Sauerkraut, Harsch crock, and peeking

tradewind_64(4a)February 15, 2012

Maybe you guys can help with my sauerkraut dilemma!

It's my first time making sauerkraut. I am using a Harsch crock, but I didn't have the instructions for it. I was making sauerkraut according to "Wild Fermentation" by Sandor Katz. His instructions say to check on it every day or two and put it in the fridge after 7 - 10 days (I think that's the time frame, I don't have the book in front of me to check, but at any rate, it's a relatively short length of time).

So: I was proceeding in this manner, and on day three there were bubbles and no film/yeast/mold/scum. However, then I read online that with a Harsch crock, the sauerkraut should be left alone for four weeks: no peeking. That when one peeks into a Harsch crock, the special anaerobic environment that the Harsch crock provides is disrupted, eliminating the benefits of the Harsch crock and making it similar to sauerkraut made in a less airtight vessel (the method described in "Wild Fermentation.")

Well. Hmmm. So. Am I to now treat this sauerkraut batch like "Wild Fermantation" indicates, and keep checking and if necessary, skimming, or do I proceed as in the special Harsch crock way of leaving the batch alone except for topping off water in moat? It's day five, and I haven't peeked since day three. What do you guys think? Will the fermentation gases build up again and recreate the original airless environment? If I introduced and caused yeast/mold/scum the last time I checked, and don't skim it off but instead leave the sauerkraut unattended for several weeks, will this ruin the sauerkraut?

This situation probably seems funny (and it is) but it's just that I'm a newb to sauerkraut making and would love for my first batch to be a rousing success (you should have heard my questions when I learned to make sourdough starter/bread, ha!) So any thoughts/advice is welcome!


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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

You are trying to combine 2 very different methods of making kraut - Harsch and Wild Fermentations.

Since you already have the Harsch crock it would seem to make sense to follow their methods (see their website for manuals, instructions, etc.) as it is decades tested and proven to work and requires no skimming, peeking, etc.

Not to mention they are regarded as a more reputable source of fermenting info than WF. WF is 'trendy' and safety isn't always their concern.

However, since you have already opened the system now then yes, likely you will have to treat this batch by skimming etc.

For future batches if you don't want to use the Harsch method this I'd suggest sticking with the NCHFP method linked below. You might also want to read through the many other discussions here about how to make kraut for lots of info.


Here is a link that might be useful: NCHFP - How to make sauerkraut

    Bookmark   February 17, 2012 at 3:36PM
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mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

Our kitchen has been between 70 and 75 degrees. I open it after two weeks to test. Two weeks has been long enough for us. Since I don't have a basement, I use two weeks instead of the longer fermentation at a lower temp. One advantage of having it in the kitchen is that I can hear the burps and know that when they stop it should be ready. Do you need the instructions? I could scan them and send them to you as a pdf.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2012 at 2:48PM
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While 'Wild Fermentation' is also taking place when using a Harsch crock, things progress a little differently. And to be totally honest there is an additional 'risk factor' if you can't avoid opening up the Harsch crock too frequently to check the contents.

First point is that the Harsch crock is designed to provide an anerobic environment which favors the lactobacilli which are responsible for 'wild fermentation'. Second point is that Harsch recipes assume that this anerobic environment will be present, and therefore reduce the amount of salt to be added. High salt content also favors the lactobacilli ... but can also affect the flavor of whatever you're fermenting ... so the Harsch recipes try to strike a safe balance with reduced salt levels compared to other 'wild fermentation' recipes that can't depend on a 100% anerobic environment to make sure the lactobacilli win out over other ( potentially dangerous ) microbes.

When you open the lid of the Harsch crock, X amount of oxygen will enter with the room air. This will promote the growth of other microbes. But as long as a good 'culture' of lactobacilli were present to start with, once the Harsch crock is reclosed the oxygen will be quickly consumed, the lactobacilli will again 'dominate', and everything will progress as expected. However, if the Harsch crock is opened too early before lactobacilli have become 'dominant', or too often, another ( potentially dangerous ) microbe can begin to dominate instead thus ruining your batch ( and potentially posing a food safety risk ). And the risk of this happening increases as the salt content is reduced.

In my own case, when using a low salt Harsch recipe I like to add a little 'insurance'. While preparing the new batch, I also open up a pint of active culture yogurt and strain off as much liquid whey as I can from it into a side bowl. I then add this strained whey liquid along with sprinkled salt as each layer is packed in the Harsch crock. The objective of course is to add a lot of lactobacilli to the Harsch crock batch right from 'day one' to insure that they will quickly dominate the ferment.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 6:29AM
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Thanks for your replies! About the salt ratio: I didn't follow a Harsch recipe (I didn't know there was one). I was given three H crocks from someone who didn't want them (two huge ones and a smaller) and none of them came with instructions, so I didn't initially realize that H crocks are "special." (I just thought they were regular pickle crocks). I followed the recipe of WF. For my next batch I will be delighted to use the H method/recipe in all it's anaerobic glory (interesting to hear that it uses less salt!)

melly, thank you so much for your offer of instructions; that is very kind and I would be very appreciative!

So far I have not had to skim (I look every couple of days). The bubbling has diminished a bit but is still present, and there is no amount of mold or yeast. At all. Which seems SLIGHTLY weird to me, since I'm wholly expecting it. The smell is very mildly funky, like one would expect from fermenting cabbage, but not unpleasant or "off".

Thanks again! I will update when my neophyte kraut is done...

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 11:32PM
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Oh! I forgot to ask: green_grandma, can I use the whey from homemade raw kefir for this? If so, what is the ratio to cabbage? And lastly, is the flavor of whey-spiked kraut different than straight-up salt?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2012 at 11:49PM
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mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

I haven't scanned very many multi page pdf files so I ended up with a file too large to email. I have uploaded it to 4shared where you can download it. Let me know if you have any problems.

My 4shared

John prefers kefir whey in his ferments. I don't know how much he uses. Here's a thread that might interest you.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 11:47AM
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"John prefers kefir whey in his ferments. I don't know how much he uses."

Just an hour ago finished starting a 2 gal jar of red cabbage kraut. Used more kefir whey (12 tbs) than have ever used before and only 2 tbs coarse sea salt. The shredded cabbage, onions and Granny Smith apples had been in a very cold fridge for a day so am starting a much cooler mix than usual. I expect it to be bubbling by tomorrow morning. We will see.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2012 at 2:12PM
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melly, thank you so very much! I just printed it out and I'm going to go have a read. I plan on a new batch Harsch-style this week.

When I looked this evening, the bubbles were gone, which was right in line with WF time frame. So I took a taste, right after I yelled, "I'm scared!" to my husband in the other room. Somehow I got lucky and never got any mold or yeasty stuff. It's delicious!! I am comparing it to the raw, organic, $10-a-pint stuff at the store...and mine is tastier, if I do say so myself! I packed it into jars and into the fridge, and I'm looking forward to experiencing the changes in taste as it ages.

Thank you all!

    Bookmark   February 21, 2012 at 12:55AM
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