Fer­ment­ing good­ness

Winnipeg Free Press - Section F - - FRONT PAGE - COLLEEN ZACHARIAS

OVEREAT­ING dur­ing the win­ter months prob­a­bly wasn’t an op­tion for our ear­li­est an­ces­tors. Hunters and gath­er­ers un­der­stood the im­por­tance of stock­ing up on food be­fore win­ter set in; any in­su­lat­ing fat they may have had at the out­set was likely gone by the time the snow melted.

Our grand­moth­ers and great-grand­moth­ers, many of whom had larger fam­i­lies than we have to­day, filled their pantries with rows of nu­tri­tious, home­made pre­serves made from fruits and veg­gies straight from their gar­dens.

In con­trast, to­day’s win­ter sur­vival plan some­times in­cludes overindulging in pro­cessed com­fort foods, not all of them healthy. The re­sult can be an added layer of un­wanted fat just in time for spring.

Could fer­mented veg­gies, a hot new trend in pre­serv­ing food that can be done at any time of the year, help to pro­vide some nu­tri­tious bal­ance to crav­ings for starchy, sug­ary foods, a typ­i­cal los­ing bat­tle in the win­ter months?

While the time-hon­ored art of can­ning is en­joy­ing a resur­gence in pop­u­lar­ity, lacto-fer­men­ta­tion is a lesser-known method of pre­serv­ing food that is steadily win­ning new con­verts. It is equal parts phi­los­o­phy and a prac­ti­cal ap­proach to eat­ing healthy, with the bonus of pro­mot­ing bet­ter di­ges­tion.

Adri­enne Percy is a 30-some­thing mother of two young chil­dren, aged six and nine, who left her busy ur­ban life be­hind and moved with her fam­ily to a 300-acre ru­ral prop­erty. Percy found her­self ques­tion­ing the process by which the food we eat even­tu­ally gets to our ta­ble. She be­gan ex­plor­ing al­ter­na­tives that would also have an im­pact on the con­nec­tions be­tween peo­ple, land and com­mu­ni­ties. She be­gan by teach­ing her chil­dren.

“Food has al­ways been my pas­sion,” said Percy from her home near Fraser­wood. “Re­ally im­por­tant food skills seem to be slip­ping away. If we learn as chil­dren, it be­comes a nat­u­ral part of our lives.”

To­day, Percy is not only teach­ing her fam­ily how to eat healthier, based on the prin­ci­ples of fer­men­ta­tion, but also of­fers classes in a stu­dio kitchen as well as a fully cer­ti­fied online foodteacher cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“Look around the world and you would be hard-pressed to find a cul­ture that doesn’t have its own his­tory of fer­mented foods,” said Percy who, like so many Man­i­to­bans, has mem­o­ries from her childhood of eat­ing home­made sauer­kraut, per­haps one of the best-known fer­mented recipes made with cab­bage.

Another fer­mented food that is go­ing main­stream as it ap­pears on more and more restau­rant menus is Kim chee, a tra­di­tional Korean fer­mented dish made from a tangy, spicy mix of cab­bage, onion, gar­lic, pep­pers and gin­ger. Now avail­able ready-made in big-name gro­cery stores, why not try mak­ing your own?

“Fer­men­ta­tion is a process that re­quires no spe­cial equip­ment and can be done at any time of the year,” Percy said.

Sup­pose you have some car­rots in your fridge, store-bought or home­grown. Percy rec­om­mends a few sim­ple steps for a tasty recipe:

Cut the car­rots into sticks and add them to a quart jar with some gar­lic and dill. Next, add a ta­ble­spoon of un­re­fined sea salt and three ta­ble­spoons of whey, the starter in­gre­di­ent for lacto-fer­mented recipes which helps to speed up the process of fer­men­ta­tion and in­hibits the growth of un­de­sir­able bac­te­ria.

Add wa­ter to an inch be­low the thread line of the jar you are us­ing, screw the lid on tight, and set aside on your counter for seven to 14 days. Now what? “This is where the alchemy and magic oc­curs,” Percy said. “Micro­organ­isms break down the food to pre­serve it, but also to ex­po­nen­tially in­crease the nu­tri­tive value.”

Sta­cie Ras­mussen is a lo­cal cer­ti­fied nu­tri­tion­ist who tries to in­clude fer­mented foods in her diet and rec­om­mends them to her clients. One rea­son has to do with the ram­pant food-in­dus­try use of an­tibi­otics which can kill both bad bac­te­ria and good bac­te­ria. Another is that much of the pro­cessed food we eat is de­void of the friendly bac­te­ria our di­ges­tive sys­tem needs.

“Healthy bac­te­ria in the fer­men­ta­tion process pro­duces B vi­ta­mins and en­zymes that help to break down food, mak­ing it eas­ier to digest and en­cour­ag­ing a strong im­mune sys­tem,” Ras­mussen said.

“But­ter­milk, cot­tage cheese or yo­gurt con­tain live cul­tures and are some of the more com­monly known fer­mented foods. Your diet, though, should in­clude a va­ri­ety of fer­mented foods. It’s a way to get more nutritional value out of your food. It also helps to lower choles­terol and glu­cose lev­els.”

Percy touts less food waste and food-bud­get sav­ings as fur­ther proof of the ad­van­tages of fer­men­ta­tion.

“With fer­men­ta­tion, you can eat what you might nor­mally dis­card. For ex­am­ple, beet leaves, beet stalks and chard stalks may all be chopped and fer­mented with some dill and then added to your salad.”

Percy adds crisp­ness to fer­mented dills with an oak or rasp­berry leaf sourced on her large prop­erty.

“The tan­nins in th­ese types of leaves will keep your pick­les crunchy. Some peo­ple use fresh grape leaves for dol­mades, a del­i­cacy stuffed with rice, veg­eta­bles and sea­son­ing. Grape leaves can also be poked into your jar of fer­ment to keep it crisp.”

Any one of your favourite herbs can be tucked into your fer­ment for added flavour. Not crazy about gar­lic? Ex­per­i­ment with a sub­sti­tute such as car­away.

Last sum­mer, Percy cre­ated a small herb spi­ral out­side her kitchen door and planted it with mint, le­mon balm, pars­ley, thyme, rose­mary, cilantro and ste­via which she pur­chased from Sage Gar­den Herbs.

A sim­ple project that is per­fect for small spa­ces, se­lect a sunny lo­ca­tion with good drainage and soil that has added or­ganic mat­ter. Be­gin­ning clock­wise, lay rocks or bricks in a spi­ral that is ap­prox­i­mately one me­ter from start to fin­ish. Leave enough space be­tween the spi­raled rows for plant­ing. The rocks or bricks ab­sorb the sun’s heat cre­at­ing a mi­cro­cli­mate for your herbs.

Percy har­vests ste­via from her herb gar­den for use as a su­gar re­place­ment, first dry­ing the plants by hang­ing them up and then grind­ing the dried leaves in a cof­fee grinder.

“Use only a pinch at a time,” she said. “Ste­via is a lot sweeter than su­gar.”

Dave Hanson, owner of Sage Gar­den Herbs, de­scribes ste­via as an amaz­ingly pro­duc­tive plant as long as it re­ceives plenty of heat and sun.

“It re­ally does not thrive un­til both of th­ese con­di­tions are met, at which point it takes off,” he said. “It re­sponds ex­cep­tion­ally well to pinch­ing. In fact, if you do not pinch the stem tips on ste­via, it can end up quite scruffy. Pinch the tips and you will have a highly pro­duc­tive and sturdy plant.”

Hanson rec­om­mends grow­ing ste­via from semi-woody stem cut­tings. Grow­ing it from seed is not as suc­cess­ful be­cause the qual­ity of seed can be highly vari­able. He also shared this tip: “Use bot­tom heat and trim down the leaf sur­face area to en­sure a high level of suc­cess and to avoid fun­gal or mold­ing prob­lems which are oth­er­wise com­mon in ste­via cut­tings.”

Ste­via does very well in pots, es­pe­cially if you want to win­ter it in­doors un­der lights, he added. “If pro­duc­tiv­ity is your top pri­or­ity, grow this herb in a warm, sunny lo­ca­tion in the gar­den.”

While Percy’s large gar­den pro­vides her with an ex­cel­lent source of nu­tri­tious food for her fam­ily, it does not meet all of her needs.

“Grow­ing a fruit­ful and nu­tri­tious crop and learn­ing how to ex­tend it so that it lasts through the cold win­ter months is a goal that we are mov­ing to­ward. There is noth­ing bet­ter than open­ing up a bag of frozen straw­ber­ries that you picked over the sum­mer or grew in your own gar­den.”

See Adri­enne’s favourite recipe for Cab­bage, Car­rot and Gin­ger Kraut. For more recipes and in­for­ma­tion on work­shops that teach tra­di­tional food skills, visit Percy’s web­site at www.tra­di­tion­al­wis­dom­mod­


Whey is used as a starter cul­ture in lacto-fer­men­ta­tion. Com­bined with sea salt for flavour, it adds ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria. Be­low, Kraut­man cab­bage is

con­sid­ered one of the best cabbages for mak­ing sauer­kraut.


Look­ing for a nat­u­ral su­gar sub­sti­tute? Try grow­ing Ste­via in

your herb gar­den.


Once your cab­bage is chopped and in­fused with herbs, veg­eta­bles and spices, sub­merge with juices and se­cure jar lid tightly. Al­low the shred­ded fer­ment to

sit on your counter for three to 14 days to

al­low the process of fer­men­ta­tion to work. Once ready, trans­fer to a cold area in your home or store in the re­frig­er­a­tor for up to

six months.


Don’t let the veg­gies in your fridge go to waste! Car­rots, cau­li­flower,

cu­cum­bers, onions and more can be used in sim­ple and tasty recipes that are packed with eas­ily

ac­ces­si­ble nu­tri­tion.


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