It had been three weeks of waiting, and now it was time to find out if our efforts had been in vain. Andrew cautiously opened the ceramic container, removed the flat, ceramic weight, and lifted out a scoop of the contents. We arranged it on a plate, looked at it cautiously, and both lifted a fork. With a wide-eyed glance at each other, we both took a small, tentative bite of our first attempt at lacto-fermented sauerkraut.
It was delicious, and we now have twelve jars of it sleeping in the back of our fridge (We didn’t want to can it in a hot water bath and kill the active cultures). But its that moment of pause, the moment of wondering if we were about get sick, that I want to write about today.
I feel this way every time we give up buying something and start making it. I felt it when I opened my canned summer tomatoes in November, wondering if I was about to give us botulism as a side dish with our pasta. I felt it when we took our first swig of homemade kombucha, tentatively swallowing and wondering if we had truly fermented it right. I felt it when we made raspberry jam, sniffing the jar for the spoil that I was sure I had created. We felt it when we first made jerky—was it actually safe to eat? We felt it with that first bite of sauerkraut--did this fermentation process actually work?
In every situation thusfar, my fears have been unfounded, and we have enjoyed the literal fruits of our labor. But that moment of pause is still there, that moment of fear and worry. And any time we feel fear enter our house, we want to reflect on why it is there and get it out before it roots.
In modern western society, if something is packaged at the store and is within the magic date printed on its label, we seem to intrinsically trust it. It is sanitized, safe, and if something is off, we can call a number and get it replaced. The cellophane wrappers, snazzy labels, and quality assurances seem to give us a sense of security about our own food. I grew up this way, and it is built into my mind. I see those brightly colored packages and feel a pre-programmed sense of trust in their goodness.
But with it, however, I sense an unspoken undertone that seems to convey that food-making is a process far outside the reach of a normal human. Normal people don’t have time to make this. Normal people don’t have the ability to keep this safe. Normal people can’t be trusted with these mysterious processes. You will mess it up and make yourself and your family sick.
But, being not-so-normal people, Andrew and I have decided to challenge our own predispositions and DO IT ANYWAY. Though the worry is not yet totally banished in my heart--that moment of questioning is still there—it is becoming shorter and smaller because we are having too much success to listen to it much longer. We’re starting to see that these old ways of fermenting, drying, and canning are not only delicious, effective, safe, and keep our food more nutrient-rich…they’re totally doable (and cheaper!).
We’re starting to learn to trust the processes that God designed the world with. Making sourdough starter makes sense because I now see that the yeasts in a healthy starter completely inhibit mold and other unwanted growths. I can trust the process, and learn from it. Lacto-fermenting sauerkraut makes sense now because, again, we can see that if things are fermenting right, the anaerobic environment will keep dangerous spoilage completely at bay. We can trust the process and learn from it. And our Kombucha SCOBY teaches us every day that bacteria can be good, no matter what Purell says in their commercials. We’re starting to use our senses to understand the world again.
But still, when Andrew and I talk about fermenting, or canning our own goods with others, we sometimes get an uncomfortable following quiet, and then the inevitable questions: “How do you know it’s safe?” “What if you don’t do it right?” “Aren’t you worried about making yourselves sick?”
You know, it’s funny—we both have gotten horrible bouts of food poisoning from restaurants (I’m looking at you, corn chowder. NEVER AGAIN), but have never yet made ourselves sick with our own cooking, preserving, or fermenting. And in contrast, we’re learning how all the “safe” processes featured in so much packaged food is actually stripping the goodness right out of it. That loaf of bread isn’t molding after two weeks, so we think its still “good,” even if the ingredients are entirely unpronounceable. That jam will last indefinitely, probably, because it is so packed with bleached, refined sugar. Why are there preservatives in these pickles? Isn’t the point of pickling is that it’s a preservation process?? The more labels we read, the more we realize that the quality assurance on so many products comes at the cost of nutrition and wholesomeness.
I guess the point of this post is a challenge. I, like many others, was “trained” by my culture to fear the process of food-making beyond simple baking and boiling. I believed that canning and fermenting were dangerous, and that people who tried them were fool-hardy if they weren’t Amish. I gave my full trust to packages without thinking about what was actually inside them.
But now, as we experiment in Cityhouse, we’re joyfully uncovering these old ways of doing food and breaking down our own mental barriers. God designed these processes well, and they work. We’ve shared sourdough starter and SCOBYs with friends, delighting as they start baking their own bread and brewing their own Kombucha. We sat by our woodstove and dipped fresh-made paneer cheese in balsamic vinegar, salt, and rosemary, and giggled at how delicious it was (more on that soon!). We ate a full plate of that fresh sauerkraut with caraway seeds and fresh-cracked pepper, and realized that we were enjoying something that we couldn’t buy anywhere. We feel unafraid, emboldened, and full of wonder at all this seemingly forgotten food. Not only that, we feel more healthy, whole, and capable. And my fear is fast-fading, because unlike us, it has nothing to feed on anymore.
If you’re curious about boldly approaching food in ways that will raise eyebrows, check out the book Preserving Food with out Freezing or Canning. You’ll read some recipes that will both shock and amaze. Prepare to have your idea of how to keep food safe flipped on its head. In addition, be sure to read the introduction on preparing food without fear!
We are a husband and wife who are trying to live simply. We are learning much as we transition from life in the city to life in the country. Come along with us, and maybe you can also learn a thing or two as well.
We love writing for these fine folks as well!
|Simple Life Homestead||
Simple Life Homestead