Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ferments, Food and Refrigeration

OK, I am back, much improved, thank you!

I just had some broth with an egg poached in it (my lazy "soft-boiled" egg) and feel on the road to health. Which is a good thing, because everything goes to pot around here when either the Captain or I are out of commission, and this week it's been both of us. Much to do...

I took all of yesterday to just lay around like a lump. In the process I lost 3 pounds, was very whiny, and re-read all of GAPS Guide and Gut and Psychology Syndrome. I kept a mental list of all the people who have to read both books right now! So much for that, though. I wish I could just send them everywhere like Christmas cards and save the world's inhabitants from self destruction, but I know better. Maybe just for my kids--they ignore what I say anyway, so won't be offended.

In my endless hours of languishing I thought a bit about something that bothers me: our fear of things not refrigerated. Where did this come from? Many of the foods we keep in the 'fridge are fermented, which is a method of preservation. People even keep things like apples and lemons in the fridge! How odd.  I think we are so enamored of technology that we have stopped thinking and using common sense.

When I was 12, I lived in Italy, in a small apartment. Our refrigerator was smaller than the (small-ish) one we have on our boat. We shopped almost daily, and only things like fresh meat, milk and leftovers were stored in the fridge. In many places around the world, there is no refrigeration, and the sanitation is not up to 1st world standards--and people not only survive, they thrive! The food is fresh, local and vibrant, something most in the West have not seen in a long time.

Here on Whale Song we have a hold, like a basement or root cellar. In it, I keep home-canned and dried foods, our home-made wine and (grain-free) beers, sometimes a 50 pound bag of onions. On the counter in the salon (it's a bit like a great room, only not so big, and serves as living and dining area, next to the galley, our kitchen) I keep bowls of fruit, onions and garlic, lemons, squash, and so on. I often will keep root veg there too, or on the aft deck, where it is cool and protected, at least until the weather warms up.

In the hold, sorting apple, strawberry and dandelion wines, nettle and fir-tip beers
Now, this may sound controversial, but when I make a pot of soup, that will be eaten from daily--as in Intro, I don't refrigerate it. Really. I bring it to a boil daily, and happily consume what I need. There are times I have to store pots of food on the aft deck (again, when it's cool) because I have no room left in the fridge. There are five of us living on the boat--and we usually have 1-2 or more others eating with us (Cap'n Gary  eats with us every evening, for starters) I don't shop daily, more like 2-3 times a week, so I have to fit it all into an apartment-sized unit.

The only way to do that is to only refrigerate what is truly necessary. My ferments sit on the counter (extras are in the hold--sometimes for months, as long as they are covered in brine),  though one that's threatening to go mushy will get stashed in the fridge. Fish ferments I do chill when done fermenting. I have a huge basket of nettles sitting on the aft deck. I was going to blanch and freeze them for the dull winter days when cabbage is the only "green", but they are starting to dry out, so I think I'll make nettle beer with them. If they get really dry before I get to it, they'll go in a jar for nettle tea/infusion. Kind of like raw milk, they don't go bad, they just change--and then I change what I do with them.

I have a wonderful book, Keeping Food Fresh, that has taught me a lot about the way our forbears kept their food. The Amazon blurb marginalizes the book because it doesn't meed USDA safety standards--which makes me feel the same way as I do when people diss herbs, homeopathy or diet as being some some of quackery. They claim that the book is some sort of historical curiosity (not).

Go ahead, mock me Amazon! I am getting strong and healthy ignoring the USDA, and you might too. I suppose this is where I am supposed to add a disclaimer: "check with your doctor" (snort!) or "the author does not intend to diagnose, treat or otherwise dispense medical advice".  Obviously, I cannot assume responsibility for what anyone else does. I can't even do that with my kids (see above comment). Use common sense, and experiment slowly. The world is, in some ways, not as dangerous as it's made out to be. If food spoils, you will know it. It smells bad, has mold or is discolored. You won't want to eat it. Yes, home-canned low-acid foods can have issues, which is why it has to be done right. It's all about information and self-sufficiency. YOU get to decide. Not the USDA.

And speaking of ferments, I have to share my newest success. I know that nettle infusion is wonderful, and it's especially great for someone with adrenal issues and allergies. I try to drink it, but it smells so strongly grassy that I can't stomach it. A few weeks ago I thought to ferment it somehow. I was intending to make beet kvass anyway, so I used a nettle infusion for the water in my recipe. I tasted it after four or five days and it was pretty gross, not really tart, still strongly smelling of nettle infusion. (Aside: I love love love the taste and smell of fresh nettles. It's just the concentrated smell of the dried in infusion that puts me off. Sorry Susun Weed...) I put it back on the counter and ignored it. Today I revisited it, looking for some fresh kvass for my broth.  Guess what? It was amazing! SO happy!

One more thing, whenever an "expert" tells you something, me included, check and see if it works for you. Play with it. Is there truth, even a little? I started making ferments after reading Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation. Those two books differ greatly in how they approach ferments--sometimes almost opposing each other. I had to work out for myself what methods work for me. I leave my kvass out for weeks, months--often in the cool hold. It gets rich and tangy, just the way I like it. If I had been afraid, I would never have discovered how good kvass could really be. 

And yes, I have had those moments of looking at a ferment with trepidation. Is it really ok? Will it make me sick? Is this stuff on top mold? I have thrown a few out without tasting, or spit out what I suspected was bad if I had dared to taste. I am here, and I know more now because of the experimentation. Very few things on this Earth will make you sick with one taste!

Be bold! Try new foods, new preparations and methods of preservation. Observe--become a scientist.  And enjoy owning your knowledge.

P. S. I just went (literally, after I had posted this) to make myself some broth/egg. When I opened the jar of my home-canned broth I noticed a bit of mold on the lid--benign, like bread mold. That means the seal failed, so I tossed the whole jar. No big deal. I am hungry, but fine, using common sense. Happy experimenting!


Mia said...

Oh, fermentation. We need to get into pickle-making and sourkraut-making... we were making the MOST AMAZING BUCHA EVER but Dr. Cowan told us to stop drinking it *tear*. We can't leave much out in Miami during the summer, though... like, if we leave apples or lemons out, they rot like crazy.

So I guess we should just stop buying them because they're not local, or buy one at a time and use them when we have them, but that's my mom's jurisdiction, not mine.

I'm going to reread your blog whenever I have time off, and I'll comment on all that stuff too. Sorry I stopped reading! Oh! My mom and I are doing a modified GAPS diet now (broth for two meals, then a protein-ful almost carbless except for some veggies and a tiny amount of fruit at night), and I figured you'd approve. :)

Justine Raphael said...

Hi Mia!

Hmm, how about water kefir instead of kombucha? That would be fun and fill the niche of kombucha.

Wow. You must keep your house warm, because I used to leave those things out in Miami, in our air-conditioned apartment. I had baskets hanging, filled with fruit, onions, etc. Maybe yours need more air circulation? I have lemons that mold here occasionally, so I try to check them and use the ones that have a white "bloom" on them first...

I am so glad you are back! You may be my number one fan! How is the modified GAPS diet going for you? Are your brother and father doing it too?

Hugs from Port Angeles,

Mia said...

Hi Justine!

How do you do water kefir? We have milk kefir, and we do it, but I'm not a big fan of the taste. XD

78 degrees, but it's usually hotter. And more humid. We're having tons of construction at our house and there was mold in ALL of our walls. The guy doing the work yelled at my dad that we need to keep our house cooler so it doesn't mold like that again, but he doesn't like spending money or listening so we still have a really hot house. T_T

:) You're the ultimate Kombucha Mama, how can I not be a fan? I miss you! The Weston Price chapter down here isn't the same without you... nothing ever happens.

The modified GAPS diet is great! I've lost like, twenty pounds (I don't actually know because I stopped weighing, but I. FEEL. AWESOME) and my IBS is gone. My mom keeps falling off the wagon because she wants carby comfort food right now (stuff with Jake). And I think my dad wanted to but my mom was all, "WE'RE NOT WASTING BROTH ON YOU BECAUSE YOU GO BUY CANDY BARS WHEN YOU'RE ON THE ROAD." And Jacob needs lots of carbs because he burns through them like nobody's business.

Hugs from Miami,
Mia :D

Justine Raphael said...

That's fabulous that you are feeling so good! I am very impressed...

Veggies, fruit nuts, honey are carbs--Jake can't get enough that way? It's so much easier for everyone in the family to be eating the same meals.

Sorry to hear about the house--what a mess!

For water kefir you can either convert milk kefir grains (they won't multiply) or order some water kefir grains. You can do both! Start with what you have. There are recipes online--start with Dom's kefir site.

Mia said...

It's amazing. I still can't believe it! HEALTH IS AWESOME! :D

No, he really can't. He needs to eat every three hours or his behavior goes downhill so quickly, it breaks the sound barrier. He eats what we eat, but he'll have like, sandwiches and rice and oatmeal that Mom and I are avoiding right now.

Hmm, okay, I'll have to try that. :)

Karen said...

Hi Justine,

Have been really enjoying reading your stories. I realize more than ever how when I eat sweets and chocolate that most of the time I'm not even enjoying it. I bought my kids A Pebble for your Pocket and am trying to find a place where just eating anything is mindful and enjoyable!

Anyway, was wondering what you meant when you mentioned "salt loading." I try and never eat salt. I don't have high blood pressure, but it's not low either. I do buy a natural sea salt and sometimes wonder if that's okay because it's not fortified with iodine.

Justine Raphael said...

Yes, natural (meaning, grey or pink, but not white) sea salt is wonderful. The other salts, even white sea salt (like in the bulk aisle of Whole Foods) is a refined product, like white sugar, and can actually throw the body out of balance. That's why there are admonitions to restrict salt--because commercial salt is horrible for us.

Real salt is necessary, yummy, and nothing to be afraid of. You can use it freely, to taste.

The Salt loading is something that people with things like Lyme disease do, but also people with adrenal issues, as salt feeds the adrenals (that is, they NEED the salt, and often don't get enough) It essentially is just drinking salt water, and following with more water.

Some people do this daily, and I used to. Now I do it if I feel at all shaky--and it helps!

Thanks for commenting--and I hope you figure out about what will make you feel better!

Pink said...

My aunt married a man from Peru. He's in his early 60s and is very handy in the kitchen. I was stunned to see that he leaves food out not just for the day, but for days. It took me a while to get used to, but neither he, his sons, nor my aunt have perished yet so I started getting looser about it all. If I leave something out overnight by mistake, most of the time, I don't worry at all now. I still only tend to keep leftovers that are up to 48 hours old (but that works out well because extra food on hand is an issue for me anyway so we don't normally have leftovers). If I roast a chicken, I'll leave it cooling/hanging out pretty much all day. Very freeing to not worry so much about this anymore.

Justine Raphael said...

Pink--yes! That's wonderful, and so true--it is freeing not to worry so much anymore.

One of my daughters called me because she had left some split pea soup out and it now smells fermented. Should she be concerned, she wondered. I started reciting "pease porridge hot, pease porridge cold, pease porridge in the pot, nine days old." By the time I had finished, she laughed and said that's what she had been thinking (but just wanted to be sure). We brainstormed making dosas or something like that with it... Just like raw milk, it had changed, but not gone bad.

Anonymous said...

Hi, just re-read this and had to laugh. Yesterday at 5 p.m. I baked an entire chicken that was chopped up. I had planned to eat the meat and make soup from the bones. However, it wasn't until 4 a.m. that I remembered the chicken in the oven! My first thought was to throw it all away. (yuk--meat sitting for 10 hours in 80 degree heat) But I'm going to take a chance. I removed the meat and the stock is being made. I will add the meat when the stock is ready. PLEASE tell me I made the right choice!!!!

Justine Raphael said...

The meat sat in the closed oven? That sounds like it should be fine actually! The oven is dry, with no stray bacteria to inoculate the food with something odd while it sits out. Let me know how it went!


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