I had planned to write a post this week about creative and healthy snack solutions using CSA fare, but then I opened this week’s veggie box and knew my plan would have to be put on hold. What vegetable offering so quickly influenced my plan? Sauerkraut!
Whether you’ve read this blog once or follow it weekly, you’ve probably seen me mention fermentation at least a dozen times. Usually, I’m encouraging CSA members to dive into the world of fermentation, and I do encourage you to do so. Fermentation is a way to extend the life of your vegetables, add variety to seasonal eating, increase the nutritional value of your food, and add extra probiotics to your diet. It’s also delicious. But fermenting scares people away. Even seasoned home cooks are often wary of the process. What if things get moldy? Is it safe? Surely I’ll do it wrong! Because I talk to people about fermentation a lot, I’ve come to the conclusion that the fears surrounding fermented foods arise from the fact that fermentation is a bit of a lost art. Most of us didn’t grow up watching our mothers and grandmothers ferment things. When we learned to make grilled cheese and crack eggs, nobody taught us how to prolong the life of our vegetables. Why would they? Grocery stores can give us any produce we want all year round. We can buy things fresh, frozen, canned, or freeze dried. I fear our technology is ousting the art. Aside from that, many people in America haven’t tasted authentically fermented foods before. Things like contemporary pickles and sauerkraut are now made using vinegar, which gives them a very different flavor profile from their fermented counterparts. It is for this reason that seeing true, fermented sauerkraut in the vegetable boxes immediately changed my course of action for this week's post. I’m excited that people will have the opportunity to try some fermented food without having to go through the process of making it (which, by the way, is really easy!), and to interact with the idea of fermentation in a new way.
When I was new to fermenting, I bought Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz. I was immediately captivated by his opening words:
“Fermentation is everywhere, always. It is an everyday miracle, the path of least resistance. Microscopic bacteria and fungi (encompassing yeasts and molds) are in every breath we take and every bite we eat. Try - as many do - to eradicate them with antibacterial soaps, antifungal creams, and antibiotic drugs, there is no escaping them. They are ubiquitous agents of transformation, feasting upon decaying matter, constantly shifting dynamic life forces from one miraculous and horrible creation to the next.
Microbial cultures are essential to life’s processes, such as digestion and immunity. We humans are in a symbiotic relationship with these single-cell life forms. Microflora, as they are often called, digest food into nutrients our bodies can absorb, protect us from potentially dangerous organisms, and teach our immune systems how to function. Not only are we dependent upon microorganisms, we are their descendants: According to the fossil record, all forms of life on Earth spring from bacterial origins. Microorganisms are our ancestors and our allies. They keep the soil fertile and comprise an indispensable part of the cycle of life. Without them, there could be no other life.”
While factory farming and industrialization have homogenized, pasteurized, processed, modified, and sanitized our food beyond recognition, fermentation offers the sacred opportunity to celebrate the harmony of our bodies and the earth. To nourish ourselves while accepting that we cannot and should not scrub the life away until there is nothing left. Whereas modern food practices are borne of the necessary fear that is part of factory farming, fermentation is borne of a celebration of life and the holistic safety of honoring nature.
Do not fear the jar that is included in this week’s veggie box. Savor and enjoy its contents fully! If you are new to fermented foods, here are some things you may find helpful to know.
-Lactofermented food tastes different. Many people say it is an acquired taste, though I know many people who like it immediately. Whereas these days, many pickled foods taste vinegary, fermented foods can taste salty, briny, earthy, pungent, sour, and zesty.
- A few good ways for first-timers to try sauerkraut are sprinkled on soups, tucked into a sandwich, tossed with a salad, or as a topping for eggs, pork (my favorite!), or other meats.
-Fermentation occurs when the natural bacteria (present in all food) feeds on the naturally present sugars and starches and creates lactic acid.
-Fermentation creates beneficial enzymes, probiotics, b vitamins, and breaks the food down into a more easily digested form.
-A diet rich with fermented foods is a great immune system booster, because it helps to repopulate the gut with the bacteria we need to keep our immune systems strong.
-Fermented foods have a rich history throughout the world and across many cultures. They remain diet staples for millions of people today.
-A gut that is well balanced with healthy bacteria is better able to absorb vitamins and minerals during digestion. Eating fermented foods on a regular basis will help you gain more nutritional benefit from all of the foods you already eat.
-Start small if you’re feeling unsure, and think of fermented food as medicine. If you don’t care for the taste of fermented food at first, give it time. Try eating a little bit a few times a week, being mindful of all the benefits your body is enjoying. You may be surprised how quickly you come to crave that delicious briny crunch!