Food & Health Archive


Be Good to Your Gut: Nourishing Food for Better Health

Friday, September 5th, 2014

What do illnesses like autism, ADHD, asthma, celiac disease, allergies, and depression have in common? Simple: They can all be linked to the microorganisms present in your gut.

That’s according to the pioneering British MD, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who has found that these afflictions, as well as a long list of others, are linked—a concept she defines as GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome or Gut and Physiology Syndrome).

Problems originate with what we ingest, according to Campbell-McBride. “In our modern world where people are regularly taking antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs, where food is laced with chemicals alien to the human physiology, an increasing number of people have damaged, abnormal gut flora dominated by pathogenic microbes,” writes Campbell-McBride in the foreword of a new book on gut health, The Heal Your Gut Cookbook. “As a result, a person’s gut is unable to nourish the body properly; instead it produces large amounts of toxins that absorb into the bloodstream, get spread around the body, and cause disease.”

GAPS refers to disorders, including ADD/ADHD, autism, addictions, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, stemming from or exacerbated by leaky gut and dysbiosis. GAPS also includes chronic gut-related physical conditions, like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes type one, and Crohn’s disease, as well as asthma, eczema, allergies, thyroid disorders, and more.

How to Fix a Leaky Gut

So, what can you do if your gut has sprung a leak, so to speak?

For many people it means changing their diets – sometimes radically so – in order to replenish necessary bacteria and microbes. It means preparing nutrient-dense foods and taking a more holistic approach to the food that you put into your body, and the bodies of your loved ones.

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing content from several Chelsea Green books that celebrate restorative ways of eating using nutritious, raw, organic, and seasonal foods, and ways to make and prepare your own food at home.

We start this week with The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Nutrient-Dense Recipes for Intestinal Health Using the GAPS Diet, written by certified holistic health counselor Hilary Boynton and whole-foods advocate Mary G. Brackett.

The Heal Your Gut Cookbook follows the Weston A. Price philosophy that true health is achieved by reintroducing traditional nutrient-dense foods to our everyday meals.

What is the GAPS Diet?

The GAPS Diet is designed to restore the balance between beneficial and pathogenic intestinal bacteria and seal the gut through the elimination of grains, processed foods, and refined sugars and the carefully sequenced reintroduction of nutrient-dense foods, including bone broths, raw cultured dairy, certain fermented vegetables, organic pastured eggs, organ meats, and more.

Since much of the Standard American Diet is comprised of grains, processed foods and refined sugars, one can imagine how challenging this new way of eating may be at first. However, as author Alex Lewin points out, “Hilary Boynton’s and Mary Brackett’s new book makes GAPS accessible to a wide audience, both through its no-nonsense narrative and through its wealth of straightforward, delicious, and healthy recipes.

By reading this book, Lewin feels the intimidation factor towards the GAPS diet is significantly decreased. “It’s as if she is saying, ‘You are not alone. . . and here’s what we’re having for dinner.’”

For a taste of the more than 200 family-friendly, appealing recipes included in this cookbook, check out the below excerpt. You’ll find a hearty beef broth (essential to the GAPS Intro Diet), main entrees, veggie dishes and even ice cream.

Read the foreword for The Heal Your Gut Cookbook and try your hand at what it means to really cook from scratch with one of the following recipes.

The Heal Your Gut Cookbook is on sale now for 35% off until Thursday September 11.

The Heal Your Gut Cookbook: Sample Recipes

Make Your Own Fruit Wine

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Have an excess harvest of a favorite fruit that you don’t know what to do with? Look no further—making your own fruit wine is easy, safe, and it’s as delicious as homemade pie or jam without the expiration date!

All you need is an abundance of the fruit of your choosing, orange juice, wine yeast, sugar, and patience. When it comes to flavors, the sky’s the limit.

Below is a recipe for blackberry wine from Michael Judd’s Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist.

Judd’s book is chock-full of advice on everything homegrown and homemade including growing your own fruit-bearing trees and shrubs, herb spirals, raised-bed gardens, recipes, and more.

Edible Landscaping With a Permaculture Twist

An Exploration of the Magical World of Mushrooms

Monday, August 18th, 2014

What would it take to grow mushrooms in space? How can mushroom cultivation reduce our dependence on herbicides? Is it possible to use mushrooms to clean up oil spills?

For more than twenty years, mycologist Tradd Cotter has been investigating the fascinating world of mushrooms and researching the answers to questions just like these.

In his new book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, Cotter offers readers an in-depth exploration of best mushroom cultivation practices with the attitude that mushrooms can be grown on just about anything, anywhere, and by anyone. He also shares his groundbreaking research on challenges such as cultivating morels, “training” mycelium to respond to specific contaminants, and using mushrooms in disaster relief situations.

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation is divided into three parts. Parts 1 and 2 provide a basic foundation of knowledge about mushrooms as well as a series of low-tech applications for both indoor and outdoor cultivation, while Part 3 focuses on advanced and experimental techniques that require a higher skill level and more technical equipment. Finally, Part 4, “Meet the Cultivated Mushrooms,” includes informative profiles of over 30 mushroom varieties.

Cotter hopes this book sparks a passion in its readers and inspires them to contribute their own findings to the body of knowledge about mushrooms. “I hope this book serves you well in giving you the skills necessary to explore mushroom cultivation and empowering you to dream up experiments and ideas on your own, “ he says in his Introduction. “Part skill, part art, part intuition, mushroom cultivation will give you a lifelong relationship with this incredible kingdom of life.” Read the full introduction here.

We asked Cotter about his own relationship and work with mushrooms. Below are a few of his responses. To hear more from the author himself and to get a taste of his infectious enthusiasm for fungi, listen to this interview on Radio Vermont.

An Interview with Mycologist Tradd Cotter

CG: What, or who, inspired you to get started growing mushrooms, and what keeps you inspired to continue?

TC: It’s hard not to be inspired by the mushrooms I grew myself. It just never gets old. After 22 years I can still honestly say I wake up anxious and excited to peek into the growing room or wander down the trail to see if anything is fruiting. From the moment I cultured my first mushroom after many failures, and not giving up, these mushrooms have taught me how to keep challenging myself to make these dreams come true.  Mushrooms are constantly surprising me and revealing their gifts, and I am lucky to have stuck with this so long to access their hidden talents and share them with the world.

My personal support comes from my wife Olga, who also runs the business and shares this life devoted to fungi, along with friends, family, professors, and most importantly our customers and attendees to workshops and lectures, where I look out and see a room full of amazed faces, smiling and grinning, having a good time.  I love to entertain and help people understand complex concepts through basic analogies and a little off-the-hip humor. The mushrooms themselves are very inspiring, too. I love a challenge, and many of them have never been cultivated before, so these mushrooms in particular are life-long dreams to be able to set goals high and keep making an effort to succeed. Fail forward as they say.

CG: One of the most interesting aspects of your book, and which sort of goes against conventional wisdom, is that you don’t need to invest in a huge amount of expensive equipment and infrastructure in order to get good yields. Can you give some examples of the “low-tech” and “no-tech” methods you describe?

TC: I began my journey cultivating mushrooms at a high-tech facility, then worked my way backwards to see how far I could go using very little—next to nothing in fact—to cultivate mushrooms just about anywhere on anything.  Since resources and equipment is a limiting factor for starting a mushroom farm for most folks, I wanted to show the world how easy it is to get started and build on a gradual degree of difficulty rather than trying to invest a lot of time and money into a project that may prove overwhelming. The entire concept of cultivation is scalable, so my best suggestion to growers is to start small, learn the easiest mushrooms to grow, then build on your success and expand your growing to a level you are comfortable with, whether it’s just a few logs at home or a large scale commercial operation. Training yourself to become a great, intuitive grower is better than fancy equipment and high-tech conditions if you don’t understand the fine-tuned details of every species, and failing at that level can be disastrous financially. Only a small percentage of the population will make the leap to the high-tech tier of cultivation, and so that is why this book fills the void for the rest of us! These small scale home and farm systems and experiments are all anyone may need to grow enough mushrooms for themselves or their family, it’s about finding a system that meets your comfort level, and there are many options in this book for everyone. From cultivating mushrooms on spent coffee grounds and paper waste at your home, office, or school to cloning mushroom with cardboard and expanding them like a bread culture into thousands more, this book is designed to teach you that there are no limits to your imagination.

CG:What’s the most exciting project you’re working on right now at Mushroom Mountain?

TC: I am working on several parallel projects, such as the fire-ant cordyceps, which is an amazing find that we are working with that could help millions of people and livestock, which is a fungus I discovered in South Carolina that is target specific to a small clade of ants that include Fire Ants instead of killing all of the insects and organisms in the area with broad spectrum, chemical based insecticides. The fungus mummifies the ants and sprouts small antlers from their brains!

But my favorite has to be the medical screening of fungi using a patented process we developed. I describe it in the book in a way that anyone can use the method for basic research, but it has really blown up into an amazing mistake. Sometimes we are so set in our way of doing things that making a error can make you notice another way that was always there, just hidden from view. Fungi are factories, and many mushrooms are tooled to create amazing combinations of antibiotics and enzymes, or medicinal and industrial products, much like an assembly line.  All I am doing in our lab is giving the mushrooms a challenge and direct them to produce a product that I am looking for. Imagine walking into a hospital with strep throat, where they take a throat culture, and one day later you have a personalized cocktail of natural antibiotics the fungus created just for you! I just don’t see any limits to this natural technology and see it as a game changing process that could lead to many discoveries and rattle the pharmaceutical industry.

I love these serendipitous moments of accidental discovery, and the realization that this will never get old to me. Every time we make a discovery of this magnitude it can lead to many more, and that is why I share my ideas like these in the book—so others can build on them and have fun exploring for themselves using my experience as a bridge to a new way of thinking.

 

Join Tradd Cotter and explore the magical world of mushrooms in Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation.

 

Easy to Make Drying Trays

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Looking for a way to enjoy the edibles from your summer garden into the winter months? Expand the lifespan of your fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, and herbs at home by making your own drying trays.

Assembling your own trays and drying produce at home is easy, environmentally friendly, and inexpensive—not to mention you can reap the benefits of your summer harvest all year long!

For more preserving techniques like this one (as well as recipes), read Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canningon sale now for 50% off until September 7!

How to: Drying Methods and Materials

Photo: Leslie Seaton, Wikimedia Commons

How to Save Tomato Seeds

Friday, August 8th, 2014

As your favorite variety of home grown tomatoes start ripening on the vine this summer, be sure to save those seeds for next year’s planting.

Award winning author and activist Janisse Ray points out in her book, The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, that, “in the last one hundred years, 94 percent of seed varieties available at the turn of the century in America and considered a part of the human commons have been lost.

In her book, Ray travels across the United States visiting people dedicated to preserving heirloom food varieties simply by growing them and diligently saving and sharing their seeds.

Like Ray, you too can be a seed-saving revolutionary. Read the excerpt below to learn how to save tomato seeds. It takes a bit of care to get the seeds out of the gelatinous tomato goo they’re suspended in, but once you’ve done it you can use those seeds to cherish and perpetuate the unique flavor of your tomatoes.

For more information on seed saving, learn how to breed your own plants from expert gardener Carol Deppe (Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, The Resilient Gardener) and what the right questions are to ask when determining what crops will grow best on your land from author John Navazio (The Organic Seed Grower).

*****

How to Save Tomato Seeds

By Janisse Ray

Pick nice tomatoes that would be perfect for a mean kid to mash up. If they’re large, slice them in half at the equator. Hold them over a canning jar. (Try not to use plastic for anything. Plastic is bad stuff.) Milk the pulp, meaning the gelatinous matrix that suspends the seeds, like frog eggs, into the jar. If you’re working with cherry tomatoes, you’ll have to hold the whole tomato between your fingers and squeeze. The only thing left will be the skin.

Put the jar lid on, give it a shake, and label it with the name of the variety inside. If you don’t label the jar, you will forget what it contains. If you have two tomatoes you’re saving, you think you can sit Yellow Mortgage Lifter on the right and Pruden’s Purple on the left and remember what’s what, and pretty soon you’re wondering if Yellow Mortgage Lifter was on the right or the left. Just do it.

The tomato hull can still be eaten. I think sauce is a good idea at this point.

Fermenting, which is what you are doing with the goopy mess in the canning jar, is the best way to save tomato seeds because the process dissolves the gel—which contains chemicals that inhibit germination. Fermentation causes the seeds to germinate more quickly when you plant them the following spring. Fermenting also breaks down the seed coat where seed-borne diseases like bacterial canker, spot, and speck can lurk. Let the mess stand for two or three days in a warm location, longer if the temperature is below 70°F. The books say to stir daily but I don’t.

When a layer of blue-gray mold covers the surface of the tomato-seed funk, the process is complete.

Occasionally in hot weather (seven months a year here), I have had the seeds start to germinate inside the goop, which means that I’ve left them too long untended and they think they’ve actually been planted and it’s time to race off again into plant-building and fruit-making. Don’t be like me.

Look at the underside of the jar. The viable seeds will have sunk to the bottom. Pick off the scum, then fill the jar with warm water and begin to pour off the now-rotten goop, being careful not to pour out your seeds. You may have to add water or rinse seeds off the insides of the jar and pour again, slowly. Viable seeds keep sinking to the bottom. Do this until you have mostly seeds and water in the jar.

Now dump the seeds into a large metal strainer whose holes are smaller than the seeds, rinse, drain for a few minutes, then spread them on a screen or on a plate covered with newsprint or a clean rag (don’t buy paper towels). Leave the seeds until they dry.

Label—very important!—and store.

 

Photo by Jonathan Billinger, Wikimedia Commons

What Happened to the Essential Nutrients in Our Food?

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Everyone needs vitamins and minerals like potassium, calcium, magnesium and others to stay strong and healthy. In the following excerpt from Grass, Soil, Hope: A Journey Through Carbon Country, author Courtney White explains why these essential nutrients have decreased in our food and how we can get them back. 

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Essential Minerals: Cover Crop Workshop, Emporia, Kansas
by Courtney White

It must have looked silly. Twelve of us were hunched over in a corn field under a blazing July sun, a few miles north of Emporia, Kansas, swishing butterfly nets among the corn stalks like deranged collectors chasing a rare breed of insect—deranged because it was a record-breaking 105 degrees! The federal government announced two days before I arrived that the Midwest was in the grip of the worst drought since 1956. Legions of farmers had begun plowing under or chopping up their stunted corn and soybean crops, already writing off the year as a complete failure. There we were, however, swishing our nets back and forth fifty times in a good-looking corn field owned and farmed by Gail Fuller, with nothing between us and the blazing sun except our determination to follow instructions and find spiders.

We found lots of spiders.

Back under the shade of a large oak tree, we handed our nets to our instructor, an affable entomologist with the US Department of Agriculture, who searched through them enthusiastically, pulling out spider after spider with his bare fingers (most spiders are poisonous, he told us, but very few can pierce human skin). Peering over his shoulder, I was amazed not only by the quantity of spiders in my net but by their diversity. I never knew so many odd-looking spiders existed! And who would have expected it from a corn field, in a record drought, during midday heat … which was exactly the point of the exercise, of course.

In a conventionally managed, monocropped Midwestern corn field, planted with genetically modified (GM) seeds, fertilized with industrially produced nitrogen, and sprayed with synthetic chemicals, there would be no spiders, the entomologist told us— drought or no drought. There wouldn’t be much of anything living, in fact, except the destructive pests that could withstand the chemicals. The corn field we had just swept, however, was different, and I knew why. Fuller’s field was no-tilled, it had a cover crop (and moisture in the soil as a result), it didn’t use GM seeds, its corn coexisted with a diversity of other plants, and livestock were used to clean up after the harvest—all the things I had learned in my travels so far. All in one field, all under a broiling sun.

Seeing them together, however, wasn’t the reason I had driven across humid Kansas in mid-July. I came to hear Jill Clapperton, an independent soil scientist and cover crop specialist, and to ask her a question: What happened to the nutrition in our food? And a second one: How can we get it back?

These questions first formed in my mind two years earlier, when I heard pioneering Australian soil scientist Christine Jones say at a conference that it was possible to buy an orange today that contained zero vitamin C. As in zilch. It got worse. In Australia, she continued, the vitamin A content of carrots had dropped 99 percent between 1948 and 1991, according to a government analysis, and apples had lost 80 percent of their vitamin C. She went on to say that according to research in England, the mineral content of nearly all vegetables in the United Kingdom had dropped significantly between 1940 and 1990. Copper had been reduced by 76 percent, calcium by 46 percent, iron by 27 percent, magnesium by 24 percent, and potassium by 16 percent. Furthermore, the mineral content of UK meat had dropped significantly over the same period as well—iron by 54 percent, copper by 24 percent, calcium by 41 percent, and so on.

This is important because all living creatures, humans included, need these vitamins and minerals to stay strong and healthy. Iron, for example, is required for a host of processes vital to human health, including the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin), the transportation of oxygen through our bodies, the conversion of blood sugar to energy, and the efficient functioning of our muscles. Copper is essential for the maintenance of our organs, for a healthy immune system, and to neutralize damaging “free radicals” in our blood. Calcium, of course, is essential for bone health. And every single cell in our body requires magnesium to function properly. Vitamins are organic compounds, by the way, composed of various chemicals and minerals, including carbon.

A deficiency or imbalance of these minerals (necessary to us only in small amounts) can cause serious damage to our health, as most people understand. That’s why taking vitamin pills has become such a big deal—and big business—today, especially where young children are concerned. But few people stop to think about why we need vitamin pills in the first place. It’s not simply because we don’t eat our veggies, or because we drink too much soda, but because the veggies themselves don’t have the amount of essential nutrients that they once did. As Jones quipped, for Aussies today to gain a comparable amount of vitamin A from carrots that their grandparents could, they’d have to eat themselves sick.

What happened to the nutrition in our food?

Well, the quick answer is that industrial agriculture happened. The hybridization of crops over the decades for production values—yield, appearance, taste, and ease of transport—has drained fruits and vegetables of nutrients. But the main culprit is what we’ve done to the soil. As a consequence of repeated plowing, fertilizing, and spraying, the top few feet of farmland soil has been (1) leached of its original minerals and (2) stripped of the biological life that facilitates nutrient uptake in plants. Some farms, especially organic ones, resupply their soils with mineral additives, but many farms do not, preferring to rely on the Big Three—nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus (NPK)—to keep the plants growing. According to the industrial mind-set, as long as crops are harvestable, presentable, digestible, and profitable, it doesn’t matter if their nutrition is up to par. If there’s a deficiency, well, that’s what the vitamin pills are for!

However, it was the next thing that Jones said that spun my wheels. There was another way to remineralize our bodies without having to rely on pills or their corporate manufacturers: restore essential elements the old-fashioned way—with plant roots. With carbon, specifically. Building humus by increasing the amount of carbon in the soil via no-till agriculture, planned rotational grazing, and other practices that stimulate mycorrhizal fungi/root activity and the production of glomalin, she said, would (1) increase the availability of potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sulfur, copper, zinc, iron, magnesium, and boron to plant roots (which are good for plants); (2) reduce availability of sodium and aluminum (which are bad for plants); and (3) increase the pH in the soil (from acidic to neutral—good for everything).

Access to these essential minerals in combination with carbon means vitamins and other types of nutrients, including acids, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, can be produced within a plant.

One key to building soil carbon on farms is cover cropsplants that keep the land covered with something green and growing at all times, even in winter. I went to Kansas to find out more.

“A feast for the soil”

Clapperton, who hails originally from Canada but lives today on a Montana ranch, told the workshop audience that the key to rebuilding soil health is to start a “conversation among plants.” Cool-season grasses (such as barley, wheat, and oats) and cool-season broadleaf plants (such as canola, pea, turnip, lentil, radish, and mustard), she said, need to dialogue constructively with warm-season grasses (including millet, corn, and sorghum) and warm broadleafs (such as buckwheat, sunflower, and sugar beet). Who gets along with whom? Who grows when? Who helps whom? If you can get these plants engaged in a robust conversation in one field, she said, you’ll be creating “a feast for the soil.” That’s because increased plant diversity, as well as year-round biological activity, absorbs more CO2, which in turn increases the amount of carbon available to roots, which feeds the microbes, which builds soil, round and round.

This is exactly what happened on Fuller’s farm. When he took over the operation from his father they were growing just three cash crops: corn, wheat, and soybeans. Today, Fuller plants as many as fifty-three different kinds of plants on the farm, mostly as cover crops, creating what Clapperton called a “cocktail” of legumes, grasses, and broadleaf plants. He doesn’t apply any herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers either, despite the recommendations of his no-till neighbors and chemical manufacturers who advise them. That’s because Fuller considers “weeds” to be a part of the dynamic conversation as well. Besides, chemicals kill life, Clapperton reminded us, including spiders, dung beetles, and even grasshoppers.

As a result of this big, robust conversation, Clapperton said, the carbon content of the soil on the Fuller farm has doubled from 2 percent in 1993 (when they switched to no-till) to 4 percent today. That’s huge. But what about the mineral content of Fuller’s crops?

That’s risen dramatically too, she said, and it’s done so for two reasons: First, no-herbicide/no-pesticide no-till means the microbial universe in the soil remains intact and alive, and if the soil dwellers have enough carbon (as an energy source) they will facilitate the cycling of minerals in the soil, especially earthworms, who are nature’s great composters. Second, a vigorous and diverse cover of crops will put down deeper roots, enabling plants to access fresh minerals, which then become available to everything up the food chain, including us. And by covering the soil surface with green plants, or litter from the dead parts, Clapperton said, a farmer like Fuller traps moisture underground, where it becomes available for plants and animals (of the micro variety), enabling roots to tap resources and growing abundant life.

“Aboveground diversity is reflected in belowground diversity,” she said. “However, soil organisms are competitive with plants for carbon, so there must be enough for everybody.” Predator-prey relationships are also important to nutrient cycling, she said. Without hungry predators, such as protozoa and nematodes, the bacteria and fungi would consume all the nutrients in the soil and plants would starve. Predators aboveground play a positive role too, including spiders and especially the number one predator, ants!

How do essential minerals get into plants?

There are two principal paths: First, minerals can dissolve in water, and when the water is pulled into the plant through its roots, the minerals are absorbed into the cells of plant tissue. Whichever minerals the plant doesn’t need (or doesn’t want) will remain stored in the cells. Second, mineral nutrients can enter a plant directly by being absorbed through the cell walls of root hairs. Some minerals, such as phosphorus, can also “hitch a ride” with mycorrhizal fungi, which then “barter” them for carbon molecules from the plant roots. Of course, if there aren’t any minerals in the vicinity, no uptake into plants is possible!

It all begins with a dynamic conversation at a cocktail party for plants—where everyone is gossiping about carbon!

Standing under the oak tree at the end of the workshop, after we had oohed and aahed over a giant wolf spider someone discovered under a shrub, Clapperton reminded us why using nature as a role model—for cover crops in this case—was so important: we need to recycle nutrients, encourage natural predators to manage pests, and increase plant densities to block weeds, which in a natural system are all integrated and interconnected strategies.

This reminded me of something the great conservationist Aldo Leopold once wrote:

“The black prairie was built by the prairie plants, a hundred distinctive species of grasses, herbs, and shrubs; by the prairie fungi, insects, and bacteria; by the prairie mammals and birds, all interlocked in one humming community of cooperations and competitions, one biota. This biota, through ten thousand years of living and dying, burning and growing, preying and fleeing, freezing and thawing, built that dark and bloody ground we call prairie.”

One biota. With carbon at its core.

 

Photo: Ben Collins, Wikimedia Commons

DIY: Make Whole Fruit Jam

Monday, July 28th, 2014

The supply of fresh summer fruit is about to be in abundance and before you know it, apples and pumpkins will abound.

If you’re lucky and berries or stone fruits are providing a bountiful array of flavor, try this easy method of preserving them: whole fruit jam.

This recipe relies on the natural sugars in fruit to provide a balanced flavor and sweetness in this complimentary spread.  Preserve the last of your seasonal fruit simply – no added sugar and no freezing.

The following is an excerpt from Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning by the Gardeners and Farmers of Terre Vivante:

Sugar is a practical and economical method of food preservation—so much so that we tend to overindulge, and make jams that contain more sugar than fruit! When we discover that excess sugar is one of the great scourges of the modern diet, we might think it best to renounce jams completely. Besides, replacing white sugar with brown sugar is only a relative improvement. Whole or raw sugar (evaporated juice from sugar cane) would be a better substitute, but its strong flavor often masks the taste of the fruit.

The solution to this problem is twofold: avoid eating too much jam and other sugary foods, and make these foods using far less added sugar, or none at all. Knowing and applying these techniques, we can continue to preserve food properly and successfully. For example, certain jams made with very little sugar must be refrigerated once opened, preferably in small jars, to prevent premature spoilage. For those recipes that require sugar, we will use either brown or whole sugar. Other recipes are “sugar-free,” or use honey instead.

Note that the term “sugar-free jam” in essence is a contradiction in terms, since by definition, sugar is the preservative agent in jams. To be more precise, we should discuss “jams with no added sugar.” In reality, jam already contains sugar: both glucose and fructose, which naturally occur in all fruit.

Jams with no added sugar were not invented by health-food advocates wanting to reduce their sugar consumption. These preserves are an old tradition dating back to a time when sugar was scarce and expensive (or even nonexistent). Three classic examples, and the most commonly known jams of this type, are pommé (apple jelly), poiré (pear jelly), and raisiné (grape jelly). The first two have been made for centuries in certain regions of northern Europe, particularly Belgium and Germany, whereas the raisiné is a tradition of Périgord in southwestern France. Carob “honey” is a similar preserve that is found in the Middle East, Galilee (recipe follows in this chapter). All these preserves share this common feature: They are made from the juice only, and not from the whole fruit. Thus, they are jellies or thick syrups, rather than jams. Their preparation is based on this simple principle: Prolonged cooking evaporates enough water to concentrate enough of the naturally occurring sugars for preservation to take place. Jams from whole fruit can also be prepared by following the same principle. In general, after pouring hot jam or jelly into a jar and sealing it, turn the jar upside down. This will sterilize any air remaining in the jar and ensure preservation. It’s also a good idea to store the jars upside down.

Whole Fruit Jam
Very ripe fruit (any type)
A preserving pan or large saucepan
Canning jars and lids

This method is good for all types of fruit, including grapes, greengage plums, and so on. Use fruit that is very ripe; simply cut and crush it roughly. Bring the fruit to a boil; then cook it over very low heat for a very long time.

It is impossible to recommend a precise cooking time, since this depends on the type of fruit used, and its ripeness and water content, both of which vary from one year to the next. In any case, you should allow as much water as possible to evaporate. Stir often, because certain fruits have a tendency to stick during cooking. The jam is ready when it does not run off of the spoons but forms a bead that sticks to the spoon. At this stage pour the jam into scalded screw-top jars. It will keep for at least two years.

Recipe: Ginger Beer

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Ginger is a spice perfect for any time of year. Its fragrance can perk up everything from chai tea to apple pie. This humble root can also add a gentle kick of heat to stir fries or soups.

The natural yeasts in the root can also be used to kick start a bubbly ginger beer. Give it a try!

The following recipe is from Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, by Sandor Katz.

This Caribbean-style soft drink uses a “ginger bug” to start the fermentation. I got this idea from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions. The ginger bug is simply water, sugar, and grated ginger, which starts actively fermenting within a couple of days. This easy starter can be used as yeast in any alcohol ferment, or to start a sourdough.

This ginger beer is a soft drink, fermented just enough to create carbonation but not enough to contribute any appreciable level of alcohol. If the ginger is mild, kids love it.

TIMEFRAME: 2 to 3 weeks

INGREDIENTS (for 1 gallon/4 liters):

  • 3 inches/8 centimeters or more fresh gingerroot
  • 2 cups/500 milliliters sugar
  • 2 lemons (or limes)
  • Water

PROCESS:

  1. Start the “ginger bug”: Add 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) grated ginger (skin and all) and 2 teaspoons (10 milliliters) sugar to 1 cup (250 milliliters) of water. Stir well and leave in a warm spot, covered with cheesecloth to allow free circulation of air while keeping flies out. Add this amount of ginger and sugar every day or two and stir, until the bug starts bubbling, in 2 days to about a week.
  2. Make the ginger beer any time after the bug becomes active. (If you wait more than a couple of days, keep feeding the bug fresh ginger and sugar every 2 days.) Boil 2 quarts (2 liters) of water. Add about 2 inches (5 centimeters) of gingerroot, grated, for a mild ginger flavor (up to 6 inches/15 centimeters for an intense ginger flavor) and 11/2 cups (375 milliliters) sugar. Boil this mixture for about 15 minutes. Cool.
  3. Once the ginger-sugar-water mixture has cooled, strain the ginger out and add the juice of the lemons (or limes) and the strained ginger bug. (If you intend to make this process an ongoing rhythm, reserve a few tablespoons of the active bug as a starter and replenish it with additional water, grated ginger, and sugar.) Add enough water to make 1 gallon (4 liters).
  4. Bottle in sealable bottles: Recycle plastic soda bottles with screw tops; rubber gasket “bail-top” bottles that Grolsch and some other premium beers use; sealable juice jugs; or capped beer bottles, as described in chapter 11. Leave bottles to ferment in a warm spot for about 2 weeks.
  5. Cool before opening. When you open ginger beer, be prepared with a glass, since carbonation can be strong and force liquid rushing out of the bottle.

DIY Dilly Beans: Voted “Best Snack Ever”

Monday, July 14th, 2014

For those who love fermented foods, I now welcome you into the world of the dilly bean. If you already make your own, this recipe is killer. If you’ve yet to try it…and you’re like me, a vinegar obsessed freak on the verge of collapse every time a pickle is near, then brace yourself for the best snack ever. Voted on by me, and by the folks at Chelsea Green.

There’s nothing like a dilly bean. A jar full of ‘em in the fridge, next to a plate of cheese and crackers, on a sandwich, or straight from the jar in the middle of winter when you’re sick of potatoes and pasta. Dilly beans! I’m picking all my beans this weekend and dilly-ing them. And you can do it too, even if you have to buy beans at the farmer’s market or wherever you shop. (They also make great gifts, and housewarming presents, and things to bring your hostess…just grab a jar from storage, and bam.)

The following is an excerpt from Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Katz. It has been adapted for the Web.

Dilly Beans

Pickling food in vinegar is not a fermentation process. In brine pickling, vegetables are preserved by lactic acid, which is produced by the action of microorganisms on the vegetables. Vinegar pickling makes use of a fermented product, vinegar, but the acidity of the vinegar prevents microorganism action. Vinegar pickles contain no live cultures. According to Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, a book by Terre Vivante, a French eco-education center focused on organic gardening and preservation of Old World food-preservation techniques, “Pickles were always lacto-fermented in times past, and then transferred to vinegar solely to stabilize them for commercial purposes.” Indeed, the great advantage that vinegar pickling has over lacto-fermentation pickling is that vinegar pickles will last forever (well, almost), while brined pickles will last for weeks or months, but rarely for years, and definitely not forever. Cookbooks are full of vinegar pickling recipes, so I will offer just one: the dilly beans my father makes from his garden every summer and serves to his family and friends all year long.

TIMEFRAME: 6 weeks

SPECIAL EQUIPMENT:

  • Sealable canning jars: 1 1⁄2 pint/750 milliliter size is best, as its height perfectly accommodates the length of string beans

INGREDIENTS:

  • String beans
  • Garlic
  • Salt (my dad swears by coarse kosher salt, but sea salt is fine, too)
  • Whole dried chili peppers
  • Celery seed
  • Fresh dill (flowering tops best, or leaves)
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Water

PROCESS:

  1. Guesstimate how many jars you’ll fill with the string beans you have. Thoroughly clean jars and line them up.
  2. Into each jar, place 1 clove of garlic, 1 teaspoon (5 milliliters) of salt, 1 whole red chili pepper, 1/4 teaspoon (1.5 milliliters) of celery seed, and a flowering dill top or small bunch of dill leaves. Then fill the jar with beans standing on end, stuffing them as tightly as you can into the jar.
  3. For each jar you have filled, measure 1 cup (250 milliliters) of vinegar and 1 cup (250 milliliters) of water. Boil the vinegar-water mixture, then pour it into the jars over the beans and spices, to ½ inch (1 centimeter) from the top of the jar.
  4. Seal the jars and place them in a large pot of boiling water for a 10-minute heat processing.

Leave the dilly beans for at least 6 weeks for the flavors to meld, then open jars as desired and enjoy. My father serves these dilly beans as an hors d’oeuvre. Heat-processed pickles can be stored for years without refrigeration.

RECIPE: Summer Cherry Cornmeal Cobbler

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

It’s that time of year again…outdoor barbecues are a weekend staple, trips to the beach or pool are becoming more frequent, and cherries are ripe for the picking!

Take this seasonal cue and enjoy the fresh fruit while you can with this recipe for summer cherry cornmeal cobbler from Cooking Close to Home.

Authors Diane Imrie and Richard Jarmusz believe no matter where you live, you should be able to cook locally throughout the four seasons. Their book, Cooking Close to Home, is a seasonal guide with more than 150 recipes that will inspire you to create delicious and nutritious meals using ingredients produced in your own community.

So visit your local farmers’ market or find a “pick your own” cherry orchard near you and stock up—this sweet homestyle cobbler awaits!

Cooking Close to Home: A Year of Seasonal Recipes is on sale now for 35% off until July 15.

Summer Cherry Cornmeal Cobbler by Chelsea Green Publishing


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