’m going back to the basics and I’m going to use Marisa’s Homemade Sauerkraut as my guide. I recently bought these Pickle Pipes to use as the fermentation lid, and I have my Pickle Pebbles I already told you about for weighting down the goods inside the jar.

For the record, between November 2017 and now as I type this (January 2018), I have purchased 2 jars of Frank’s sauerkraut at the grocery store. It is inexpensive and actually really delicious.  But, this sauerkraut is not going to win. We are going to try this again. And again. Until we get it right. I am smart enough to make sauerkraut, darn it.

After that, we are going to make Kimchi, too.


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