Jessica Prentice’s cookbook Full Moon Feast combines simple recipes with food history and the meanings of various meals throughout the seasons. Food has become a commodity in our time, something to be consumed quickly, and to be measured in terms of nutrient levels or cost. Flavor takes a backseat to cheapness and quality has given way to quantity. But as readers of Chelsea Green books probably know, the true value of food comes from the care that went into its creation, and joy is not something you can quantify as simply as a broker trading futures of high fructose corn syrup on Wall Street.
Simple foods made from easy-to-find ingredients, put together with love, make any season warm. This winter, try Prentice’s recipe for some spicy kimchi, a savory garnish made from fermented cabbage, plus radishes, carrots, chile peppers and other spices.
The following is an excerpt from Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection by Jessica Prentice. It has been adapted for the web.
When autumn is becoming winter, we move into the lunar cycle called the Snow Moon in sixteenth-century England. Northern dwellers could expect their first snowfall, and waterways and reservoirs might start to freeze. For many peoples, this was the last opportunity to preserve food and ensure that there would be stores of necessities to last through the winter.
Nowadays we take for granted our ability to freeze and chill food in our own kitchens. But the mechanical refrigerator is an extremely modern invention. The first practical domestic refrigerator was sold in the United States in 1918, so for most of human history cold storage has ranged from elusive, to seasonal, to almost constant, depending on the local climate. Cold needed to be found and used where it was—like a root cellar dug deep in the cool ground. My father-in-law grew up in the 1920s on a Texas farm equipped with a cistern—an underground reservoir for water collected during the rains, used like a well. Dairy products and meat that needed to be kept cold would be lowered in a bucket into the cistern, so that the bucket was just immersed—but not submerged—in the cool underground water. That was their refrigeration.Some people, of course, didn’t need to look far for a source of refrigeration.
The Inuit could store their food simply by burying it in the snow or ice. But other peoples often went to great lengths to harvest ice and create the conditions for natural refrigeration. The ancient Romans had snow brought down from the Alps to be used for keeping perishable foods cold. In places where there were cold winters and warm summers, ice would be harvested before the first thaw and stored in insulated icehouses. The icehouse would then be used to preserve food throughout the warm months until the return of the Snow Moon.
The challenges of refrigeration were one of the reasons that our ancestors developed such a wide range of technologies to preserve food. We have a tendency to think that indigenous people ate their food fresh from the forest, farm, or garden, and that processed foods are a modern invention. This misimpression is based on our notion that processed foods means factory-processed foods: chips and other snack foods, cookies and sweets, boxed cold cereals, and everything that falls into the category of junk food. But the staple foods of many traditional diets were actually often quite processed, in the sense that they were taken through a process—sometimes an elaborate series of processe—before they were eaten. The difference lies in how they were processed. While our food processing is mostly done in factories
using heavy machinery, traditionally foods were processed on a relatively small-scale basis (what we would now call artisanal), and generally in the context of community.
Quick and Simple Kimchi
Makes about 1 quart
This is an easy starter version of kimchi, but it is delicious. After it is fermented, I make a quick meal by serving it in a bowl topped with soba noodles drizzled with toasted sesame oil, and a well-seasoned beef or chicken broth (such as the one I use for Asian Egg Drop Soup, page 67). You can add some cooked meat or just a sprinkling of scallions for an easy lunch or dinner.
1 head napa cabbage
1 daikon radish
1 black Spanish radish (these are common in local farmer’s markets—if you can’t find it, just leave it out or replace with another kind of radish)
2 tablespoons sea salt
1. Rinse the cabbage and cut into ½-inch strips (not the tough core). Cut the radishes, turnip, and carrot in half and then slice thinly on the diagonal. Mix the vegetables together in a bowl and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Cover with filtered water, cover with a towel, and let sit for 3 hours.
2. Meanwhile coarsely chop the garlic, ginger, and scallions. Remove the stem and seeds from the pepper and cut the skin into a few pieces. Put these ingredients into a mortar and pestle (what I use) or a food processor and mash into a paste.
3. Drain the soaking liquid off the cabbage mixture and reserve.
4. Mix the ginger paste in with the cabbage mixture and pack into a mason jar. Press the mixture down repeatedly with your fist until liquid begins to rise up. Then add enough of the soaking water into the jar so that all the vegetables are covered with liquid.
5. Now gently weigh down the top of the mixture, with a smaller jar filled with water as for the Quick Kraut above, so that the liquid rises above the solids. This pushes the vegetables down but allows the liquid to come up over the top.
6. Place the jar with the weight inside on a counter and drape a cloth napkin or tea towel over it.
7. Ferment at room temperature for 1 week, checking daily to make sure the vegetables are submerged in the brine. (If you find that you need more brine, dissolve 1 teaspoon sea salt in N cup water and pour enough liquid into the jar so that the brine covers the vegetables.)
8. Remove the plastic lid and weight, screw the top on the jar, and transfer it to the fridge. This will last for several months.