Healthy, Frugal Homemade Sauerkraut


Back in the day sauerkraut was a staple in country kitchens.  It was a food which families depended upon to get them through the winter.  Fermented food provides good bacteria, vitamins and minerals which the body relies upon for good overall health.  So, during the dark cold months of winter families counted on sauerkraut for sickness prevention and to sustain them when nothing else would grow in the frozen ground.

When I am around people who grew up with traditional methods of preserving food I get all starry eyed.  Recently I sat with a group of individuals who grew up in the 1930-40’s over in Eastern Montana on rural farms and ranches.  Knowing my fetish with traditional foods, they began talking about their grandmothers and how they preserved everything their family grew.

Cutting cabbage for homemade sauerkraut

My husband Jon, cutting cabbage for this batch of sauerkraut.

My favorite visual of the memorable conversation was when the man began telling how his grandmother would take a bowl down into the cool, dark basement where the family stored all their preserved food.  She would then uncover the big ceramic crock and carefully scoop out sauerkraut for dinner that night.  She did this regularly until they ran out usually in late February.  It was overwhelmingly evident this was a fond memory for this man and the thought of his grandmother’s homemade sauerkraut made him a little homesick.

Growing up with German heritage, I was introduced to sauerkraut at an early age.  I admit it took a good long time for my tastes to adapt and appreciate the fermented cabbage.  But as my tastes matured, I became a devoted enthusiast of sauerkraut.  Fortunately, I married someone who loves it as much as I do so you can be sure we always have a jar of it open and ready for consumption in our house!

Almost nine years ago, I had an older neighbor who upon hearing our love of sauerkraut and our interest in making our own, shared her 1950’s Farmers’ Journal of Canning with me.  As I studied the worn and yellowed pages of the book with age-old notes written in pencil, I couldn’t help being compelled to join the secret society of sauerkraut makers.  And so began my journey of sauerkraut making.

Today many people think sauerkraut has vinegar and other ingredients added to it.  Many are shocked to learn that sauerkraut is simply fresh cabbage and salt.  That’s it.  It’s not pickled food, it is classified as a lacto-fermented food.  And as many nutritionally educated folks are re-learning, fermented food provides bacteria to the digestive system that is necessary and healthy.

Homemade Sauerkraut

Press the cabbage down until the water releases from the cabbage and begins to cover it.

Our society’s move away from traditionally prepared foods, like sauerkraut have created a gap in our gut health.  While some people are reaching for synthetic probiotics and other digestive aids, those of us who know and appreciate the benefits of lacto-fermented food are cracking open another jar of sauerkraut, Kimchee or other fermented veggies.  (Learn more about the the health benefits of lacto-fermented foods.)

A few years back my husband and I read a book about sauerkraut (can you believe there is an entire book devoted to this old-fashioned pantry staple?)  It covered the history of sauerkraut and gave an in- depth analysis of the health benefits.  It listed various symptoms individuals experience in their daily life such as lack of energy, constipation, bad breath, prone to illness, and others.

Add Fennel to Sauerkraut

We like to serve our sauerkraut Bavarian-style by adding caraway seed after cooking.

The author claimed that eating ½ cup of sauerkraut a day would alleviate those ailments.  My husband decided to test this theory (Honestly, I think he was just looking for an excuse to eat our sauerkraut everyday!)

So every morning he ate ½ cup or more of our homemade sauerkraut.  The results were undeniable…he had significantly increased energy, regularity, and an overall increase in immunity and health.  We saw the health benefits right before our eyes and it made us believers.

But let me warn you…don’t run out the grocery store to pick up a jar of sauerkraut off the shelf.  Since our society decided decades ago that fermented food was bad and needed to be pasteurized, we lost most of the health benefits of traditionally lacto-fermented food with the use of high temperatures.  So, you either need to look in the deli or meat department for refrigerated sauerkraut.  Or better yet, make your own!  It is easy, frugal AND fun!

Here is my tried and true method:

  1. Shred 5 lbs of cabbage
  2. Sprinkle the cabbage with 3 Tbsp of PICKLING salt
  3. Using clean hands or a stainless steel spoon, mixed thoroughly making sure you distribute the salt evenly throughout the cabbage.
  4. Place the salted cabbage into a non-reactive vessel.  We use a ceramic crock.
  5. Press the cabbage down until the water releases from the cabbage and begins to cover it.  (No, you’re NOT adding water.  The juices are just being releases from the leaves of the cabbage.)

    Sauerkraut in a crock

    Place the salted cabbage into a non-reactive vessel. We use a ceramic crock.

  6. Press a piece of plastic wrap over the cabbage tightly and up the sides of your crock or bowl.  Place a plate on top of the plastic wrap and set a rock to weight down the plate and cabbage.
  7. Put another piece of plastic wrap over the bowl and cover with a terry cloth towel.  (I tie the towel on with yarn or rope).  The goal is to limit the amount of air getting into the cabbage.
  8. Place your crock in a 65-70 degree room for roughly 3 weeks.  You might smell a faint hint of fermentation, so maybe don’t put it in your living room!
  9. After 3 weeks, uncover your crock and place the newly-created kraut into a stock pot on the stove.  Lightly heat your sauerkraut until heated through.  The goal here is to not to get it super hot…remember you want to preserve the good bacteria.
  10. Once heated through, place in sterilized canning jars and process for 20 minutes in a hot water bath.
  11. You don’t have to can this if you don’t want to.  Just uncover the crock, remove the plate and rock and store in your refrigerator.

We just finished canning 105 lbs of our sauerkraut last night.  As we pulled the spicy-sour cabbage out of 100 year old stoneware crocks, we couldn’t help but feel connected to all the generations before us who did this same thing.   Traditionally prepared sauerkraut has always had a place in our world and it will continue to find a home on our table because of all the goodness it offers!


 Erin’s got tons of tips for saving money, couponing, sticking to a budget, and living sustainably in her blog archive.


Erin Eisenman-Turner is proud to be a native Missoulian. Along with her husband and three sons, they raise chickens, pigs, rabbits, and vegetables at Turner Family Farms in the Orchard Homes area. When the farm chores are done, the coupons clipped, and the blog written, you can find Erin exploring Montana, collecting antiques, and trying to maintain a well-run, happy, and organized home for her family.

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