Okay, so the results of my third batch of sauerkraut are in, and here’s what the tally looks like so far:
Batch 1: Awesome. Amazing.
Batch 2: Rotten. Total crap.
Batch 3: WAY TOO SALTY
Curses! It’s become abundantly clear just how much of a role beginner’s luck played in my successful first attempt. The second time, I’ll admit, I got cocky. True, you can be somewhat negligent with sauerkraut, but not that negligent. This most recent time, though, I thought I had done everything right. I followed the same script as the first time, with the exception of adding more caraway seeds and stuff, or at least that was my memory of it until Husband started asking questions. Questions meant to help, he insisted, but which I was sure were actually intended to incriminate and/or persecute, and so I was very careful to be as evasive and defensive as humanly possible. Until he disarmed me with some clever joke, which caused crucial information to slip and he was able to determine the source of the problem like a big jerk. (Jerk.)
As you may recall, the reason my second attempt at sauerkraut failed was because too much water evaporated from the crock. The protective brine receded and left the cabbage exposed and ripe for spoilage. And spoil it did. This time, I was careful to monitor the brine level and when it appeared to be getting dangerously low, I proceeded to add more salt water to bring the volume back up.
Scientific types will recognize my mistake right away, as did Husband, who had to refresh my memory on the principles of evaporation. When water evaporates, the salt doesn’t evaporate along with it. If it did, then rainwater, evaporated from the world’s oceans, would be salty, and April showers would bring dead flowers and screams of “MY EYES, THEY BURN” when you get caught in the rain, post-piña colada. No, the salt remains where it is, which is how we have come to enjoy the various forms of crystalline sea salt from hither and yon.
So, in the Case of the Evaporating Brine, the volume of water had gone down, but the salt remained in a now-much-higher concentration. You want to add fresh water to dilute it back to its original concentration and bring the volume back up to cover all of the cabbage. If you add more salt water in the amount of 1 tablespoon per 1 cup of water, as I did, the result will offend even the most salt-loving taste buds and, even if you manage to choke some of it down, will turn you into a shriveled prune for the remainder of the evening. For future reference, Self, once you establish a baseline level of brine in the first few days of fermentation, meaning enough to cover the cabbage by a good half-inch or so, any water loss over the subsequent weeks should be replaced with fresh water only.
I tried to rectify this disappointing turn of events by cooking the sauerkraut with a ton of potatoes to try to spread out the saltiness. It didn’t work. Then, I tried soaking the sauerkraut in several changes of cold water and then draining it. Still, the salty torment continued. I still eat it, though. I just line up five big glasses of water in a row in front of my plate. The actual flavor is really good, if you can hone in on it through the electricity coursing through your head.
But if you think I’m through with fermentation, you’re more than a little mistaken. I plan on fermenting the crap out of my CSA produce this year, including but not limited to any extraneous bok choy that may find its way into my possession. After all, how many more ways can there possibly be to screw up this process?
The count continues.