Fermented Foods

Spring 2004
Pickling illustration by Toki Oshima
Illustration by Toki Oshima.

By Roberta Bailey

When I first came to Maine, I lived in northwest Washington County, close to the Aroostook County border. As in all rural Maine towns, you drive at least a half hour to an hour to get anywhere other than your local gas station/convenience store, which also serves as the post office in the back corner. One of our monthly outings was to our MOFGA chapter meeting. These meetings also tended to be work parties. One month we’d help someone put up a pasture fence, the next would be a shingling party.

One meeting was at the farm of Ruth and Blair Yeoman in Drew Plantation. Blair had the roofing torn off the barn, and we helped him re-roof it with new asphalt shingles. The hemlock boards on that roof were 18 to 24 inches wide, sawn from logs Blair had salvaged from the woods after they had been stripped of their bark for the tannery business. I have never forgotten those wide boards.

At lunch time Ruth sent me to their cellar to fetch some sauerkraut. In a far corner of the granite walled cellar was a thigh high crock, 25 gallons or so, still one-quarter filled with sauerkraut. That kraut was the best I have ever eaten. It was also the beginning of my sauerkraut making.

Over the years I drifted away from making sauerkraut. I made a bit of kim chi, but the crock spent more and more time as a plant holder. Sandor Katz’s book Wild Fermentation (see the Dec. 2003-Feb. 2004 MOF&G) has re-inspired me. Last fall I relocated the aloe and filled the crock with kim chi. Now, as I await a drizzly day to set out cabbage seedlings, I’m thinking of making miso in my new crock. I might need to use plastic buckets for sauerruben and sour pickles. Clean plastic buckets and glass jars work fine as fermenting vessels.

Ruth and Blair Yeoman’s Sauerkraut
(a mild kraut with a little less salt)

Time frame: 21 to 28 days

For 5 gallons:

40 lbs. cabbage, red or green

16 Tbsp. canning or sea salt

6 tsp. brown sugar or organic cane sugar

Liz Lauer of Prentiss Township, Maine, uses this method for making kraut in volume:

Shred 5 pounds of cabbage and divide it between two very large stainless steel bowls. Mix 2 Tbsp. salt and 3/4 tsp. sugar with the 5 pounds of shredded cabbage. Let batch one set while you shred the cabbage for batch two. Pack the first batch into the crock, tamping it down hard. Mix the salt and sugar into the second batch, then shred the third batch, and so on, until you have mixed eight batches and tamped them into a 5-gallon crock or bucket. You should still have room for a clean plate and a sterile weight to keep the plate below the brine level. Liz says that the brine may take a day to come out of the cabbage. Let the mixture sit at 60 degrees F. for 21 to 28 days, then taste it. You can keep the sauerkraut in a cool cellar at this point and eat it from the crock, or you may can it, although canning kills the active enzymes and reduces the health benefits of the fermented food.

To can sauerkraut, fill hot, sterile quart jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Cover the sauerkraut with brine. (If more brine is needed, dissolve 2-2/3 Tbsp. of salt into 1-1/2 gallons water.) Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. A 5-gallon crock yields about 19 quart jars.

The following recipes are reprinted, with permission, from Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz.

Sour Pickles

Time frame: one to four weeks

For 1 gallon:

3 to 4 lbs. unwaxed cucumbers or other vegetables

3/8 c. (6 Tbsp.) sea salt

3 to 4 heads dill or 3 to 4 Tbsp. dill seed

2 to 3 heads of garlic, peeled

1 handful fresh grape, cherry, oak or horseradish leaves

1 pinch black peppercorns

Rinse cukes, taking care not to bruise them. Scrub the blossom ends off. If the cukes aren’t fresh off the vine that day, soak them in cold water for a few hours.

Dissolve sea salt in 1/2 gallon of water to create a brine solution. Stir until dissolved.

Clean the crock, then place at the bottom of it dill, garlic, grape leaves and black peppercorns.

Place cucumbers in crock.

Pour brine over the cucumbers and place a clean plate over them, weighting the plate down with a plastic bag filled with water or a boiled rock. If the brine doesn’t cover the weighted-down plate, add more brine mixed at the same ratio of just under 1 Tbsp. salt per cup of water.

Cover the crock with a lid or a cloth to keep out dust and flies, and store it in a cool place.

Check the crock every day. Skim any mold from the surface, but don’t worry if you don’t get it all. If there is mold, rinse the plate and the weight. Taste the pickles after a few days.

Continue to check the crock every day and enjoy the pickles as they continue to ferment.

After one to four weeks (depending on the temperature), the pickles will be fully sour. Continue to eat them, moving them to the fridge or a very cool cellar to slow fermentation.


Time frame: one to four weeks.

For 1/2 gallon:

5 lbs. turnips or rutabagas

3 Tbsp. sea salt

Grate the turnips coarsely or finely as you prefer.

Sprinkle the grated roots with salt as you go. The process will work with more or less salt, so salt to taste.

Add any other vegetable or herb you like, or leave it plain.

Cover and weight the grated roots as for sour pickles (above). Turnips contain more water than cabbage, so they do not take as much pressure or time for the brine to be expressed.

Check the sauerruben after a few days. Wipe away any mold and rinse the cover and weight. Taste the sauerruben. As time passes the flavor will get stronger. Enjoy the evolving flavor over the weeks of warm weather and into the cold months.

Sour Beets

Time frame: one to four weeks

For 1/2 gallon:

5 lbs. beets

3 Tbsp. sea salt

1 Tbsp. caraway seed

Process as for sauerruben. Be sure the brine level stays above the plate. If necessary add some brine at a ratio of 1 Tbsp. per cup of water. Eat raw or use to make Borscht.

Note: If you’re not a fan of caraway or you want a change, try this recipe with 1 to 2 Tbsp. grated ginger or 1 tsp. whole cloves instead of the caraway.)

Check the Chelsea Green Web site, www.chelseagreen.com, for information on ordering Wild Fermentation.

This edition of the Harvest Kitchen was originally published in the spring 2004 issue of The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.

Looking for more seasonal recipes? Sign up for MOFGA’s Local and Organic Kitchen Newsletter.

Scroll to Top
Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter of happenings at MOFGA.