I just came across this project and want to quickly share it.
The front page says:
By watching and recording the bees at sunflowers in your garden, you can help us understand the challenges that bees are facing. We’ll be sending out annual Lemon Queen sunflower seeds in early March 2009. Just in time to plant!
* It takes less than 30 minutes.
* It’s easy.
* Free Sunflower seeds for planting.
* No knowledge of bees required!
Enter your bee counts online or send us your paper form.
We would love to have you join us; let’s help our most important pollinators together!
If you signed up in 2008, we will send you seeds again this spring. We’ll send you an email this winter to confirm your mailing address and if you respond, your seed will go out in late March or early April.
We love having beekeepers participate.
The site is very simple and has additional great information such as the ecological importance of bees and of this project, tips for growing a bee garden, a bee guide, and quite a few great looking educational resources for the (home or school) classroom.
Joining is free and so is the packet of seeds they send you. Once the sunflowers flower, you go out and observe them once a week and time how long it takes for five bees to come work their magic. Then you send in your data (data sheets provided). There is even a map on the site showing locations of the first 26,000 people who are signed up to participate and a forum where participants can share questions, observations and educational ideas.
What a neat project to be a part of and how important it will be to get a national ongoing map of bee activity. It says on the site that a bee is responsible for every third bite of food. Anyone who needs real food needs real bees. And personally, anything that gets us closer to bees here on Natural Path Farm is most welcome.
So go sign up, if you can, and we will work together!
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
A week ago Saturday, I was in the kitchen considering what kind of dinner I could make with the ingredients I had on hand while simultaneously ruminating over fellow bloggers who were suddenly disappearing into the mysterious landscape that lies off the grid (see last post). Interestingly this combination thought process spontaneously resulted not only in my cooking up a new lentil soup recipe but also in venturing into cooking it very efficiently in our living room!
One of my favorite cookbooks of the last six months or so is Eating Off the Grid, Storing and Cooking Foods Without Electricity. (You can get this cookbook on Amazon via the link below but I frankly found it more cheaply at USA Emergency Supply.) It has a very useful array of simple recipes across twelve categories together with interesting historical information, menu plans, nutritional information and other practical information for off grid living with regards to food.
Anyway, I decided to try one of her lentil soups I hadn’t tried before AND to try cooking it in a way she mentions which I haven’t done before. Both were great successes. I will first give the very simple cooking explanation for cooking in an insulated box followed by the recipe.
COOKING INDOORS USING AN INSULATED BOX
(Please view the video linked at the bottom of the post for visuals for all of this.)
I have used this method with great results now with soup, beans and grain. In a heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, start cooking your dish in the usual manner. Bring it to a boil, put on the cover and cook at a fairly high boil for about 15 minutes. I adjust the heat here depending upon what I am cooking and how big the pot is.
In the living room (and this is simply because it was the only nearby spot I could find that wouldn’t be in the way), I set up a laundry basket. In the laundry basket is an unzipped twin size sleeping bag with the center of the sleeping bag squashed down into the laundry basket. Inside that I put a travel blanket that used to be in the car. Inside that is an old bath sheet (you know those giant bath towels?). At the bottom of all of this I put a flat, stable hot plate.
After the lentil soup boiled for 15 minutes, I carried the pot into the living room and set it into its insulated box. I wrapped the towel around it and then the blanket under it. I then wrapped another heavy cotton blanket around it all from the top and tucked that it all around but inside of the sleeping bag. Then I wrapped the sleeping bag up all around the whole thing. The sleeping bag is nylon so I was careful to have only cotton blankets and towels actually touching the pot. Nylon would melt.
About three hours later my husband unwrapped the pot for me and brought it into the kitchen. It was still so hot that steam was coming out of it and the lentil soup inside was perfectly cooked. And when I say perfectly cooked, I really mean perfectly cooked. This particular recipe has flour in it which could otherwise have easily burned but didn’t at all from being cooked this way. The lentils were soft but still held their shape and yet everything else was tender. It was kind of amazing to me.
The soup cooked up so beautifully (and it was such a balm to my soul to cook something mostly off the grid…) that I have since cooked up a big Dutch Oven full of fava beans and right now have a pot of barley cooking away in there. I can’t say this arrangement adds much to the decor of the living room at this point but it surely feels great to only use about 15 minutes worth of electricity to cook meals that usually cook on the stove top for hours.
Meanwhile, this particular lentil soup recipe turns out to be a nice addition to my repertoire of lentil soups. It is a bit different and a keeper.
NEW YEAR’S EVE LENTIL SOUP
Author Denise Hansen, MS, RD explains that it is a Greek and Italian tradition to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve to “assure prosperity and good fortune.” I figure we can use that any time of year!
This is my adjusted version which does not include soy bacon bits or beef bouillon. I also made it a bit thicker and tripled the recipe. I doubt many readers will want a recipe quite that size so I will try to scale it back a little. You are welcome to scale it back further or freeze the extra from this for another day.
1 large chopped onion
about a cup’s worth of frozen greens or the equivalent in fresh greens (the recipe suggests Swiss chard including diced stalks - I used mustard greens because that is what I had on hand)
oil for sauteing
1.5 cups flour
7 quarts water
2 or 3 potatoes, diced
3 cups lentils rinsed (and soaked if possible!)
5 tsp. salt
4 bay leaves
2 tsp. thyme
about 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1. In a heavy bottomed stockpot, saute onion, greens and carrots in oil until soft.
2. Add the flour, stirring constantly to make a roux. Unbleached flour works best (she says notes this although I used Golden 86 for this kind of thing all the time).
3. Slowly add the water, stirring constantly. Then add the remaining ingredients.
4. Simmer for 2 - 3 hours. (Alternatively put boiling hot pot put into your insulated box and tuck it in for three hours or so.) The flavor improves with longer simmering. Just before serving, remove the bay leaves and add freshly ground pepper.
This soup is thick and saucy. It also makes great leftovers. We ate this soup for a couple of days plus over a week later we are still enthusiastically using our insulated box for long cooking. Try it - it is extremely easy and is just plain common sense once you start to think about it. Besides, if you happen to have a large family and just a regular smallish stove like I do, it frees up a burner. We are so taken with this recipe that I have added it to my menu plan and we are so taken with this form of cooking that we made a video about it to inspire you. Enjoy both!
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
We rarely go out and aren’t involved in many activities off the homestead. Nevertheless, it seems like I am constantly having to adjust our schedules and methods due to internal pressures, projects, natural changes and new ideas. I am in the thick of a series of changes yet again and one of them relates to baking and electricity usage.
The more we ratchet back to doing things the “old way,” the more I see the wisdom of the old rhythm of assigning homekeeping tasks to specific days of the week. According to this blog post, homemakers lived by this rhythm for over a hundred years and some still do. I never felt a need to do this before because with a clothes washer, for instance, you can throw a load in any old time and it just doesn’t matter. If you aren’t concerned with the extra energy required to turn the oven on and off whenever the mood strikes (and you are using an electric oven in the first place), then you can bake at any time. If you have plenty of gas and live within a reasonable driving distance from town, you can jump in the car and go shop or whatever at any time. Modern “conveniences” and a “gee there are plenty of resources available to me to use how I like” lifestyle does not require the discipline/rhythm of accomplishing tasks in a predetermined order and on well chosen days. You can easily do little bits of this and that at varying times and days with no noticeable repercussions. That is probably part of what it generally means to be “modern.”
Washing laundry by hand and baking a lot, at times in an outdoor wood fired earth oven, is teaching me the necessity of adapting to an older rhythm in order to successfully adapt to older methods. There is only so often you want to drag out all of the buckets and other equipment and get all set up and get wet and all sorts of things to do the laundry. Getting through as much of it as possible at one time is really starting to make sense to me. There are only so many times we can afford to go to town (both in terms of time and gas) so having a careful list and itinerary for the trips we do make helps us be more effective.There is only so often you can reasonably light up a baking fire so you might as well do as much baking at once as you can while you have that precious fire going.
Even if you have an electric oven, how much electricity you use is still a consideration and will be increasingly a consideration for more and more people, I imagine. Oklahoma Prairie Mom, on her blog Life of a Prairie Mom, commented on this recently in her post Our Electric Bill. About baking she says this:
The electric stove is in use only a twice a day. The greatest usage though is when I am baking. To help save energy, I plan my baking so that I am doing it only twice a week, on Monday & Thursday. On those days, I bake enough bread, cookies, and anything else that we will need until the next baking day. This also includes any orders that I have for baking bread or cookies for others. By limiting the number of days that I bake, I am not heating up the oven nearly as often.
“Oh, that is a good idea,” I thought when I read that. “I am going to go back to trying that sort of schedule again.” I have been wondering about ways to cut our utility bill lately. It isn’t easy because we don’t have many uses left to cut! But I can at least do this. Lately I have slipped back into baking bread on an as-needed basis. I decided to make another attempt to go back to the old way of baking a lot at a time once or twice a week.
So last Friday I baked a lot. One of my daughters helped me some of the time which was fun. All in all, we made four corn breads (we bake them in cast iron skillets), 10 loaves of whole wheat bread, one large loaf of Irish Soda bread and finished off with an unexpected batch of Homemade Herbal Marshmallows. It took more than half the day to make all of that. It was a good feeling to freeze 7 loaves of bread, and two rounds of corn bread and still have fresh Irish Soda bread for dinner with our mashed potatoes and greens. All in all, a productive day. I don’t know how much electricity it saved, but it surely opens up my schedule to do other things. It also frees me up tomorrow to do some cooking ahead for Sunday.
Oh, the Homemade Herbal Marshmallows were a first hands-on herbal project for The Lionsgate School Herbal Education Program. (Doesn’t that sound official? Maybe I will come up with a more catchy name for it some day.) I will devote an entire post to that interesting and instantly consumed project very soon.
Meanwhile I need to figure out exactly what our need is for baked goods. Maybe one day a week, I will focus primarily on loaf breads while on the other day I bake pizza crusts, sandwich buns, crackers and other wheaten goodies. Our days are so jam packed and I get so tired that I really need to have our freezer full of possibilities. Baking ahead will give me some breathing room as well as save on electricity.
The old rhythm of organizing time and tasks was as follows, by the way:
Monday: Wash Day
Tuesday: Ironing Day
Wednesday: Sewing Day
Thursday: Market Day
Friday: Cleaning Day
Saturday: Baking Day
Sunday: Day of Rest
With a few variations (some folks had a gardening day instead of a separate ironing day, or the days were not quite in this order), this is the way everyone kept house for more than a hundred years. It was such a common scheme that day-of-the-week dishtowels emblazoned with that day’s chore were everywhere. (You can still get Aunt Martha iron-on embroidery or paint transfers with this scheme–I collect them, in fact.)
There was logic behind this. Laundry was far and away the heaviest task a housewife faced, requiring a great deal of strength and fortitude to hand-wring clothes and carry big baskets of wet laundry to the clothesline from the basement washtubs. Monday was the day to do it, when you were still fresh and rested from Sunday. Tuesday’s ironing followed Monday’s wash. Mending and sewing on Wednesday made sense when you’d just been through the clothes and noticed what needed a button or a patch. And so on.
Or for the Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush variation, go here.
I will have to work at this and figure out (again) my own old rhythm. Having one type of chore listed for each day is a great way to make sure you get your 15 minutes of a neglected task in a week … like mending and sewing for instance. I am rather dramatically behind on mending and really want to start back up sewing again. I don’t actually require an ironing day (!), and already have my cleaning day on Saturday so that the house is especially nice for Sunday. We sweep every day and often many times a day so I wouldn’t waste a day in honor of just sweeping as in the Mulberry Bush song. I have long done the laundry in tune with the weather so I am not sure how to assign that to a particular day. I have tried and tried to make Sunday more of a day of rest for myself and I still need improvement in this area. Well, I guess I am going to have to work on all of this a bit. The point is for me to consolidate types of tasks that have heretofore been scattered all across the week in order to save on motion, time, and money/energy use.
One more comment about old rhythms - I started cooking in a Nourishing Traditions/slow food sort of way years and years ago. I noticed even back then that cooking in that very careful way completely changed my rhythm in the kitchen. Having to soak foods, peel the skins off of almonds, cook beans for hours and hours and so on causes you to slow down and really feel what you are doing and think about it far ahead. It gives you much more contact with the food and, therefore, much more time to pray over the food. It is my experience that these old rhythms of food preparation add nutrient density not only in terms of needed chemical changes for ease of assimilation but even more importantly, in terms of opportunity for our thoughtful, prayerful care as homemakers and heartcenters of our families to permeate our daily cooking for our loved ones.
Perhaps the weekly old rhythm will make that happen for mending too? I will have to make up my weekly schedule and live by it for a while and see.
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
It somehow never occurred to me that the seminal Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston Price was in the public domain. But Abby Eagle of Rejoice in Life did figure that out and has a link for a free download of Dr. Price’s book on his web site.
I scanned through the book online from Abby’s link for a little while before getting ready to post this. I happened to read a section on the varying health and customs in Switzerland and became deeply engrossed. It is not just that properly preparing and eating natural foods produced people with singularly healthy teeth. What Dr. Price observes is that societies based upon natural, simple ways of living produce people with powerful physiques, healthy teeth. strong moral character and clear vision both literally and metaphorically. Dr. Price comments upon customs and even styles of clothing as he relays medical/dental information. I found this to be riveting reading and, along with many other people, highly recommend this book to you. You may either purchase a hard copy or download it from the above link.
Living natural lives relatively free of the ravages of the rapacious engine of desire creation follows laws of seemingly unintended positive consequences. Well, really the positive consequences are certainly intended, but not by us. They were intended by our Creator. We have only to follow the natural laws that govern us. The dire consequences of man stepping outside of these laws is what generated the phrase “unintended negative consequences” in the first place. Read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration and discover some hints towards positive consequences. And while you are there, look around Abby’s site. It is loaded with information as is his very useful cookbook Learn How to Cook the Way Grandma Did …
Bon appetit for all that was actually intended for us to have and be!
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
I wrote recently about my discovery that there are many flat bread recipes out there in the world and noted how we just may especially need those recipes as the percentage of protein in wheat continues to fall.
Last weekend we had a resoundingly successful Italian meal of Lentil Chestnut Soup and Fried Ricotta Flat Bread with Parsley Garlic Sauce. My husband loved it. The children loved it. They couldn’t wait to eat the leftovers. It was wonderful
Catherine at Albion Cooks apparently adapted the Lentil Chestnut Soup from a Deborah Madison lentil chestnut soup recipe. I don’t have the soup cookbook of Deborah Madison’s and I had all the ingredients on hand that Catherine used so we cooked it up. My husband pulled a bag of chestnuts from the freezer and shelled and boiled them for me. The rest of the soup was really easy to make. By the way, you don’t have to have your own chestnuts. She calls for canned chestnuts in her recipe. I think of this soup as being somewhat Italian, by the way, because chestnuts are an ancient part of the Italian diet (and landscape).
Then I made the Fried Ricotta Flat Bread. As I am accustomed to making tortillas and chapattis, I found these easy to make. The only difference is in the ingredients of the dough. This dough is very rich with the addition of ricotta cheese (freshly made in our case), egg yolks and milk. You mix the dough, let it rest and roll out thin rounds just like with tortillas or chapattis. However, you fry these breads. I virtually never deep fry anything so having a fried food is an occasion here in this house. I rolled out the breads and Paul cooked them in the oil. They puffed up beautifully and were golden brown.
There is a parsley sauce or salsa verde to go with these ricotta flat breads that is not to be missed. It consists mostly of finely chopped Italian parsley and fresh garlic together with a few other ingredients. The recipe calls for anchovies which we don’t eat. I just left them out but added a little extra salt. Next time I make this, I hope I will have some capers on hand. We love capers (which are pickled flower buds by the way) and they will add some of that pungent flavor and earthy saltiness that the anchovies must add.
This parsley sauce is called salsa verde, means green sauce in Italian. Green sauces were an entire category centuries ago, are generally uncooked, varied by adding anchovies and/capers to taste. People use to accompany it with boiled and poached dishes, but the new Italian cooking seems not to be rigid with it. Anyway, serving it with this bread is suggested by Sale & Pepe - Grandi Fritti all’ Italian, I tried it, and I liked it.
A whole category of green sauces is something I would like to learn more about! In any case, this parsley sauce was delicious and positively medicinal with the amount of garlic that was in it. Interestingly, the children loved it. I should have made a bigger batch, in fact.
The flat bread itself was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. It had a pastry-like quality to it which together with the earthiness of the soup and the intense green garlicky-ness of the sauce made for a satisfying combination. In fact, Paul served the children some of the flat breads sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for dessert.
One great aspect of this meal is that it easily transitioned into leftovers. We are intent on making larger portions on Friday or Saturday so that I can cook less on Sunday and enjoy a bit more Sunday-ness, if you know what I mean. The Lentil Chestnut soup recipe is easily doubled or tripled and stores in the refrigerator well. I made a quadruple batch of the fried ricotta flat bread recipe which Paul encouraged me to try splitting in two and storing half in the frig to roll out the next day. I did this and it worked very well. I am glad he suggested it as it was wonderful having those hot, rich flat breads one more time.
The end result was a nourishing meal full of new tastes which everyone was delighted to enjoy two days in a row.
Boy, I can’t wait to learn about another new flat bread! This one really added a new dimension for us (which is kind of funny because it is flat!). More to come …
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
During one of my ongoing searches for more information and experiences with oil pulling a couple of weeks ago, I came across Joe’s Health Site. This page has stayed in my mind since for two reasons. The first reason is that I read two pieces of information on it that were new to me and the other is the brevity and simplicity of this page.
Researching, learning, changing and eating our way back to some semblance of original health generally seems to be a ridiculously complicated endeavor. Books and web sites devoted to this subject are often fairly complex and contain so much information that the reader can easily become overwhelmed. Not at Joe’s Health Site. It is one page! And not one of those hugely long pages that is really the length of a full length novel. It is one page with a few select links. However, I can say with confidence that if you follow the recommendations on this page, the health of many,many people will dramatically improve. (I say this even though we are vegetarian and Joe clearly is not.)
Topics covered include:
Eating enough quality protein;
Using coconut oil daily;
Getting enough gelatin;
Information about good fats and the myths about cholesterol;
The Dangers of Microwave Ovens;
and the health benefits possible from Rebounding.
All good stuff simply presented. Now here are the two facts I pulled out of Joe’s Health Site that stuck with me personally:
I started oil pulling on 3//4/07 and I have no intentions of ever stopping it. It has helped my sleep, moods, reduced my anxiety, improved my brain function, and more. Read about it, and then try it! Curezone.com has a forum on it. They say if you do it once daily for 2-4 weeks, you’ll never want to stop it! This is an ancient Ayurvedic Healing Technique that’s very effective.
I have also found that once I started oil pulling, I never wanted to stop. It is funny that something I had never heard of just a few months ago is now something I intend to do always and teach my children and grandchildren to do too! I am not even aware of any big changes in my health from doing it. It just feels right to do and in some subtle way I have to do it! It is soothing and health promoting in a deep, natural way that I can feel but not necessarily pinpoint. By way of contrast, I have had to skip doing it for short periods a couple of times because I didn’t have any sesame oil to use. This didn’t wreck my day or anything but the morning felt incomplete. It’s like not brushing your teeth at a time when you always brush your teeth. It won’t kill you but it doesn’t feel good.
Secondly, I noted this with regard to thyroid function:
Taking the oral temperature is the best way to detect low thyroid. It should be 98 on arising and 98.6 to 99 during the day. If it’s much below this you’re probably hypo-thyroid. Resting pulse should be 85. Much below 80 usually indicates hypothyroidism.
Taking your temperature is pretty much the only way to accurately gauge thyroid function and I have known that for years. There is a bit more to the best way to do this than is mentioned here. However, the point about a low pulse being a sign of hypothyroidism really hit me. I have had a low pulse rate for as long as I can remember. Once I was getting a physical in order to work in Internal Medicine and Urgent Care at an HMO in Boston. The nurse practitioner took my pulse rate and then asked me if I had been jogging for years? I was surprised at the question. I had always been athletic and a dancer but had never found jogging even remotely interesting. I replied with a laugh that I did not jog. She commented that my pulse was so low that she thought that must be what I do.
If only she had had enough clinical experience to realize that a pulse in the high 60’s was a possible warning sign of hypothyroidism. (Most MD type medical people are not too good at this thyroid business, by the way.) Perhaps I could have gotten enough thyroid support at that time that my thyroid wouldn’t have collapsed almost completely after giving birth the first time. Sigh. And here up to now even I thought that my low pulse rate was one of the good things I had going for me healthwise. I was a little blue when I read this, to tell you the truth, but I guess it is better to know.
We used to make homemade pizza frequently but now that our milk supply is so low, we haven’t had it for a while. This past week, however, we saved up milk so that we could make enough mozzarella for all the pizzas we make at a time. Plus the day before my husband got some kefir sourdough starter going.
Yesterday we checked on the starter and it looked very lively. Now you usually let that starter sit for at least a couple of days before using it but this one was only going to sit and bubble for less than one day because that is all the time we had. I figured I would just let the dough rise extra long and it would probably be fine.
We were unexpectedly called away for much of the day yesterday and Paul and I were very tired when we finally got home. I made the dough but knew there wasn’t going to be much time for it to rise so I added just half the yeast that I usually use to make a batch of pizza dough. I thought that half the yeast plus a jar of starter that was less than one day old would add up to enough dough. I made it all up in the Bosch, rolled it out onto the counter of our hutch, covered it with a towel and left it to rise while I worked on the computer for a while.
Maybe an hour later I heard a commotion in the kitchen and young voices calling me rather urgently. I dashed in there (imagine big movie music playing here now) and saw the hugest spread of pizza dough I have ever seen! It was growing off the counter by about six inches. I pushed it all back up onto the counter and went back to the computer to tidy up what I was doing so that I could get into the kitchen and save us all from the runaway pizza dough. By the time I got back in there just a couple of minutes later, the pizza dough was hanging off of the counter again.
My husband said, “Great, roll the crusts out thick and we will have deep dish pizza. That will be more filling anyway.”
OK, I can do that. I rolled one crust out nice and thick and then baked it on the hot pizza stone for just 4 minutes. When I opened the oven, I laughed. What I pulled out of it was more like a foccacia than a pizza crust. I was two inches thick! While I tried to thin out the next crust a bit, Paul took pictures of the always expanding pizza crust.
Here he put a zebra next to it to give a sense of scale.
I lost count of how many crusts I rolled out. I made each one a bit thinner than the one before but still after six or seven crusts, they were still coming out of the oven plenty thick. So we had deep dish pizza alright. And, yes, everyone was full. They were so full that we had plenty of leftovers for lunch today.
Top left is plain cheese, bottom left is cheese and pineapple, while the lone slices are cheese and shiitake mushroom.
The moral of the story? Never underestimate the power of kefir in baking!
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
Until fairly recently, knowing how to ferment food was considered a time honored and critical skill in homesteads and kitchens all over the world. It was a craft that preserved food, strengthened health, gave a scope for creativity and experimentation and provided an avenue for working symbiotically with nature. More and more people these days are maintaining that the complete absence of real fermented food in our diet has undermined our health dramatically. Some even say that introducing fermented foods into your diet is the first step to take towards improved health even before taking vitamins and so on. Please find here a brief introduction to the benefits of lacto-fermented foods, a simple recipe for making sauerkraut yourself, links for more online information, links to books for really in-depth information and down at the very bottom of this post, links to videos of us making this sauerkraut ourselves.
I think that, therefore, having some ability with the artisanal craft of fermenting food will be a critical skill in tomorrow’s kitchens as well. Here is another instance where past pathways can lead us towards a healthier future more oriented towards relationships:
It may seem strange to us that in earlier times, people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. This was done through the process of lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative which inhibits putrefying bacteria… These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things, and especially numerous on the leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man only needs to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine. Nourishing Traditions, p. 81
What are some of the advantages of fermenting basic foods?
The ancient Greeks understood that important chemical changes took place during this type of fermentation. Their name for it was “alchemy”. Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anti-carcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation, but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine. Other alchemical by-products include hydrogen peroxide, a potent blood and tissue oxygenator, and small amounts of benzoic acid. Nourishing Traditions, p. 81
What is available to us today in grocery stores?
Unfortunately, fermented foods have largely disappeared from the Western diet, much to the detriment of our health and economy. Fermented foods are a powerful aid to digestion and a protection against disease. And because fermentation is, by nature, an artisanal process, the disappearance of fermented foods has hastened the centralization and industrialization of our food supply, to the detriment of small farms and local economies. Wild Fermentation, p. XI
Lacto-fermentation is an artisanal craft that does not lend itself to industrialization. Results are not always predictable. For this reason, when the pickling process became industrialized, many changes were made that rendered the final product more uniform and more saleable, but not necessarily more nutritious. Chief among these was the use of vinegar for the brine, resulting in a product that is more acidic and not necessarily beneficial when eaten in large quantities; and of subjecting the final product to pasteurization, thereby effectively killing all the lactic-acid-producing bacteria and robbing consumers of their beneficial effect on the digestion. Nourishing Traditions, p. 82
This is the same industrialization process that has robbed us of real bread and many other once sustaining foods, by the way.
Keeping in mind that kefir and yogurt are very familiar fermented dairy foods, let’s move on to consider sauerkraut as a possible new fermented food we might make in our very own kitchens.
A partial list of lacto-fermented vegetables from around the world is sufficient to prove the universality of this practice. In Europe, the principle lacto-fermented food is sauerkraut. Described in Roman texts, it has been prized for its delicious taste as well as medicinal properties for many centuries. Nourishing Traditions, p. 81
Sandor Katz in his Wild Fermentation - The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods has an interesting section on the history of sauerkraut through various cultures, research on sauerkraut’s anti-carcinogenic qualities, the science of the microbial process that takes cabbage from garden to immune system booster and a range of recipes and approaches for making sauerkraut. I am still at the beginning stages of exploring the artisanal craft of fermentation myself, so I have yet to fully explore Sandor’s methods and recipes. Sally Fallon’s fermentation recipes were specially chosen to be simple and her approach to sauerkraut is certainly that. Hers is the basic recipe I used in the kefir sauerkraut videos (posted below) and the one I will detail for you here.
4 cups shredded organic cabbage, loosely packed
1 tsp. juniper berries
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/4 tsp. mustard seeds
2 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbl. whey (if you don’t have whey, then add an extra 1 tsp. of sea salt)
1 cup pure water
In a large bowl, mix together the shredded cabbage with the juniper berries, mustard seeds and cumin seeds. Mash or pound everything in the bowl with a wooden pounder for several minutes to release water/juice from the cabbage. Into a clean quart-sized wide mouthed mason jar, put the pounded cabbage mixture a handful at a time. Pack everything down with the pounder.
In a glass measuring cup, mix the salt and whey into the water. Pour into the jar. Continue adding pure water to the jar until the liquid in the jar comes up to the top of the cabbage. There should be about an inch of space between the top of the cabbage and the top of the jar.
Cover the jar tightly and keep at room temperature for 3 to 5 days, depending upon the temperature of your kitchen. Transfer to your refrigerator.
The sauerkraut can be eaten immediately but it does become more flavorful the longer it ages in the refrigerator.
1. No matter how little food money I may have at any given time, I only make sauerkraut with organic cabbage. If I can’t get my hands on an organic cabbage, then I just don’t make sauerkraut. As Sally Fallon explains:
It is important to use the best quality organic vegetables, sea salt and filtered or pure water for lacto-fermentation. Lactobacilli need plenty of nutrients to do their work and if the vegetables are deficient, the process of fermentation will not proceed. Likewise if your salt or water contains impurities, the quality of the final product will be jeopardized. Nourishing Traditions, p. 82
I figure I don’t want to be drawing more out of a chemically raised cabbage through pounding and fermentation, then would already be “available”. I don’t want to add to the chemical burden we already have to deal with from living in this world. Luckily, even organic cabbages are not all that expensive and sauerkraut does go a long way.
2. You can make sauerkraut with just water and salt which is good. You can inoculate the brine with whey which is better. You can inoculate the brine with kefir whey which is best. It doesn’t take much whey. You could probably get enough from a container of yogurt. You can get lots of whey from making very simple cheese in a pot on top of the stove. You can get kefir whey simply by draining some kefir through butter muslin or several layers of cheese cloth and catching the whey in a bowl underneath. Kefir whey is the most biologically complex and active, followed by various other sources of whey, followed by water and salt.
3. I use well water to make our sauerkraut and have had no problems. I would definitely not use municipal water, however, as that is guaranteed to be chemically contaminated. If you are on city water, then I would suggest buying a bottle of good quality water. I don’t think fermented fluoride and chlorine and who knows what else is what the ancients had in mind with fermentation!
4. You don’t have to use mustard seeds, if you don’t want to or don’t have them. I use very little as my husband doesn’t like too many of them in his sauerkraut. According to Sandor Katz, you might also consider caraway seeds, dill seeds, celery seeds and keep with the juniper berries. These various seeds also help keep the cabbage crisp while it ferments (as does the salt, by the way).
5. As you become familiar with making and eating sauerkraut, you can also experiment with adding other vegetables such as carrots, turnips, beets or burdock root. Sandor notes that you can even add fruits such as apples either whole or sliced. (Wild Fermentation, p. 41)
Making sauerkraut is another one of those accomplishments that feels great. It turns out to be fairly simple at its most basic, but gives plenty of room for growth in knowledge and play of creativity. It is another way to become more self reliant. It is another skill and taste best introduced to our children while they are young. It builds future health by leading in and out of the garden. It draws upon the past to meet a critical need in the present you almost cannot meet otherwise due to the vagaries of modern day laws and industrialization. Finding real fermented food in the stores is not easy. Sometimes you can find real sauerkraut but it is very expensive and for some reason, around here anyway, the stores are not carrying it any more. This is similar to real milk in that almost the only way you can feed your family with it is by doing it yourself.
There is one more aspect I would like to touch upon, however. I think Americans, in this age of enforced vaccines, powerful drugs and anti-bacterial soaps, hold very deeply the idea that the invisible world is a threatening one that must be strenuously guarded against, tightly controlled and preferably stamped out altogether. As human beings are designed to live in relationship with nature, this attitude and the actions that flow from it will eventually kill us if left unchecked. We can already see evidence of this everywhere. There are many articles now about children growing up with asthma and food allergies and all sorts of things because they now live in sanitized environments which can’t develop the human immune system as it was designed to be developed. Sally Fallon noted over 10 years ago that:
Scientists and doctors today are mystified by the proliferation of new viruses - not only the deadly AIDS virus but the whole gamut of human viruses that seem to be associated with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer to arthritis. They are equally mystified by recent increases in the incidence of intestinal parasites and pathogenic yeasts, even among those whose sanitary practices are faultless. Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation, and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms? If so, the cure for these diseases will be found not in inoculations, drugs or antibiotics, but in a restored partnership with the many varieties of lactobacilli, our symbionts of the microscopic world. Nourishing Traditions, p. 83
Intelligent, informed, creative relationships with the natural world around us - both visible and invisible - are an important key to human health on all planes of existence. Learning how to ferment foods is a wonderful way to change our deeply held attitudes about the invisible world of “microbes”, all the while putting healthy, flavorful, food on the table.
Do try this simple sauerkraut. It is fun to make, pretty to look at, tasty to eat and satisfying to share with loved ones.
From the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
Mid-morning yesterday while I was up to my elbows in teaching math to three different children at three different levels at the same time, my husband got busy in the kitchen scrounging up something for all of us for lunch. He is very good at putting together whatever he can find and making a good lunch out of it. At some point, I vaguely noticed that he was in the kitchen making a batch of mozzarella cheese.
We make our mozzarella cheese more or less following Ricki Carroll’s instructions in her must have book Home Cheesemaking - Recipes for 75 Homemade Cheeses. The directions in her book are generally the same as the ones on her web site with the bonus on her web page of there being photos included. (I am only linking to the directions for “30 Minute Mozzarella without using a Microwave” because microwaves are bad, bad, bad!) We have made so much of this quick type of mozzarella over the last couple of years that we can do it almost automatically.
So my husband made up a batch of mozzarella cheese and added basil to it. Then he pulled out the leftover pasta sauce from the night before, sliced the bread in the bread basket, fired up the oven and made us some delicious “toast pizzas”, I guess you could call them.
The reason I mention all of this is that we were scrounging. There didn’t seem to be much to eat in the house and we can’t go shopping for a while yet. When we all sat down to eat, I looked at what was on the plate and laughed. What were we eating?
Organic sourdough bread that had risen twice for 12 and 4 hours respectively;
Flavorful homemade pasta sauce;
and fresh mozzarella made from unprocessed, grass-fed milk and flavored with sea salt and organic basil.
In this day and age, such tasty and nutrient dense food is hard to come by and expensive when you find it. But for us on the old homestead, this was what we came up with by scrounging! There surely are some benefits to living like this…
By the way, I recommend trying your hand at making this quick type of mozzarella. It is easy, satisfying and delicious and a great way to introduce yourself to cheesemaking. Go to Ricki’s web page to learn more or better yet, get yourself a copy of Home Cheesemaking.
Bon appetit from the beautiful mountains of southwest Virginia,
In my never ending quest to make warm, nutritious breakfasts that aren’t sweet, are inexpensive and reasonable to make during our very busy farm mornings, I have started making Cream of (Fill in the Blank) Cereal once a week so or so. We have had cream of wheat, cream of spelt, cream of rye and cream of kamut so far. I haven’t tried cream of rice yet and I wonder from time to time about the possibilities of cream of barley cereal. Be that as it may, all the hot cereals we have had so far have been delicious and the children have eaten two or three bowls full each time. I must say, though, that my personal favorite is cream of kamut.
If I were of a mindset to worship a grain, my choice would be kamut. The berries are large and golden and buttery looking. They just glow really and make you want to eat them and partake of the glorious nutrition Nature has created for us.
As [kamut] hasn’t been altered by modern plant breeders, it retains its ancient nutrition, flavor and goodness.
They also note that:
Due to its slightly higher fatty acid content, Kamut can be considered a high energy grain, and compared to wheat, Kamut also contains elevated levels of vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, pantothentic acid, copper and complex carbohydrates. All around, Kamut seems to be a very healthy grain.
To read more about the history and nutritional value of kamut, you can look here, here and here. There is also an entire book devoted to kamut entitled Kamut: An Ancient Food for a Healthy Future (see link at end of post). I haven’t read this book yet but it is now on my Amazon wish list! For an astonishingly detailed review of what the word “kamut” really means, read this analysis on Polyglot Vegetarian. It is complete with coptic writing and mentions of various Egyptian dictionaries and all sorts of interesting things. (It is truly a wonder what you can find on the internet…)
Donna Spann, whom I have mentioned in a previous post about millet, notes in her Grains of Truth that:
You can use Kamut for most of your baking - breads, muffins, cookies, even cakes. Some folks will cook up Kamut as a hot breakfast cereal, or a pilaf as a side dish. Flaked, Kamut cooks up to a similar consistency to oatmeal. I also like to use the flaked grain in granola and cookies. Don’t be afraid to experiment with this terrific and ancient grain that narrowly missed extinction. p. 68
In making an exotic Kamut, Candied Pumpkin and Hazlenut Cake, Mercedes of Desert Candy tells us:
So I got out my standard cake recipe, and I fiddled and tweaked and practiced, and the result was this Egyptian-inspired version. I used kamut flour, a grain similar to wheat, in place of some of the regular flour. Kamut is traditional in Egypt, it is very nutritious, very easy to grow, and a much-higher yield crop than wheat (I don’t know why it isn’t more widely grown in America, but I suspect U.S. agriculture subsidies have a lot to do with it); the flour has a light yellow color and a slightly sweet buttery note.
For my pizza crust I used 20 per cent kamut, resulting in a pale yellow, slightly sweet dough with a lightly crunchy texture.
I have also used kamut flour in pizza crust, bread, biscuits and a number of other baked goods. Aside from my wild enthusiasm about kamut itself, I think using a range of grains in our daily fare is a sound health practice so I switch around which grains I use both to take advantage of their individual characteristics and also just for the sake of variety.
Cream of kamut cereal is probably about the easiest thing you could make with this or any other grain. Here is how I do it:
1. Put 9 cups of water and a teaspoon of salt in a heavy bottomed pot and put on a burner on “high”.
2. Meanwhile coarsely grind 3 cups of kamut berries.
3. Pour 3 cups of water into a bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup. Slowly add the kamut flour, stirring madly all the while, to prevent lumps from forming. The resulting mixture will be very thick.
4. Once the water on the stove is boiling, pour the kamut/water mixture into it. Be careful to not get burned by any splashing as the kamut hits the boiling water in the pot.
5. Turn the heat down somewhat and stir the pot until the cream of kamut is steaming hot and thick. If it is too thick for your taste, thin with a bit of water.
That’s it. Breakfast is ready. The amount above makes just barely enough for us. Leftovers store well in refrigerator. Smaller families may appreciate the following amounts: 1 cup ground kamut, 4 cups water, 1/2 tsp. salt. Follow the directions the same way (i.e. boil 3 cups of water, mix ground kamut into the remaining cup of water and so on) and also follow these same directions for any other grain of your choosing. If you don’t have a way to grind grain, make your cereal with the freshest flour you find at the health food store.
Most folks eat this kind of cereal sweet in which case you may add butter, cream and a sweetener such as maple syrup, agave nectar or sucanat. I, of course, prefer serving it in a more savory manner with lots of farm fresh butter and salt. So satisfying and nutty and delicious and the kamut is a lovely golden color. This morning my husband hit upon the happy compromise of serving it salty but with the addition of dried cranberries. This was fantastic and there were no leftovers whatsoever.
Here is a listing of other kamut recipes on my list to try: