Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Lacto-fermentation experiment #1 (summer)

Despite my teaching leave in the Fall and despite my sincere hopes for a different spring semester in terms of physical, spiritual and artistic equanimity, I lost it by about April.  The studio went up in smoke.  All personal reading turned into a growing pile of unopened books beside my bed.  My blog lost steam.  And worst of all lunch frequently became handfuls of peanuts eaten while standing in front of the cupboard.  As might be expected, I got sick toward the end--not majorly so, but enough to result in a 7 day course of antibiotics.  Antibiotics are not evil obviously but I really don't like taking them, especially for seven days.  Every day I'm on antibiotics is one more day during which all the bad stuff is being killed (good!) but then all those nice, friendly, helpful bacteria we all have and need are being decimated too (bad, very, very bad).  At the end of seven days my body is functioning without infection--but wearily, and all in all I feel kind of like an empty corn husk.

Being that this last course of antibiotics was so obviously the result of some pretty unbalanced living, I effectively woke up to the fact that I am really, REALLY not twenty-two any longer.  I gave up coffee, cut way, way down on refined sugar, flour and alcohol, eliminated peanuts from my diet (because I found out they contain mycotoxins very frequently which is not so agreeable to our bodies) and started eating a lot of, well, sauerkraut.  Sauerkraut is a miracle food!  Not the cooked kind of sauerkraut but the kind that is made by mixing chopped cabbage with some sea salt and whey (the rather gross looking liquid that always sits on top of your yogurt the day after you've eaten some), pressing it hard into a glass jar until it's covered in its own liquid, sealing it up, setting it on the counter--and then waiting a couple of days for it to do its thing!  In those three days or so something amazing happens!  All the good bacteria in the jar start fermenting the cabbage, little bubbles begin to dot the sides of the glass, AND if you are like me and decide you are going the press the crap out your cabbage while piling it into glass jars, then you might have something of a fizzy, explosive science-experiment kind of event when you open the jars.  But if you throw some purple cabbage into the mix your explosion will be pink and rather beautiful, as you can see above.  And really, no harm done--in fact, it is quite humbling to experience the reality of food that is actually, truly alive. 

But back to sauerkraut, the miracle food.  Faced with the slaughter of all my good bacteria, I began eating lacto-fermented sauerkraut, and really, truly my body is humming again, back to its preferred balance.  But to be honest, I feel even better than normal; I feel kind of like my body is glowing with health.  So now I am hooked on fermentation, and I've resolved that aside from this being a summer of painting, reading, gardening and general all-around vibrancy, the summer will be filled with as many forays into lacto-fermentation as I can muster.  I doubt they will all be as visually lovely as this one.

Here's the recipe I used--from Sally Fallon's wonderful book, Nourishing Traditions:
(Makes one quart)
In a bowl mix one medium chopped cabbage, 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, 1 tablespoon sea salt, and 4 tablespoons whey.  Pound with a meat hammer for about 10 minutes until the juices are released.  Press down firmly into a quart sized jar until juices come to the top of the cabbage.  The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar--very important!  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about three days before placing it in the fridge.  The sauerkraut can be eaten at this point, but it gets better with age.

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