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Different fermentation method

We’re making a new batch of sauerkraut right now, and it’s our biggest batch ever: 5.5 quarts.  My normal method, while the kraut is fermenting, is to keep the jar tightly sealed, and open it about twice a day and let out the built-up gas and push down on the cabbage a bit.  If you don’t do this, the lids can literally blow right off, from the pent-up gas.  It’s happened to me.

No problem when you’re making one quart, but with five it starts to be a burden to open each one twice a day.  So I’m fermenting these the old-fashioned way:

kraut1I have a plastic jug filled with water holding the cabbage under the surface of the liquid in each jar.  Air bubbles can easily escape, and I pretty much do absolutely nothing except wait for it to get sour enough.  I have the jars sitting in a cake pan in case they froth over a little bit.  (Can you see the froth on the right-hand one?)

We’ll see how this goes… it’s been going for 2 days only so the smell is not a factor yet.  It might get bad though.  I have it in a very cool spot in the dining room so this is going to be a long, slow ferment.  I’m also keeping a flour sack towel over all of them to keep out dust, dog hair, etc.


We’ll see if I get mold, a common complaint when people ferment with this method.  It’s nothing more than a nuisance; you just scrape it off and throw it away when you’re transferring your kraut to cold storage.

Update, 10/29/2009: It turned out great!

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Continuing down the path towards becoming a total fermentation maniac, I tried a new one this week: sauerrüben.  It’s just like sauerkraut, except it’s made with turnips instead of cabbage.

I think I finally realized the whole purpose and meaning of turnips.  I’ve cooked with them occasionally before, and was uninspired until now.  But something magical happens to turnips when they are fermented.

Sauerrüben can be eaten just like you’d eat sauerkraut: with meat or mashed potatoes, or on top of pizza.  I think it would be especially magical on a roast beef sandwich.  It tastes like a mixture of sauerkraut and horseradish.  WOW.

Here’s how I did it:


Grate some turnips.  The number that you do is immaterial.  (That’s Adam’s hand; he lost a couple fingertips in an accident as a child.)


Place the grated turnip in a bowl and salt (with a good quality sea salt) liberally, a good 1-3 T. depending on how many turnips you grated.


Put it into jars and set out overnight with a weighted insert to hold the turnips under the surface of the liquid that the salt draws out.  In the morning, put the covers on the jars and ferment for another 2-3 days.  Open your jar twice a day and press down your sauerrüben to release the gases that build up (or follow whatever fermentation style you prefer).  Taste it at least once a day.  When it tastes good to you, it’s done.  Transfer to the fridge.


Here Adam served a dollop of it on the kids’ plates next to their ham and mashed parsnips.  Dinner tasted like a holiday feast.  The kids went wild for the sauerrüben and even drank the extra juice out of the half a pint jar that we finished.

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Book review: Nourishing Traditions

nourishingtraditionsNourishing Traditions
The cookbook the challenges politically correct nutrition and the diet dictocrats
By Sally Fallon, with Mary Enig, Ph.D.

I’ve been putting this off for a couple months now.  How do you review a book like this?  This all started with a post I did for this blog back in April.  A comment on another blog led me to the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF) website, which I found to be very confusing.

A week or so later my friend Tracey loaned me her copy of Nourishing Traditions, which I quickly bought, and honestly it’s been laying around my kitchen ever since.  I pick it up nearly every day, either to read more of it or to find a recipe.

I think the subtitle does it a bit of a disservice.  It sounds kooky.  The accolades from Robert Atkins inside the front cover make it seem even kookier.  And when I first started reading it, I was skeptical.  But now that I’ve gone deeper down the rabbit hole of food and nutrition reading, I keep getting more and more confirmation of pretty much everything Fallon says.

Among the more shocking things:

1. Saturated fat is not nearly as bad as we’ve all been led to believe — in fact it might even be essential to brain and reproductive health.  Fallon points to convincing research that shows sugars, hydrogenated fats, and refined carbohydrates as being much more dangerous for your heart.

2. Soy is not as healthy as you think.  This one is the hardest one for me to come to terms with, since I was a vegetarian for so long (1999-2007 or so).  But she points out that traditional Asian cultures only ate soy products that had been fermented or cultured (such as tempeh, fermented soy sauce, or miso), because soy is hard to digest and can end up costing your body more minerals to digest it than it offers in return.  The WAPF is probably most famous for its anti-soy stance, and I think that it is taken too far sometimes.  Fallon herself is just fine with certain soy foods, as long as they’ve been prepared in traditional ways.

3. Milk, as we drink it today, is not nearly the health food that it once was.  Cow’s milk is full of beneficial enzymes and vitamins that are killed during the pasteurization process, and then it is homogenized, which denatures it even further.  Fallon recommends finding a source for raw milk from cows who are fed all or mostly a grass-based diet.  Good luck with that one, folks!  It’s actually illegal for stores to sell raw milk in the US, so you have to buy it right from the farm.  Raw milk won’t be passing my lips anytime soon, alas.

Well, this whole “shocking truths” thing just goes on and on, depressingly at times.  In the end there are very few of our most beloved foods that are allowed, and few ways in which we are allowed to prepare them.  Grilling and microwaving are out.  Coffee, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, most breads (even whole grain), boxed cereals, and white flour are out.

Happily, other wonderful things are encouraged.  Bloody red meat.  Butter.  Whole milk.  Eggs.  Preferably all from organic/local sources.  There is quite a bit of information on the difference, nutritionally speaking, between meat/dairy/eggs from conventionally raised animals vs. meat from animals that are allowed to roam around eating grass.

I have decided to take the pick and choose approach to dealing with this book, because I frankly don’t have it in me to try and accomplish all these very lofty goals.  I still have to work!  However, we have implemented a number of things that Fallon recommends.  Among them:

1. Make bone broths from chicken carcasses.  Freeze the broth in ice cube trays and add it to various foods while cooking.

2. Eat fermented and cultured foods, at least once per day, but preferably have something fermented, cultured, or even just raw at every meal.  This was a much easier goal to reach during the summer.

3. Soak most grains and beans overnight before using them.  This neutralizes phytic acid, something Fallon describes as an “anti-nutrient” and also makes the grains easier to digest, and much tastier.  (An easy way to do this is to start making steel-cut oatmeal or pancakes for breakfast on a regular basis, with eggs on the side of course.)

4. Cut back on sugar.  Oh my, is this hard.

5. Take a teaspoon of cod liver oil in lieu of vitamins.

In the semi-near future I’d like to start implementing a lot of the other things from the book, but it’s going to take time.

And now a word of caution.  This is to myself as well as you all.  WAPF/Nourishing Traditions sometimes starts to venture into “theory of everything” territory, where the western diet is to blame for cancer, obesity, ADHD, depression, infertility, diabetes, ugliness, cavities, mosquito bites, and pretty much every problem known to modern humans.  When they get on the anti-soy warpath, they actually start to sound downright cultish.

So I’m trying to temper my panic with a reminder that a person can only do so much, and I’m doing the best that I can right now.  I’m healthier now than I was a year ago or even 6 months ago.  I’ve lost about 10 lbs since I started reading this book.  I lose 5-7 lbs. every summer due to all the biking/gardening, so I’m not ready to declare Nourishing Traditions to be a diet book yet.  Stay tuned.

Which brings me back to that endorsement from Dr. Atkins.  I can totally see, after reading this, that Dr. Atkins was reading some of the same research when he wrote his diet books.  There’s a grain of truth to the low carb diet plan, although anything that says no to fruits and vegetables is a little suspect.  Fallon puts almost no restrictions on whole foods.

And although she encourages saturated fats, it’s not like she thinks you should go eat a stick of butter tonight.  Everything in moderation.  You’re going to put a small amount of some sort of fatty spread on your bread, right?  Well butter is one of your best choices because it contains crazy amounts of vitamin A and the fat that best helps your body to absorb it.

I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop there for tonight.  Tomorrow night Sometime soon I’ll review a couple of the recipes from the book. (Updated 11/5/09)


Fermenting and apples

Reader Edna asked if I had a recipe for fermented applesauce.  I looked through both Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation, and also did some googling, but came up with nothing.  Every applesauce recipe that I’ve seen calls for cooking the apples, which, one would assume, would kill all the enzymes necessary for good fermentation.  So would a person just food-process the apples and make raw applesauce, then let it ferment for two days?  I found this basic recipe for raw applesauce.

Nourishing Traditions does have a recipe for a fermented version of apple butter, which I will share here.  I’ve never tried this one.  Anyone else out there that’s tried it?  This involves cooking the apples, so maybe cooking is a-ok when it comes to apples.  I still have so, so much to learn.

Apple Butter (from Nourishing Traditions)
4 c. dried apples
1 T. sea salt
1/4 c. whey (optional, but use a little extra salt if you leave it out)
1/4-1/2 c. raw honey, to taste

Cook apples in filtered water until soft.  Let cool slightly and transfer with a slotted spoon to food processor.  Process with remaining ingredients, and sweeten with extra honey if needed.  Place in quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jars.  The apple butter should be at least 1 inch below the tops of the jars.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 2 days before transferring to the refrigerator.  This should be eaten within 2 months.  Makes 2 quarts.

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Preserving food: a quick run-down

This is the first year that I’ve really gotten into preserving food.  I’ve frozen some things in the past, but with the combination of expanding our garden and subscribing to the CSA, I just simply have so much more to work with this summer.  I don’t have a favorite method yet; I think each one has its pros and cons depending on your situation.

Freezing: Pick produce.  Throw in freezer-safe ziploc bag or jar.  Freeze.  Or make huge amounts of sauces (like tomato sauces) and freeze in smaller portions.  Last summer for some reason I planted tons of basil, so I made pesto and froze it in 3/4 c. portions.  We ate pesto all winter.  So much that Adam refuses to eat it now.  So I’m skipping that one this year.
Pros: super easy, and nutritional value of most things is well-preserved
Cons: you need to have the freezer space available.  Works better on small scale unless you have a huge chest freezer.  Even then, you’re susceptible to freezer burn or power outtages ruining your food.

Canning: This is one area where I am very inexperienced, but soon to be more experienced.  Later this week, in fact, I’m going to can tomatoes for the first time ever.
Pros: even in a nuclear winter, you would still have food to eat.  Before reading the Road I would have scoffed at this.
Cons: much of the nutritional value of most foods is lost, and the process involves special equipment and know-how so you don’t unwittingly give your family botulism.

Fermenting: This is my personal favorite of the moment.
Pros: easy to do, especially on a small scale.  Enhances nutrition of food that is preserved.  Requires little to no special equipment.  Here’s a great “getting started” video from Sandor Elliz Katz, the author of Wild Fermentation.
Cons: some foods might require a slight re-adjustment of your palate.  Scale can be a problem, too, as we are finding out.  Pretty soon you start to run out of refrigerator space.  Also, some ferments can be putzy for the person who’s not an enthusiast (like cheese, beverages, and cured meats).

We are seriously considering making a “root cellar” type of area for storing some of our fermented and canned foods.  Ideally it would stay very cool, like 50 degrees.  We have a closet in the basement that stays very cool in winter, and I think with a little work we could make it into a proper cold storage area.  I need to make fall projects list one of these days; my mental list is getting really long.

Update 8/25/09: Good grief, I completely forgot one entire category of food preservation: drying.  I’ve never tried drying anything, but I would love to try making sun-dried tomatoes one of these years.

Any other methods I’m forgetting?

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Fermentation MANIA


It’s official.  We have become fermentation maniacs.  Left to right: pineapple chutney, pickled zucchini, dill pickle slices, dill pickle spears, and sour kraut.  They are all in various stages of fermenting, and I think the sour kraut is pretty much done.

There is nothing that hits the heart of the new home economics better than fermentation.  Here are a couple of simple reasons why:

1) It is a way of preserving locally grown produce through the winter months — this stuff won’t keep forever, but it will keep until next spring.
2) Instead of destroying nutrients, as traditional canning does, it enhances nutritional value
3) It is ideally suited to small batches, which makes it perfect for someone with a small garden
4) It’s something most people can’t buy in a store (unless they are very lucky or very wealthy)

Go ahead and click on my Fermentation tag on the right to see all my posts about it.  We made our first kimchi only 2 months ago and already we are completely sold on this.

We used the Nourishing Traditions recipe for the pineapple chutney, the Wild Fermentation recipe for the pickles and kraut, and Adam adapted this recipe for the zucchini.  If it turns out good (and so far, it is looking that way) I will have him post the recipe.

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Here’s what’s been going on around here:

braidedgarlicMy very first, completely lame-o attempt at braiding garlic.

apeckofpeppersWe had a decent picking of banana peppers (yellow) anaheim peppers (green) and our crazy little yellow cucumbers, which are delicious by the way.

pickledproduceWe made some brine dill pickles and used this recipe for fermented banana peppers.  We tasted them tonight and they are almost there already!  The whey really does speed things up (but is not a required ingredient, fyi).

liverFinally, Adam’s cooking challenge for the week: LIVER!  Look how cheap it was!  And it’s super good for you!  Is there any way to make it taste good?  I don’t know that I’ve actually ever had it.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough… Any good liver recipes out there?

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Probiotics help prevent illness

And you thought I was done with my probiotics/fermentation manifesto.  Check out this great post on probiotics, from the Natural Standard, a website that I’ve only recently become acquainted with (the blog part of the site is free; the rest requires registration).  It doesn’t endorse any specific products, and it is a clearinghouse for unbiased information about new evidence-based research on nutrition and alternative medicine.  Excellent.

The post on probiotics gives a high-level overview on new research from China on kids who were given probiotics mixed into their daily milk.  Check it:

These beneficial effects were even more noticeable in those who received [a] combination of probiotics. These children developed 72 percent fewer fevers, 62 percent fewer cough episodes and 59 percent fewer runny noses. The average duration of illness was also shortened by 48 percent compared to the placebo group. These children were also 84 percent less likely to use antibiotics and 32 percent less likely to miss school than those in the placebo group.

Anecdotally, my best friend CJ has been taking acidophilus for quite some time and she reports that she gets sick much less often than she used to.  Read the entire entry  here.  (via Cookus Interruptus)


Fermentation Workshop


Wednesday night I had the honor of taking a fermentation class taught by none other than Sandor Ellix Katz, of Wild Fermentation fame!  It was very cool, and I have never felt so jazzed about sauerkraut in my entire life.  He talked about a lot of things from his book, and answered a lot of questions, including two of mine.

First, I asked him what’s the deal with yogurt recipes that recommend buying commercial yogurt to use as a basis for home yogurt-making.  Basically, to make yogurt, you bring milk to a boil, then stir in a small amount of yogurt, then keep it at about 110 degrees F for at least 7 hours (up to 10).  The bacteria in the yogurt you added multiply, and now you have a new batch.

Well, you would think “HEY! I never have to buy yogurt again” because you could just use a little of your previous batch to innoculate your next batch.  But most of the recipes I have found say to buy a small container of commercial yogurt to innoculate your next batch.

People, we finally have an answer to this months-old question. Katz said that American commercial yogurt makers include strains of bacteria that do specific things, such as make the yogurt thicker and smoother.  If you keep using the same batch over and over again, these strains will eventually get weaker and classic yogurt bacterias such as the acidophilus group get stronger.  Your yogurt might end up being kinda runny and/or not have a great texture.  It will still be good for you, just maybe not as pleasing in appearance and texture to our American palates.

As for myself, I’ve gotten into a rhythm with my yogurt-making that I think I will probably maintain despite this revelation.  I buy a 6-oz container of Cultural Revolution yogurt for about $1.25 every time I go grocery shopping.  It’s whole-milk and unflavored, and just the exact right amount, so that makes it really easy.

Since I started using this as an innoculant, and also switched to non-homogenized milk, my yogurt is definitely a little more runny.  But we stir it up good, and add a little honey, and it is delicious!

The other question I was going to ask, but didn’t have to because he covered it anyway, was what is the deal with covering fermenting kimchi/kraut/etc.?  You may remember from my last post about making kimchi that I was super confused about this.

Well, the deal with fermenting foods is this:  because it has been done in so many different places for SO long (pre-dating the written word, for Pete’s sake), there are many “right” ways to do this stuff.  If you’re making a small amount, like the recipe I posted that made 1 qt, you can just put the standard canning lid on, as long as you make sure you open it at least once a day to let out accumulated pressure, and press down your veggies manually.kimchiinprogress

Or you can do like we did and put a piece of cloth on top so that air can get out but flies can’t get in.  OR you can weight the kraut/kimchi down with a heavy weight to hold the veggies under the surface of the liquid (this is more of a classic method and works especially well when you’re making very large amounts).  The gist is: there are multiple right ways, and worst-case-scenario if you get it wrong is that it might not taste super awesome.  But even that is a matter of individual preference.  You also might get scums/molds, but they are not dangerous and easily dealt with.  The powerful good-for-you enzymes will annihilate any bad bacteria that might find its way in, so things like botulism simply aren’t an issue.

The right amount of time for fermenting is also wide open.  He said it could be 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years depending on the temperature of your house and how sour you like your kraut.  We fermented our first kimchi for about a week, during pretty warm weather, and it got real sour.  Our second batch we only fermented for about 3-4 days before moving it into the fridge.  Upon tasting it a couple times, it seemed a little too salty and not sour enough for me so I got it back out last night to get going again.  I’ll probably put it back in the fridge tomorrow.

He also talked about all kinds of fun and exciting things like making mead, which we are going to try shortly here now that our one glass carboy is freed up from the beer-making that Adam and his brother were doing last month.

So if you’re still reading (which would really surprise me) you might be wondering “what’s the deal with fermented foods anyway?”  Why are they so good for us?  Several reasons.  For one, humans consumed them in large quantities, for millennia.  It’s only in the last 50-100 years that we gave up these rich sources of B vitamins, beneficial enzymes and probiotics.

Secondly, just at the precise moment when we gave these up, we also started an all-out assault on bacteria on two fronts:  first, and most importantly, we started giving antibiotics in large quantities to meat animals which we then eat.  All these excess antibiotics build up in our food, our water, and our bodies, creating a beautiful, bacteria-free blank slate on which new harmful bacterias can grow and proliferate.

So we’re getting sicker, and more often.  And how do we deal with that?  Exactly the opposite of how we should: with antibacterial soaps and prescription antibiotics.

Now more than ever our bodies need good bacteria on our side, and eating fermented foods is a really great (and delicious) way to accomplish that.  Do I sound like a true believer or what?!  I was so jazzed that I came home and ate a big bowl of kimchi right after the class.


Recipe: Kimchi

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at either sour kraut or kimchi for quite a while now, but my previous failed attempts at fermentation did not exactly boost my confidence.  This past week we made kimchi, and it turned out pretty good.  Here’s the recipe/methodology, from the book Wild Fermentation:

Chop up:
1 head napa cabbage
1 daikon radish or a few red radishes
1-2 carrots
1-2 onions or leeks or scallions
3-4 cloves garlic
3-4 hot red chilies, or chili pepper flakes, or hot chili sauce as long as it doesn’t have preservatives
3-5 T. fresh grated ginger

Place in:
4 c. water mixed with 4 T. sea salt.

kimchiallchoppedupPlace a heavy weight on it to hold the vegetables under the surface of the water overnight:

kimchifirstnightThe next day, grate the ginger, chop the garlic, and mix together well with the red chili peppers.  The book says “until it forms a paste” but I either lost patience or was using the wrong amount of ingredients because mine was just very finely minced stuff.

Drain the brine off the vegetables but save it for later.  Taste a vegetable.  If it tastes super salty, give them a little rinse.  Ours tasted fine so we didn’t rinse.  Mix vegetables with spices.  Press into quart-size jar (wide mouth works better).  Press down hard on the vegetable and some brine should seep out of them and rise up to the top of the jar.  If they are a bit on the dry side, add a little reserved brine.

Now is the super confusing part.  For the next few days, according to different books, you should:

a) seal with an airtight lid and leave it be
b) seal with a lid that lets air out but not in (like this)
c) just put some cheesecloth on it and if a yeast starts growing on the top, simply skim it off (it won’t kill you, apparently), and press down the veggies daily

I still find this all very confusing and so am taking a class in two weeks and hopefully some of my questions will be answered there.  At any rate, we chose method C because that is the method that the book seems to use:

kimchiinprogressOK we didn’t have any cheesecloth on hand so I used a cut up piece of old floursack towel.  No yeasty scum ever formed on mine, but I think results on that can vary widely just depending on where you live and ferment.

Every day, you’re supposed to check the kimchi.  You take off your “lid” or whatever, push down the cabbage to release extra bubbles, then taste one of the vegetables.  Katz says that when it tastes “ripe” it is done.  What the heck does that mean, “ripe?”

Well by the 4th or 5th day our kimchi was definitely getting less salty and more sour tasting.  We took that to mean ripeness.   We called it done on Friday and put an air-tight lid on it and moved it to the fridge.  Here’s the final product:

kimchionplateIt’s not super pretty; the veggies don’t look super vibrant.  Also, I didn’t like the way the napa cabbage held up.  Most of the commercial kimchis that I’ve bought use regular head cabbage, and I think I would use that next time too.  It stays crunchier.

Is this the weirdest recipe I’ve done yet?  For sure.  Fermentation is still very mysterious to me.  I think part of the reason is that there are multiple right ways to do it, so it just depends on who you ask.

Our kimchi is EXTREMELY sour.  I’m not really sure what that means.  It’s maybe a little too sour for me, but I’m hoping it will mellow out over time.  It’s very gingery (we used quite a bit) but it actually could be spicier.

So this brings me to the WHY.  Why eat this stuff?  I certainly did not grow up eating this stuff.   The closest thing to it that I ever experienced was pickled herring at Christmas which I thought disgusting (now I’d like to try it again).  It seems that fermented/pickled foods are something that adds quite a bit of nutritional value to your life, and it’s something we’ve really lost track of in the western/American diet.

What, you say?  What about our beloved dill pickles?  What of our canned kraut that we can pick up at any supermarket?  Well, the problem is that industrialization demands a very long shelf life of most foods, so the pickles, kraut, etc. that you buy at most grocery stores have been pasteurized.  All those nutritious enzymes, probiotics, etc. have been annhilated.  Even most pickle recipes that you see call for vinegar instead of brine.  Vinegar is not a hospitable environment for enzymes either.  The one happy exception to all this is yogurt, which we all know and love (though I’d avoid the nonfat or lowfat stuff because your body can’t properly assimilate fat-soluble vitamins and nutrients without a little, duh, fat).

Wild Fermentation‘s author, Sandor Ellix Katz, lives with AIDS and one of the ways he manages his disease is through fermented foods.  Fermented and cultured foods are also mentioned quite a bit in Nourishing Traditions (though I found Fallon’s recipes to be confusing).

What I’ve read has been enough to convince me that I ought to make more of an effort to include these foods in my diet.  At Seward Co-op they have some unpasteurized artisan “raw” kimchis and saur krauts, but holy hanna are they expensive.  I’ve tried them a couple times and really liked how they tasted and how they made my tummy feel.  Apparently they are really a boon to digestion.

So I feel it is worth it to give this a shot on my own.  Our kimchi was really inexpensive to make and it made a whole quart!  We’re talking about less than 1/4 the cost of the artisan ones.  Is it quite as good?  Honestly, no.  But hopefully with practice, it will get better.

(Update, early August 2009: I took a fermentation workshop last week and many of my questions were answered.  Click here to read them.  I also made my second batch of kimchi and it turned out great!  I think with these things, practice is really the essential thing.)

Finally, I’m going to squeeze in a quick garden update:  I picked our first round of green beans today:

greenbeansWe had them with supper, and they were “scrumdelicious” (I must lay off the danged Winnie-the-Pooh books).  I also froze a quart bag of them.