I’ve done two workshops with Andrea Potter on lacto-fermentation as a food preservation technique. She’s a delightful teacher who passes on the theory and history of lacto-fermentation as she passes out the knives and gets us chopping. A few weeks ago Andrea was interviewed on CBC (5 min MP3) to promote the sustainability conference at Langara that the Sustainable Living Arts School was participating in. Listen and learn!
People around the world have always eaten fermented foods and for good reason. They help promote good intestinal flora and are a source of the much bally-hooed “probiotics” that you can spend a lot of money on at your local natural foods store. They also increase vitamin and mineral content. Sauerkraut has many times the vitamin c of raw cabbage. Modern industrialized food processes have practically eliminated these foods from our diet, which might have something to do with all the folks walking around with digestion problems.
But knowing something is good for you doesn’t necessarily lead to action, especially if the action that is required is in the form of an ongoing commitment. And sauerkraut is indeed an ongoing commitment. You “tend” a crock as you would a garden. Andrea advises checking in daily to taste and remove the foam (a.k.a. scum) that forms. After a couple of weeks it’s ready to eat. But it’s easy work- I fold back the towel on my crock, peer in and taste. The real work is in the chopping, and that’s where a learning party comes in.
Last Friday I invited some friends over, along with the kids to make up a batch of rainbow kraut. It’s made from red and green cabbage and carrots and the finished product is a lovely sunset colour. It tastes delicious. I successfully tracked down an old-fashioned crock on Craigslist. Any food grade plastic bucket will do and Andrea advises jumping in and getting going rather than waiting for the perfect equipment (what- you don’t want me to drop hundreds of dollars at the gourmet warehouse before I get going?) . But I put out my desire for an old-fashioned crock to my personal Craigslist diva and Elaine got back to me with one fast.
We chopped up about 12 cabbages and a kilo or so of carrots. Five women, who were also supervising nine children aged 5 and under got the crock going and clean-up done in one hour. There will be many jars to share in a few weeks. Wendy reported in that she did manage to find a jar of unpasteurized organic sauerkraut made the traditional way (cabbage and salt) at the health store for $9.99. Five families will get many jars of super-food for a fraction of that and an excuse for two Friday afternoon parties.
I did do something wonky with the salt measurements though. When I tasted it the next day it was intensely salty. The ratio was supposed to be 5lbs of cabbage to 3tbsp of salt. I estimated we had 30 lbs of cabbage (based on weighing 3 of them) and so measured out 18tbsp to sprinkle over the layers of chopped cabbage. Andrea has stressed how this is a pretty flexible process so I didn’t despair but chopped up 4 more cabbage and another batch of carrots last night. I’m still wondering if I could add more.
It’s in the kitchen doing its thing and I find that oddly exciting. This is food security in action and it’s emblematic of the kind of learning parties I want the Sustainable Living Arts School to inspire. It takes a community to replace an industrialized food system that relies on cheap oil. The economics of fermentation depend on small-scale networks of friends sharing what they make.
We’re thinking of a Rueben sandwich party to celebrate the unveiling. Meanwhile Jake whistled up the most amazing dip Friday night with some store bought sauerkraut- just sauerkraut, yogurt and mayo. We gobbled it down with corn chips and my favourite fermented beverage. (Next project: home beer making because the stuff in the stores is all pasteurized.)