Fermenting and Storing Kraut in Small Jars, without Pasteurization or Refrigeration

cabbage-heads-2-croppedI’ve more than once seen Extension home-ec agents roll their eyes when asked if it’s possible to store sauerkraut in the same jar in which it has fermented, with no heating or chilling. Where do such ideas come from? the agents ask.

From Extension’s mother agency, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, of course! Randal Oulton recently sent me a 1936 USDA press release, intended for radio broadcast, about how USDA researchers had made and stored sauerrüben—fermented shredded turnip—in just this way:

Shredded [and salted] turnips were packed in 2-quart glass jars, which held approximately 4 pounds of turnips each when packed firmly. Because of the pressure produced by the gas released during the initial fermentation, the lids of the jars had to be left loose. By this means the gas was allowed to escape, yet at the same time a sufficient concentration of carbon dioxide to prevent aerobic spoilage was maintained over the fermenting material. As the evolution of the gas lifted considerable quantities of the juice to the top of the jar, causing it to overflow, the jars were placed in enameled pans until the period of gas formation was over. Once each 24 hours the lids were removed, the shreds were pushed down into the jars by means of a wooden spoon or blunt wooden stick, the lost juice was returned to the jars, and the lids were replaced.

I wonder if the researchers strained out the fruit flies before returning the juice to the jars. Anyway, the report continues:

As soon as the gas ceased to be given off, which required about 4 days, the jars were sealed tight and stored at room temperature. The fermentation was generally completed in 12 to 14 days, and the product was then ready for use. The product put up in this manner has been kept for 3 years and is still in excellent condition, although heat has not been applied.

Presumably the jars were stored in a cool place such as a cellar and not in a really cold place like a refrigerator. We aren’t told what kind of lids the researchers used and whether the lids formed a vacuum seal. In any case, the method worked, and the writer suggests trying it with 1-quart as well as 2-quart jars. The article makes no mention of exploding jars, which the home-ec agents always warn about.

I would certainly prefer to try this method over another recommended in the same piece: After fermenting the shredded turnip in open stone jars, you cover the surface with mineral oil.

Have you tried making and storing sauerkraut or sauerrüben in small jars without heating or chilling? How well did your method work? I’d love to hear your stories.

15 thoughts on “Fermenting and Storing Kraut in Small Jars, without Pasteurization or Refrigeration”

  1. Hmmmm, I think it would overferment and soften. Perhaps sauerrueben doesn’t act the same way sauerkraut does, but I do know that I’ve had the cabbage turn a bit too ripe if I don’t catch it in “time.” Not bad, necessarily, just funkier and a bit softer than ideal. There’s probably a sweet spot temperaturewise, though. I ferment at a slightly too high temperature, in my opinion (about 68 degrees). Held in a root cellar at, say, 55 degrees? That would certainly retard fermentation. But I think it would still continue. I’m guessing the Extension guidelines are accounting for higher or uneven temperatures.

    Mineral oil, egads! I have started adding a bit of vinegar on top of my fermented peppers in the fridge (and in the pepper sauce) because it seems to keep on producing yeast. The vinegar stops that. Perhaps the vinegar might stop fermentation in sauerkraut, too?

  2. I just read several online articles in German, in which sauerkraut is made and stored (for up to a year they say) in the same jars just as you describe; the first week in the kitchen (but our houses, and probably those described in your article, tend to be cooler 19-20°C = 66-68°F than those in the USA today) with a pan underneath and opening the screw top lid every couple of days, and then in the basement, which is probably also cooler due to building methods. The room we use to store is about 10-15°C (50 – 59°F) in the winter. Perhaps this is the deciding factor…?

    I also know that my Mother in Ohio used to lactoferment cucumber pickles in the basement that were stored there without any problem. Is that the same thing?

    What does Katz have to say about this? I don’t have his books, but maybe you do.

  3. I used to ferment sauerkraut in canning jars with a “Lid” made from a plastic bag filled with brine or water and set in a bowl to catch the overflow (didn’t reuse the overflow though). When it was done “bubbling” and overflowing, it went into the fridge where it kept perfectly for a year…if it lasted that long.
    Now I’ve moved on to pickl-it jars (jars with lids that have air locks). Same process, only so much easier and fool proof. Gasses go out the airlock and no oxygen can get back in (better than the plastic bag method).. It’s very tasty (not at all like store bought), loved by many friends and so very healthy.

    1. This popular modern method works well: Ideally, no yeast or mold gets in to the jar; you don’t disturb the kraut at all; and after fermentation you refrigerate the kraut. But will it keep for three years outside of the refrigerator?

  4. Marsha, those German writers seem to be using just the same method that the USDA researchers tried in the 1930s, except that perhaps the Germans don’t return the overflow to the jars. And it does seem to me that a cool storage area would be essential.

    I don’t remember any discussion of technical details of this sort in Sandor Katz’s writings.

  5. I’d love to know where Mr. Oulton obtained the USDA press release, so that I can find other similar things the various government bodies put out before they became obsessed with canning and refrigeration. I tried searching the online USDA press release archives, but they only go back to 2012.

  6. I’ve always done my fermentation and creation of sauerkraut in one jar – I ferment it in the jar, I store it away in the same jar. I can’t help but think that if you toss the contents of the kraut from one jar to the next that you must be losing some of the liquid fermented goodness along the way (stored on the sides and edges of the jar it fermented in). Maybe this is minimal – but I don’t see a problem with fermenting it and storing it in the same jar. I have never had an issue!

    1. Billy, thanks for sharing your experience. Do you use mason jars and flat lids, and do the lids seal? Where do you store your jars after fermentation is complete, and at what temperature?

  7. Hi Linda, It’s been some time since we had this discussion and my new post still doesn’t answer the question of whether you can store the fermented product out of the refrigerator, but I accidently came across these little gagets today and thought of you. Have you ever seen or tried them? Yes, they’re a bit expensive, but I’m thinking to try one out anyway. https://www.krautsource.com/

  8. Marsha, I haven’t used the Kraut Source gadget, but assorted others are commercially available today (see pages 54 and 55 of The Joy of Pickling, 3rd edition). They all help to prevent the growth of yeast or mold during fermentation. Leaving an airlock on the jar can certainly help prevent spoilage during storage as well, but then the gadget is unavailable for the next fermentation.

    1. Thanks for the tips Linda. I’ll check out the other air locks. I guess I’m a bit behind the times and didn’t really know they existed.

    2. Thanks for the tip Linda. I’ll check out the various air locks. I guess I’m a bit behind the times, I didn’t know they existed.

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