I've just declared my first batch of sauerkraut complete! 'Kisele kupus' is my best guess at spelling what the serbian part of the family calls it. That's sour cabbage for those who 1) don't speak german 2) don't speak serbian, and 3) live under a rock. Actually, they usually just call it 'kupus' (meaning cabbage), just as I sometimes call it kraut. Plus, the serbs will frequently make it with unshredded heads of cabbage in big drums. They use the resulting leaves to make sarma.
This stuff is ridiculously easy to make. Simply shred a quantity of cabbage (it'll shrink a little, so be generous), then toss it with salt to get the juices flowing. Once sufficient juices have evolved (an hour or so), pack it into a clean jar or crock, and put a weight on top. The weight's job is to keep the cabbage bits under the surface of the liquid, which quickly becomes an acidic preservative due to the action of lactobacilis. Lactobacillus are used in the production of sauerkraut, yogurt/kefir, and some beers (lambic, anyone?). They are now officially my second favorite group of microorganisms (right after the yeasts, duh).
So as I was saying, the juices flow, the wild lactobacillus set up shop, ferment the sugars in the juices, and produce acids that keep nasty molds and such from setting up shop. They also produce lots of gas (they are eating cabbage after all), so you don't want to firmly cap the container. Otherwise, your sauerkraut reaction vessel will become a bomb. And I'd say you don't want to clean up the shrapnel from that blast.
So, you keep the vessel at room temp (around 75 degrees Farenheit) for at least a couple of days, preferable a couple of weeks or more. I'm impatient, so I've stopped after 11 days. Then, into the fridge. That's it. Oh, sure, you'll need to top off the liquid occassionally, since it will spill over the side when the bubbles grow in the cabbage. (NOTE: place your actively fermenting container into another container if it's remotely close to full. Fortunately, TheWife thought of that one before we started!)
I'm amazed at how good this stuff is. It's clearly related to the limp stuff you buy at the grocery store, but the difference is stark. It's supposed to be good for you, too: lots of vitamin c, plus it's probiotic (Probiotic - the official grocery industry buzzword for the first decade of the 21st century!), delicious, and according to one researcher, functions as an aphrodisiac!. I have to admit that my gut reacts a little more strongly to this stuff than it does to that sterilized stuff from the store. But heck, what are a few greenhouse gasses among friends?
PS: I'm a slacker and didn't take any pictures. I borrowed the one above from flickr. Thanks mtsofan!