How to Pickle Cabbages Whole

fermented cabbagesWhen years ago my young Moldovan friend Cristina asked me if I’d ever fermented whole cabbages, I just looked at her dubiously. I’d never even heard of fermented whole cabbages. Could salt really penetrate through an intact cabbage before rot set in? I wondered if Moldovans simply tucked little second-crop cabbages into crocks of shredded cabbage while making sauerkraut. But I’d never heard of that practice, either.

So when my daughter sent me pictures of big fermented whole cabbages in a Moldovan market, I had to figure out how to make such things. I found an article that two Cornell researchers had published in 1961 with the help of their Yugoslav exchange student, Gordana Niketic. As Gordana had apparently explained to her mentors, “In Yugoslavia, particularly in the republic of Serbia, whole heads of white or red cabbage are packed in salt brine. Although sometimes the cabbage cores are scored crosswise before packing the heads in brine, more often the heads are packed with no alteration of the cores.” Just as in Moldovan, the fermented cabbage leaves were used to make meat-and-rice filled rolls, or sarma, an originally Turkish word for food wrapped in leaves; the Moldovan term is sarmale or galush. Yugoslavs also baked slices or chunks of the cabbage with turkey, goose, or pork and served the cabbage cold as a salad. After fermenting whole red cabbages, they would drink the pretty pink brine as an appetizer.

Since methods of fermenting whole cabbages varied from one Yugoslav household to another, Gordana and the Cornell researchers decided to experiment. The first year they packed whole cored cabbages tightly into barrels and added brine at three different strengths. The second year, they packed a barrel the same way, at the highest brine strength from the year before, but with uncored cabbages. The third year they packed a barrel as I’d imagined, by mixing dry-salted shredded cabbage with whole small cabbages placed among the shreds.

The best whole-cabbage kraut from the first year, the three concluded, was made with the strongest brine, 3.5 percent, “calculated from the combined weight of brine and cabbage.”* Whereas the least salty cabbages were soft throughout, and the medium-salty cabbages were soft at the core, the saltiest cabbages “showed only slightly soft cores and their leaves were firm and flavorful,” with “an enjoyable blend of taste and mellowness.” When the leaves were used for sarma, their taste perfectly complemented the meat filling.           

Far superior than even the saltiest version from the first year, at least in the judgment of “a former native of Yugoslavia” (Gordana? Someone else?), was the whole-cabbage kraut made in the second year, from uncored cabbage. So, coring turned out to be unnecessary and possibly also detrimental to flavor. The researchers concluded that the best whole-cabbage kraut was made from uncored cabbages pickled at a brine strength of 3.0 to 3.5 percent—calculated, again, as the weight of the salt to the weight of cabbage and brine.

The third-year kraut, made from small whole cabbages packed with shredded cabbage and dry salt, proved a disappointment. The quicker fermentation that resulted made this kraut more pungent and sour—like ordinary dry-salted, shredded sauerkraut, I suppose.

I began my own whole-cabbage pickling experiment late last fall. Because most of my fall cabbages had been damaged by freezing weather, I used the second growth from spring cabbage plants, seven very small heads harvested before the weather turned very cold. I sliced each stem at the base of the head, leaving the core intact, and half-filled a 10-liter crock with the cabbages. I added 10 tablespoons pickling salt dissolved in 5 quarts water, to make an approximately 3.5-percent brine, calculated—because I’d read the Cornell study too carelessly—in the way that’s familiar to me, as the weight of salt as a percentage of the weight of brine. In other words, my brine was weak, perhaps half the strength recommended by the Cornell team. I weighted the cabbages, and, a week or so later, I skimmed the brine once. The small amount of yeast growth didn’t continue.

A little more than two months after immersing the cabbages in their brine, I took them all out and examined them. Some of them showed a little softening around the edge of the core, and the largest one, 4½ inches across, had softened at the center of the leaves as well. If I’d used bigger cabbages, they might have rotted. Perhaps I could have prevented the softening by ending the fermentation sooner. But I simply cut away the soft parts, and all that remained tasted sweet, mellow, and very mildly tart and salty—really much nicer than typical shredded sauerkraut.

Last night one of the fermented cabbages made an excellent dinner salad, sliced and mixed with toasted walnuts, black pepper, and unrefined sunflower oil. No vinegar was called for; the cabbage was already tart. Walnut oil or roasted hazelnut oil might be nice in place of sunflower oil, Robert suggest, and maybe next time we’ll add some smoked meat.

The rest of the cabbages are resting in their brine in a gallon jar in the refrigerator. My next challenge will be to make some of them into sarma, or sarmale. Or maybe I should say golabki (in Polish), golubtsy (in Russian), malfoof (in Arabic), kohlrouladen or krautwickel (in German), or töltött káposzta (in Hungarian). There are a lot of other names, too, because cabbage rolls—made from fermented, briefly brined, or simply blanched cabbage—are eaten throughout much of the world. Every region has favorite ingredients, and every cook seems to have a unique recipe. I guess it’s time for me to develop my own.


*In other words, 3.5 percent was the strength not of the initial brine but of the finished pickle. Because the amount of brine needed to cover whole cabbages can vary greatly, depending on the relation between the size of the cabbages and the breadth of the barrel, the researchers controlled the salt content with a much more accurate measurement than that of initial brine strength (the weight of salt as a percentage of the weight of brine). To do as they did, put the cabbages into the container, weighing each and noting the weight, in metric if you have a digital scale. Cover the cabbages with water, measuring the water in liters as you add it and noting the volume. Then calculate how much the water weighs: Every liter weighs a kilogram. Add the weight of the water and cabbage, in kilograms. To determine how much salt to use, use the following formula:

Weight of salt = Weight of cabbage and water x  x/100-x, where x is the desired brine strength. So, for a brine strength of 3.5 percent, your formula becomes

Weight of salt = Weight of cabbage and water x 3.5/96.5

Remove enough of the water from your container to dissolve the salt in, and pour this brine back over the cabbages.

If this calculation seems too much bother, I suggest simply fermenting your cabbages in a strong brine—say, about 1 cup fine salt per 1 gallon water. You’ll need at least half as much brine, by volume, as the volume of the cabbages. For example, if your cabbages rise three-quarters of the way up a 4-gallon crock—to the 3-gallon level—you’ll need at least 1½ gallons brine. Mix up more brine as needed so that the cabbages are well immersed.

104 thoughts on “How to Pickle Cabbages Whole”

  1. My brother had a Serbian girlfriend and she taught him how to do this. He had grown a lot of cabbage and had a barrel. They removed the core and filled the hole with salt. Placed the whole heads in the barrel, core side up and filled the barrel with brine. I guess that’s the way her family did it.

    I’m Polish and just wanted to mention that golabki is pronounced go-wump’-ki. There is a letter in Polish that looks like an L with a slash through it. It is pronounced like a W. That is the same letter that is in kielbasa which is pronounced Ka-basa’ or Kiew-basa’. The L is not really an L sound.

    Just had to get that off my chest! Thanks!

    1. Laurel, thanks for the report on the Serbian method. Next time I may try coring my cabbages and filling the cavities with salt.

      Thanks also for the pronunciation advice. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to reproduce the l with the slash through it.

      1. Oh I wasn’t berating you for not being able to type in a Polish letter, but it drives me nuts when people say keel-basa (kielbasa). Kielbasa just means sausage, kinda like German wurst. Love your blog!

    2. Last year I used about a 3-4% brine after 3 months I made cabbage rolls, the best! After 7 months I used the last half and still the best! Couple pieces were too soft and discarded, the rest was awesome. Checked here to make sure was doing right. Also have a spigot on my large jar and every month took brine out and poured back over the top.

    3. I’ve been fermenting sour heads for about 40 years. Learned from German family. We core them, fill core with pickling salt, pack heads core side up along with a bunch of fresh dill and a jar or horseradish (not made with cream!). We fill the barrel (large new trash barrels work) or crock with water to cover heads. Place a large weight on a plate to submerge everything. Every week, skim top and stir brine. We put them up in November for a New Year’s Day dinner.

      This year I made a much smaller 5 gallon bucket batch for the first time. 6 small heads. I tasted the brine in about a week and recognized it wasn’t salty enough so I added about half a cup of salt. I think it was because there was too much liquid space between the heads in the smaller bucket. They came out perfect.

      Our recipe calls for cooking the pigs in the blankets in the brine, so I tasted the brine and decided to dilute it with water before using it so it wasn’t too salty. Too salty is better than not salty enough, but it should taste tolerable, not like a salt lick!

      Everyone does this recipe slightly differently. Ours is from what is now Transylvania and has a white gravy. We have always just done this without too much worry about weight and measures.

      It does matter how large your cabbages are vs the size of the crock. Also, temperature matters. The warmer it is the faster it ferments.

      1. Thanks, Lynn! I think the stirring might be a good idea. Regarding the pigs in blanket, do you mean you wrap hotdogs in biscuit or croissant dough and then cook them in boiling brine?

  2. I am in the process of making my first sauerkraut and this looks even more fun. I will keep it in mind for next fall. My CSAs always deliver some small cabbages that would be perfect for this.

  3. Linda – thank you for sharing your experience and for the link to the Cornell U article. Whole cabbage pickling has always fascinated me, although I have so far stuck with making only sauerkraut & kimchi. Kimchi – by the way – is how I first encountered references and recipes for whole cabbage pickling.

      1. Linda,
        Last year, I used the 3.5% brine with uncored heads, and after 4 weeks in a 54f garage they turned out perfect. Used them to make sarma.
        Will be starting a few heads today.

      1. The speed of fermentation depends mainly on the ambient temperature, which should be cool, no higher than 75 degrees F. The cabbage should be ready after several weeks. I recommend letting it ferment for 3 weeks before tasting it.

  4. I’m curious if you have experimented with this again? A friend from Romania recommended I try making this but was sparse on details since it was always her grandmother that made their pickled cabbage heads. Have you found a timing that worked well for you? Thanks so much!

      1. Thanks, Audrey. The link takes you to an excellent series of photos on pickling whole cabbages Romanian-style. The cabbages are cored, and the cores filled with salt. Corn is added for color, and for some reason a single quince is used as well. The brine is aerated to keep the fermentation healthy. I had not read the comments until you pointed them out; they are well worth a look.

      2. @Linda I think the quince is used because they’re quite astringent and thus prevent the cabbage from going mushy. Other cultures use vine leaves but I think oak leaves might work too.

          1. I’m trying your recipe for whole cabbage today actually, I cored it and put some salt in the hole left over, I also included several whole carrots and some elephant garlic. If I remember I’ll let you know how it turned out in about a month’s time 🙂

  5. I’m curious if you have experimented with this further? A friend from Romania recommended I try making these but was sparse on details since her grandmother always made them in her household. Have you found that fermenting longer or less than two months improved results? Thanks so much!

    1. I didn’t grow enough cabbages this year to ferment any whole, but I doubt that a longer fermentation would improve the results. If you try fermenting whole cabbages, I suggest you start examining and tasting them after three to four weeks. As with any sauerkraut, the length of the fermentation period will depend mainly on ambient temperatures.

      One technique that the researchers didn’t try but that is often used in eastern Europe is to core the cabbages and to pack the cores with salt. If you try this–or not–I’d love to hear how your kraut turns out.

      1. Unfortunately my first go at it was a total bust! When I opened the container after three weeks the top of the brine was covered in yeast and it smelled awful. I’m bummed as I’ve never had this happen before when pickling! I wonder where I went wrong exactly. The heads were completely submerged and the container sanitized and covered. Oh well I’ll just have to try again 🙂

        1. I’m sorry to hear that. It’s a good idea to check on any fermenting vegetables regularly and skim off any yeast promptly. Keep in mind, too, that the microbial population in a ferment is always in flux; as the mix of microbes changes the smell will change. Besides, I don’t think that fermenting cabbage ever smells good. Next time, I’d take out a cabbage (or cucumber or other vegetable) and slice it before concluding that I’d produced a barrelful of rot.

  6. I just bought at a local supermarket two large pickled cabbage heads to make cabbage rolls.
    Even though the heads were huge, their price was even bigger. I paid $13.50 Canadian each. (more than $10.00 U.S.) They are delicious and are produced by a local Mennonite commune.
    I’m sure I can pickle my own when the average head costs about a dollar in season.
    Question: Is it o.k. to use stainless steel containers to pickle them in?
    As an aside: My background is German (Berlin) and my mother made these cabbage rolls with plain steamed cabbage. Once I tasted Serbian Sour Cabbage Rolls, there was no turning back.

    1. So, cabbage rolls really are better with brining!

      I’m interested to learn that you can buy whole pickled cabbage heads in a supermarket. In what part of Canada do you live? If you ever get to chat with the Mennonite commune members about their pickling method, I’d love to hear about it.

      Stainless steel containers are fine to use for pickling cabbage provided they truly are stainless–that is, they will never rust.

      1. I live in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I bought my pickled cabbage heads at “Food Basic” on Hamilton’s West Mountain. I understand Starsky also carries it. Also some smaller Polish stores nearby.
        We don’t really have much contact with the Mennonite community so trying to engage them would not be easy. I did, at one time, spoke to some of their members at the local market downtown, Hamilton. A somewhat frustrating experience. As soon as they detected my German accent they tried their version of German on me. Now, their Low-German (Plattdeutsch) is about as far removed from the rest of the spoken German as Scottish is from English. We did laugh a lot though.

        1. Thanks, Egon, for letting readers of this blog know of one place in North America to buy whole pickled cabbage. If others know of other places, I hope they will share the information here.

          1. Here in Edmonton you can buy them at Safeway but they are not great compared to my mother in law’s. She uses flat-heads only because of their thin roll-able leaves that we can buy at all the farmer’s markets in Sept. We use the Cornell method essentially and have done it with cutting our leaves first into the shapes we want as well. Check and stir daily.

      2. Here in Toronto you can buy whole brined heads at Starskys, and Tomeks in Etobicoke. As well as a number of delicatessans thru-out Toronto. They are not cheap, but like Egon says once youve had the cabbage rolls made with the sour cabbage you will find the sweet cabbage rolls very bland.

  7. I’m trying this but instead with cabbage wedges with the core intact to keep the wedges together. I don’t have a vessel large enough for whole heads! I’ve successfully fermented cauliflower, cucumbers, asparagus (which are fabulous and taste like mild Greek olives) and green beans. I decided cabbage is next and this sounds less cumbersome then making traditional sauerkraut. I’ve always used 2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt per 4 cups of spring water with great success as long as everything is fully submerged under a few inches of brone, weighted down (a baggie of extra brine one the top of the jar works well), then loosely covered and stored in a cabinet. I’ve yet to get any mold. Knocking on wood for the cabbage!

  8. I made my cabbages in a 23 Litre food grade pail. Cabbages are 92 percent water. So for 10 Litres of water and 10L of cabbage ( I filled the pail to the 20 Litre mark) you would need 2-1/2 cups salt.I cored the cabbages poured some salt directly inside each of the cabbages . the rest of the salt I made the brine with.Put a plate and weight on the top so no cabbages are exposed to air . I mix the water periodically .

      1. We have a few large grocery stores (Brad’s No Frills in particular) in Salmon Arm, British Columbia, with whole, bagged, soured, cabbage heads available. Interestingly enough, they are to be found in the the fresh produce area, not the canned or processed foods departments (as it should be.) They are grown by some talented farmers in the Saskatchewan Outback (Canadian Prairie) then fomented and made available by the talented people at the Kissel Cabbage Corp, Lumsden, SK. Canada. S0G 3C0.

        Take Care
        Rod Hauser

  9. I was planning to make cabbage rolls to bring as my contribution to my church fall supper. So, I decided to try fermenting a head of cabbage in order to make a more authentic Hungarian-style cabbage roll, as my recipe called for soured cabbage leaves. I started my cabbage in late summer in a huge glass container, weighted the cabbage down, and covered the container. I didn’t know if direct sunlight would affect the process, so I kept the glass container in a shaded spot – just in case! Cabbage turned out perfectly! Crispy, slightly tart but still sweet, not too salty. It was absolutely perfect with the filling rolled in its leaves. My family and church friends all told me it was the most delicious cabbage rolls they’d ever had. I have another head about half-way through the fermentation process now… planning on making another batch of cabbage rolls to add to my New Year’s dinner in a few weeks!

    Thanks so much for the great information!

  10. Having recently brined a really big cabbage whole, I must point out a major advantage of this method: The salt doesn’t penetrate to the core of the cabbage. I recommend whole-cabbage brining to anyone who likes sauerkraut but can’t tolerate a salt-heavy diet.

  11. I can confirm, cabbage rolls made with sour cabbages are incredible. I’ll never go back. I bought one at Food Basics here in Ontario for $12. Now I’m hooked, but can’t afford to buy $12 cabbages so I’m going to give this a try myself.

    1. So I followed the formula for the brine and I used 4 large cabbages. I cut the cores out and packed the salt in and put them in a 6 gallon wine fermenting bucket with an airlock. I fermented them for 3 months. They turned out great. They are still pretty crisp, and they taste amazing. I’ve saved a litre of the brine which is a great probiotic addition to vegetable juice. I used 2 of them in cabbage rolls, which lasted all of 2 days😄. The other 2 I packed into large ziplock bags with some brine and put them in the fridge, ready for the next batch of cabbage rolls when I feel the urge. I’ll have to pick up another fermenting bucket this week so I can put another batch on.

  12. Our ladies auxiliary pickles about 250 pounds of whole cabbages every year. We do them in large plastic garbage containers that are new and have been washed with hot water and vinegar before every use. They are reused every year for this purpose only. Cabbage is cut in half, cores cut out, and a mixture of hot, hot tap water, fine pickling salt, vinegar and pickling spice is poured over the cabbage with fresh dill layered in between. When the bin is filled, we throw in some peeled garlic and cover with vinegar jugs filled with cold water, to weigh the cabbages down. They are covered with the container lids and kept in our warm kitchen. They are left undisturbed for a week, the checked every few days to skim off fermentation scum. Skimming as necessary or cabbage becomes bitter. About two weeks in, we separate our cabbage heads into leaves and let them ferment until they taste right. Yummy. Then the leaves only, are packed with a bit of juice and put into buckets and froze. As they are needed, they are thawed out and cut into smaller pieces to make cabbage rolls. Larger veins are chopped up for lazy cabbage rolls. That’s it.

    1. Janet, thank you so much for the nearly complete recipe, with a method that’s new to me in several ways–the halving of the cabbages, the use of hot water, the separation of the leaves before continued fermentation, and the freezing of the leaves. But what are lazy cabbage rolls? And how much vinegar is added at the start? And can you tell us anything about the origin of the method? For example, did a lot of people from eastern Europe settle in your town? What town do you live in?

      1. My friend’s parents’ families were from Romania. In later years, her mother only made the “lazy” kind. She called it that, too. They had retired to Florida and she filled a big standing electric turkey roaster out on the deck year around, and started with a layer of sauce in the bottom, repeating layers of the cabbage, coarsely chopped, with the the filling mix and the sauce. l think she had learned this in Youngstown, Ohio. She said there were not enough people around her anymore who knew the difference from the old way, it tasted just as good, and her family and friends were always loved it.

    2. What a great idea using a plastic garbage container! I used to to a crock, then switched to coolers, and now I am going to purchase a garbage bin for my 12 heads!

          1. Chemicals in plastic may certainly leach into brine if the container isn’t food-grade. It’s wise to be careful with plastics in any case. Sadly, good wooden barrels are hard to come by these days.

  13. Hi, I have just soured 2 cabbages separately in small food quality buckets with brine and peppercorns. The pickling stage is complete but I don’t know what to do from this point. All the recipes I find only have instructions to this stage. Not sure if I should rinse the cabbages or just leave in the current brine and refrigerate until I’m ready to use them (for Sarma). Any advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
    Julie 🙂

    1. Julie, if you have enough room in the refrigerator, just cover the buckets and refrigerate them. If you don’t have room for the buckets, put the cabbages and brine into smaller food-grade containers, if possible, and put those in the fridge. If you know you’ll use the cabbage within about a week, you can refrigerate them without their brine.

  14. My kids live in Serbia and just made their first Sarma. I must learn how to do this! I just found very large glass jars with rubber sealed lid at Bennion Craft Store!

  15. Linda: Just opened my first test batch of two cabbages following your formula with uncored cabbage. Packed around July 4th holiday. Very tasty. Leaves separated with no effort. Still firm enough to hold up yet tender. Quite salty, so a rinse will be needed but great flavor. I’ll be making töltött káposzta tomorrow. A question: Why does your formula “Weight of cabbage and water x x/100-x, where x is the desired brine strength” divide by “100-x”? In the 3.5% example, this increases the salt to 3.62% the weight of the water and cabbage. I don’t get it.
    Regards, Ed.

    1. Ed, I’ve also found that the 3.5-percent brine strength is a little too salty for my taste. Rinsing might be a good idea even before making cabbage rolls. I think I’ll try 3.25 percent or even 3.0 percent next time. As for the formula, at this point I no longer understand it myself! I’ll have to get my technical expert to explain it to me again. As soon as he does, I’ll clarify it for you.

      1. Let’s see if this helps. The weight of the cabbage approximates the weight of water in the cabbage, although cabbage isn’t actually 100 percent water. The 3.5 percent is for the finished product, both brine and cabbage.
        The total weight (T) = the weight of salt (S) + cabbage (C) + water (W)
        S = 0.035 (that is, 3.5 percent) x T
        S = 0.035 (S + C + W)
        S = 0.035 x S + 0.035 x (C+ W)
        S – 0.035 x S = 0.035 x (C + W)
        0.965 x S = 0.035 x (C + W)
        S = 0.035 x (C + W) ÷ 0.965

  16. OK. It’s the weight of the Finished Product, which by definition includes salt. I get the algebra. Harder to get my head around, and probably more complex than necessary. But your page on this topic has been far and away the best out there that I’ve found. And I do appreciate the science behind it. But in the end it means 3.6% of the weight of the water and cabbage. Some methods have you pack salt into the raw core hole of each head and then cove the whole batch with water. What percent is that? Vague, but it must work. Others have you do the same but cover the salt-packed cabbage heads with a mild brine. Vaguer, still. I suppose I could work the numbers on these methods. When I make lacto-fermented pickles, I make a brine that is 4-5% of the water, since there is so much water in a cucumber already. When I make Kraut, I do 2% of the vegetable as it makes it’s own brine when you squeeze it. So 3.5 (or 3.6) doesn’t seem at all unreasonable even though we both find it a bit salty. My Hungarian cabbage rolls came out really good, but for the next sour cabbage head batch, I’m dialing down to 2.5%. I report back in a month or so.

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply.

    Szép napot kívánok.

  17. There is a company, Kissel Cabbage Corp of Craven, Saskatchewan, that produces fermented sour cabbage heads that are sold throughout Saskatchewan.

    1. In deed, sold, at least, in many parts of western Canada. However, I believe they are to be sourced out of Lumsden, Sask……the farmers part in this endeavor may be found near or around Craven, Sask. (Special insight from their packaging and from some site sleuthing.)
      Rod (BC)

  18. Good question. No seasonings are necessary, but dill, garlic, and black pepper are likely choices. I’ve never tried using quince or sweet corn as flavoring for any kind of pickle. If you try them, I’d love to hear about the results.

    1. The corn is supposed to be just for color. Also, dill SEEDs and/or FLORETS are used — not the ferny leaf foliage you find in the grocery store…My grandma always added a few cloves in the batch of her fermented cabbage…but she was Russian, so perhaps cloves are not exactly authentic for sarmale…

  19. Thanks for the clarification, Sasha. I guess the corn should be yellow, to bring out a golden color in the cabbage? The corn would also add sugar, which would enhance fermentation.

    1. Yes, yellow is presumably is more appetizing than the pale “unattractive” natural hue —which of course is a moot point when used in sarmale. For the same reason, no point putting horseradish for preserving crispness — as you are not going to be looking for crunchiness in sarmale!

      Re: the sugar in corn — agree with your logic behind being a fermentation aid, except that the corn grown in those regions is generally not any close to the sugar content we see here in the North American corn varietals.

  20. Firehouse Subs will sell their empty pickel, food grade 5 gallon bucket, with lid for five bucks. They are great for making small batches.

  21. hey there. im not sure where you got the 96.5… the end is a little unclear. please explain your calculation. i would like to make cabbages. i dont understand why (for ease of reference here) if you have 100g of cabbage+water, the brine wouldn’t simply be 3.5g. what is the 96.5? thank you!

    1. Francis, I’ll repeat my message to Ed. I hope this helps:

      The weight of the cabbage approximates the weight of water in the cabbage, although cabbage isn’t actually 100 percent water. The 3.5 percent is for the finished product, both brine and cabbage.
      The total weight (T) = the weight of salt (S) + cabbage (C) + water (W)
      S = 0.035 (that is, 3.5 percent) x T
      S = 0.035 (S + C + W)
      S = 0.035 x S + 0.035 x (C+ W)
      S – 0.035 x S = 0.035 x (C + W)
      0.965 x S = 0.035 x (C + W)
      S = 0.035 x (C + W) ÷ 0.965

      1. To help those struggling to remember their algebra I removed the x’s.
        C is weight of cabbage in grams.
        W is weight of water in grams. One liter of water equals 1000 grams.
        Multiply the number of liters needed to cover the cabbages times 1000 for W in grams.
        S is weight of salt in grams needed for 3.5% end product.

        S = 0.035 (S+C+W) **multiply 0.035 times each element on the right**
        S = 0.035S + 0.035C + 0.035W **subtract 0.035S from each side**
        S – 0.035S = 0.035C + 0.035W **1.000S – 0.035S = 0.965S**
        0.965S = 0.035C + 0.035W **divide 0.965 from each side**
        S = (0.035C + 0.035W) / 0.965
        **multiply 0.035 times the weight in grams for both C and W. Add 0.035C and 0.035W together first, and then divide that number by 0.965**

        I currently have one uncored head of cabbage fermenting at 3.5% as a trial. Fun!
        Thank you for this recipe and the background description. I love learning new things.

  22. I am Serbian and I make fermented cabbage for the past 15 years. Brine is made by adding 40 grams of salt per one litter of water. It gives combined salinity of around 2% ( amount of brine added is slightly more than amount of cabbage). It is perfect brine salinity in order to be safe not to get spoiled cabbage if fermenting temperature is little higher. If fermenting temperature is lower than 16°c, a lower salinity (1.5%) is ok. But, safety wise, it should be at around 2%. You also need to (first 10-15 days) pour out brine from the bottom of the barrel and return it into the barrel. You should do this with the half of brine. It is in order to keep salinity as homogenous as possible so cabbage would ferment better and you won’t get slimy brine. That is the genuine recipe I learned from a food technologist. In controled fermenting temperature, you can use lower salinity brine, but for home fermenting, it is better to keep with this 40 grams per litter recipe.

    1. Mihailo, thank you so much for this recipe. Forty grams salt per liter of water is just a little less strong than the brine I usually use for fermenting cucumbers. For a small batch of cabbage, I imagine that pouring brine from the bottom of the container into the top wouldn’t be necessary, but that occasional stirring might be helpful. Do you agree? Also, do you start the fermentation with cold water in a cold room, or do you somehow provide a little warmth at the beginning?

  23. So excited to try this in the spring. I usually get cabbages on sale near St Patrick’s Day to make my kraut. I have a 20L Gartopf crock that will work just fine. What a great way to save time. Thank you for such a detailed explanation.

  24. I do hope this thread is still alive…

    My father says that growing up, his Ukrainian father used to make the most delicious pickled cabbage using a two-step method:

    First, he made pickles (cucumbers fermented in brine). He’d encourage the family to eat the pickles, so he had the necessary brine. Then, he put wedges of cabbage into the pickle brine, and let them ferment, weighted with a plate.

    My father knows nothing else about the process or the timing, but claims the finished product was delicious.

    So I’ve made (and eaten) my cucumber pickles in a 4.5% brine. Now the cabbage is submerged in that garlicky, spiced brine (I added a teaspoon of salt, just for good measure).

    After more than a week, there has been not a single bubble of CO2, nor any scum, and the once cloudy brine is almost clear now.

    Is this method even theoretically possible? History says it is, but I’m not so sure it’s working.

    What says the fermentariate? Anyone ever heard of using a brine for a second round of fermentation?

    1. The thread is alive as long as I am, Charlie!
      It is a common practice, traditionally, to reuse pickle brine. I’ve heard of this being routine in China, Egypt, and other places. Usually a little salt is added for the new batch.
      The bacteria that make a lot of bubbles also sour the brine. Your brine is already sour, so you’re not getting the usual sequence of bacterial action. That’s OK; your cabbage is still getting sour. As long as you don’t find something to turn you off–mold, slime, a foul odor–you can feel safe tasting and eating your cabbage whenever you like. I would be interested in hearing how it ends up tasting and looking. Does it develop a nice golden color, for example?

      1. Thanks Linda, for your reasuring reply. There’s precious little online about this particular tradition of second-fermenting. I did add a teaspoon of extra salt (whole batch is just about one liter brine), but I feared I’d kill the good bacteria if I went too salty.

        It’s going on three weeks now, and I tasted a stray outer leaf. Delicious, but still a bit too firm. Further reading of Moldovan and Romanian whole cabbage fermentation has suggested fermentation times up to a couple months. That’s really going to try my patience. My (cucumber) pickles did their thing in just a week.

        Some translucence is starting to develop in the top outer leaf — mine are weighted down using a small glass jar filled with water in the mouth of the extra-large pickle jar, so I can see this change where it’s making contact. I’m sure the finished product will be fairly bland-looking, but I expect the flavor will make up for it. I’ve heard of adding corn or other ingrediants as a colorant, but I’m going ala nature for the first round. Thanks again for your expertise. PS: I’m from the Willamette Valley, too!

  25. Two months is not unusual even for fully fermented sauerkraut, but some people prefer less sour cabbage. In fact, when the current fermentation craze began, new commercial picklers were selling bubbly kraut, just a couple of days old.
    Because the bacterial sequence is different the second time around, maybe the pickling will happen slower or faster.
    Where do you live in the Valley, Charlie? From seeing your address I thought you might be in the Netherlands.

  26. Knowing how stubborn cabbage can be compared to cucumber, I’m prepaired to wait. I’m hoping some structural breakdown will happen, softening it a bit more. Reading further the advice of Serbs, Moldovans, Pols and Romanians — and being very new to the practicalities of pickling — I heard more than once about the importance of stirring the settled brine, especially with a reused solution. The advice of blowing into a tube or hose to swirl the salty bottom and avoid possible spoilage higher up led me to check the bottom of my jar; sure enough there was some opaque sediment, so I gave it a good shake and stir. I’ll just keep an eye on this baby and see.
    You’re correct: I do live in the Netherlands, now for twenty years. My parents are still in Eugene, which I visit when I can. Less so these days. I’m hoping one day to bring this taste of his childhood back to my father, and hope it measures up.

  27. Hi, this is my first attempt. I’m using a crockpot. I poured a gallon of spring water in with 1 cup of salt. Then added one and a half heads of purple cabbage cut into 4ths, cores removed, but I had to dump out some of the brine as I added the cabbage so my crockpot wouldn’t overflow. I mixed the salt water real good before adding the cabbage. I also added a little more water and salt to top it off. The clear glass lid is on tight but I can see that some of the cabbage heads are sticking out of the water. Is this bad? Is it absolutely necessary to weigh down your cabbage? Could I just rotate the cabbages every day or few days maybe instead?

    1. Greg, in my experience it really is necessary to weight the cabbage or other fermenting vegetables. The only times I have got away with not weighting have been when I’ve used large quantities of red pepper (that is, when making kimchi). Using a crockpot is a good idea, but I think you need to find a plate to fit inside and a stone (clean it well) to lay on top. But I’d be very interested to hear if just rotating the cabbage pieces works for you.

  28. Has anyone had their cabbage rot? I just looked at mine after 6 weeks and it was a big rotting on the outside so I thought it was just the outside layer, but as I started taking layers off it was like that all through it. I ended up throwing it away. I think the top was floating out of the water a bit. I will try a again with a weight on top I guess. Very disappointing.

  29. Have 2 questions one is do you circulate brine every 3 days or once after 3 days then don’t touch till the end? And the other is I noticed after the 6th day the outer leaves have gotten brownish spots starting to form is this common ? Thanks

    1. Mike, I’ve never circulated the brine at all, and I don’t see that the Cornell researchers did this. Is it a technique you’ve tried, or did you read about it elsewhere? I think it would be harmless, at least.
      Regarding the brownish spots, I don’t think I’ve encountered them. Hopefully they affect only the outer leaves, which you can easily remove before using the rest of the cabbage.

  30. My great grandma taught us to pickle just the whole leaves in a plastic 5 gallon bucket. We would break down the cabbages and put a layer of cabbage in the bucket and sprinkle on kosher salt. We would keep layering until the bucket was 4/5ths full. Poured water in to cover then a brick in a plastic bag on top. Loosely put the lid on. We always made it outside in the fall when the temps would fluctuate from warm to cool. Whole process took about 45 days. We would make Sarma and freeze big pans of it.

    1. Michael, thanks for describing this alternative method of producing whole pickled cabbage leaves for sarma. The idea of freezing big pans of sarma is interesting, too. Where was your grant-grandma from?

  31. We make homemade sauerkraut every year and head of cabbage cored and filled halfway with salt in the middle of the bucket and completely surround it with cabbage that has been salted. This way we get both our sauerkraut and fermented head to use for cabbage rolls.

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