Fermentation and pickling is actually quite easy! And explaining how to ferment too can be quite simple. Just check out images to the left. And click here for recipes & troubleshooting.
I can sum up a sauerkraut fermentation recipe in 7 quick steps. The timeframe for fermenting is anywhere from 1 week to 1 year (depending on how tangy and strong you like your ferment). As far as ingredients, for a 1 gallon crock (the type I make), you can use 5 pounds of cabbage which is roughly 2 medium sized heads & 3 tablespoons of sea salt. Also, Sandor Katz has a basic sauerkraut recipe that is easy to follow too.
(1) Chop or grate cabbage, finely or coarsely, with or without hearts, however you like. Place cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you go. The salt pulls water out of the cabbage (through osmosis), and this creates the brine in which the cabbage can ferment and sour without rotting. The salt also has the effect of keeping the cabbage crunchy, by inhibiting organisms and enzymes that soften it. Three tablespoons of salt is a rough guideline for 5 pounds of cabbage. I never measure the salt. I just shake some on after I chop up the cabbage. I use more salt in summer & less in winter.
(2) Add other vegetables like carrots, onions, garlic, seaweed, brussels sprouts, turnips, beets & burdock roots and herbs and spices like caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds & and juniper berries. Experiment!
(3) Mix ingredients together until a nice amount of juice is in the bottom of the bowl - this is your natural saltwater bringe. Now tighltly pack all ingredients into your pickling crock packing cabbage down as you go using your fist or tamping tool.
(4) Cover kraut with follower and place weight (a glass jug filled with water or clean rock) on top. Press down on the weight to add pressure to the cabbage and help force water out of it. Continue doing this periodically (as often as you think of it, every few hours), until the brine rises above the cover. This can take up to about 24 hours, as the salt draws water out of the cabbage slowly. Some cabbage, particularly if it is old, simply contains less water. If the brine does not rise above the plate level by the next day, add enough salt water to bring the brine level above the plate.
(5) If you want, you can cover the crock with a cloth to keep dust & flies out but this is absolutely not necessary.
(6) Leave the crock to ferment in a cool and dry place and check the bubbling kraut every day or two.
(7) Pull some kraut out, taste & enjoy! When you like the taste, it is finished! If you want your kraut tangier and more sour, wait more time. Try to develop a rhythm and start a new batch before the previous batch runs out. Remove the remaining kraut from the crock, repack it with fresh salted cabbage, then pour the old kraut and its juices over the new kraut. This gives the new batch a boost with an active culture starter.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions and check out this page for specific questions & problem-solving.
Interested in the microbiology of fermentation? See here. Other good places around the web - especially if you are getting mold or colors in your ferment, are here, here and here and photo problem-solving here. If you are getting dry white scummy yeast at the top of your ferments, see here.