Duck Schnitzel with Rødkål and Mustard Potatoes (gluten free)

duckschnitzel

 

Making gluten-free duck schnitzel is simple, but it is such a treat! Recently I was the happy recipient of some wild duck and goose breasts. My friend’s son is a prolific hunter and needed someone to give some meat to, so I was happy to oblige.

I made sure to pound the duck breasts so they were very thin and decided to serve it with traditional cabbage and potato accompaniments. Rødkål is a sweet and sour cabbage dish from Denmark and I did my own version of a hot German potato salad using hot potatoes and adding some mustard for an extra lift of flavor. Both vegetables went perfectly with the schnitzel and it was one of the best dinners I had cooked in a while. The best part was how quick and easy the dishes were to make!

Next time you have some duck breasts, give this a try or if you can’t easily come by duck breasts, try the classic Weiner Schnitzel which uses pounded veal cutlets, pork is also good.

Duck Breast Schnitzel

INGREDIENTS:

4 duck breasts pounded thin
2 large eggs, scrambled
3/4  cup of gluten-free bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
2 TBS good quality butter
Lemon wedges

METHOD: Pound the duck breasts out nice and thin. Scramble an egg in a shallow bowl and in another shallow bowl mix the breadcrumbs with the salt and spices. Place a skillet on the burner on medium-high heat and melt the butter.

Dip each duck breast first into the egg and then coat it well with the spiced breadcrumbs. Then place both duck breasts into the melted butter and cook on each side until the coating is browned and crisp – about 2 minutes on each side. Serve with lemon wedges.

Rødkål

INGREDIENTS:

3 ½ cups shredded red cabbage
1 small onion thinly sliced
2 TBS good butter
2 TBS apple cider vinegar
¼ cup of lingonberry or red currant jam
salt & pepper
1 ½ tsp Beau Monde- allspice, bay, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, black and white pepper
½ cup water

METHOD: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet over medium heat melt the butter. Add the cabbage and onion and some salt and sweat the cabbage and onions. When they begin to soften mix in the vinegar, jam, spices and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer with a lid on for about 40 minutes; add more water if it is getting dry.

Mustard Potatoes

INGREDIENTS:

5 medium sized yellow potatoes, boiled al dente and roughly chopped.
4 strips of bacon, diced
1 small onion, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 TBS apple cider vinegar
1 tsp dried thyme
¼ cup Dijon mustard

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 350 F. Boil potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes and set aside. In a skillet sauté the bacon, onion and garlic. Roughly chop potaotes and place in a baking dish. Add the bacon mixture, apple cider vinegar, thyme and mustard. Stir to thoroughly coat the potatoes, then bake for about 20 minutes.

Holiday Baking Series: Gluten Free Æbleskiver (also called Förtchen, Futtjens, Ferdons or Fritters)

I like talking about ancestral food. I have found through personal experience that by preparing ancestral foods you can connect to the cultures of your birth in a fun and enjoyable way. It is like living history, but with food. My spiritual practice focuses a lot on ancestor veneration, i.e. honoring your ancestors. I have found the most profound way for me to do that is to expand my culinary repertoire and skills to include foods that had significance to those ancestors.

One of the most important days of the year to celebrate the ancestors is December 20th, also known as Mōdraniht or Mother’s Night when the female ancestors of one’s family linse are celebrated and thanked for, well, nothing short of making our lives possible. This is one of my favorite days of the year and I am doubly lucky as I have so many ancestors to celebrate, both from my adoptive and birth families! I celebrate this night by creating a holiday treat, usually a cookie, reflecting a particular branch of ancestry. In years past I have made :

Cuccidata, Sicilian Fig Cookies

Polenta & Sesame Biscotti

Pfeffernusse Shortbread

Last year we made these. I have always known them by their Danish name, æbleskiver, but I came across this recipe for a gluten-free version last year in Pinterest  and when I read the blog post, I knew I had to make these for Mother’s Night as the blogger who created the recipe and I share heritage from Holstein (which has switched around between being part of Denmark and Germany).

Here is what Heidi, the creator of this treat has to say about its origins:

“Förtchen are a traditional Christmas pastry in parts of northern Germany, especially in Schleswig-Holstein and in Denmark. My family’s original fritter recipe is much like a very dense cake-style donut hole.”

And some more tidbits from her Aunt:

“Our German ancestors were from the most northern part of Germany, in an area called Schleswig-Holstein. That part of the country was once a part of Denmark and I suspect that this recipe is somewhat Danish in origin.”

Heidi has a wonderful step by step guide to making these on her blog  she also has a link to the original non gluten free version.

We flavored our æbleskiver by filling them with some chestnut cream we had bought when visiting Quebec City. It was a wonderful holiday treat! My hope is to make them sometime during the season this year, although not for Mother’s night as I like to do something different each year.

Dutch, Finnish or German? (My Pancake Has an Identity Crisis)

 

(…or maybe it is just a cultural mutt, like so many of us?)

I like to make connections in food preparation. It is the anthropologist in me. I am not satisfied just eating a deliciously prepared recipe. If it is unique, even if it is a common staple, I want to understand its origins, how it evolved and what makes it shine and how to make it gluten free! Every food has its own history, its own story of conception and origin. That is why I love historic recipes. I like to think about the first person who paired certain available ingredients and created what today remains a staple classic.

Learning about where a food comes from, tells you a lot about that place – what resources were common and available, how people prepared meals and in what vessels, what kind of crops or foods were in their environment? This is the kind of thing that endlessly fascinates me and takes me on my own culinary journey. This is why I am always saying you can learn so much about your ancestry by the foods of that culture – they are just a window to the rest of it.

By now, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you know about my love for pancakes and how they are a Sunday morning tradition on the homestead. You know the whole history, how I never liked them growing up, fell in love with crepes and other thin pancakes, struggled with gluten free pancake making etc. So although I have many pancake recipes that I love to make every week, I am always looking for other pancake recipes. I just can’t help myself!

I have come across a wonderful type of pancake recently – like a cake that you make in a cast iron pan (imagine that! Pan Cake) yet I have heard them referred to in several different ways: Dutch, Finnish and German. But as far as I can see, they all have the same basic recipe, flour milk and lots of eggs. So which is it? How did they get these very specific place names?

Wikipedia says the Dutch Baby and German Pancake are one in the same, and similar to a Yorkshire Pudding. The recipe derived from the German Apfelpfannkuchen – a type of apple pancake. It then goes on to say that the moniker Dutch Baby comes from the Pennsylvania Dutch, German-American immigrants, where “Dutch” is a corruption of the German Deutsch.

The Finnish Pancake, called Pannukakku in Finnish, has considerably less information about its origin. One blog post claims that what makes it Finnish is “that they are pancaked in the oven rather than the stove top”. Yet, we know that the Dutch/German version is also baked in the oven. So not really accurate, nor enough of an origin story for me. So I searched and searched and could not find any clarifying information and there is not much history between the two countries before the Second World War that I can discover in a quick search – any Finnish readers of my blog know more?

Regardless, these pancakes are really delicious – I especially liked its almost custard-like texture. When I made one for us a few Sundays ago, I topped it with sautéed apples and dusted it with powdered maple sugar, as a nod to the Apfelpfannkuchen. In Finland they are typically topped with berries and whipped cream and served around the summer solstice. So you still have some time to play with recipes and toppings before then!

(puffy right out of the oven)

As a basic recipe, I recommend Kelly’s from The Spunky Coconut, it is the one I used and it works perfectly, even though it isn’t totally traditional, it is gluten, grain and dairy free and the result looks just like all the other ones out there. If you would rather use milk instead of coconut milk, it should work just as well. The only thing I changed from Kelly’s recipe is that I used honey instead of stevia (I think I used about 2 TBS). This pancake puffs up in the oven, and then falls. If this happens, don’t worry, it is supposed to! Enjoy some this weekend!

Veal and White Bean Stew with Buckwheat Spätzle

 

(Veal and White Bean Stew with Buckwheat Spätzle)

Normally, when I cook I just take stock of what I have around to concoct something and rarely use recipes. But like any foodie I have a ton of cookbooks. Cookbooks for me are a bit like inspiration, it gives me general ideas, but I find I usually need to augment the recipes – either to make them gluten-free or to our tastes.

That is the story of this buckwheat spätzle, a dish I made some time back in the height of winter. One of my favorite cookbooks is Black Forest Cuisine by Walter Staib the executive chef at the historic and famed City Tavern in Philadelphia. I have always liked German cuisine, but never made it at home. With this cookbook that all changed. The recipes range from simple home cooked meals, to comforting gastropub fare and fancier hotel restaurant fare with more international influences. I got this cookbook as a way to explore another ancestral cuisine, although my ancestors hail from Bavaria, there is a lot of crossover, including spätzle which is considered a classic Bavarian dish.

(Buckwheat Spätzle – in Italian we would call my spätzle, Spätzle-one, or giant spätzle )

The flavors of the Black Forest are homey and delicious, the ingredients, simple and flavorful.  The chef in the introduction talks a lot about traditional German fare, about abundant family gardens, food preservation skills and my favorite story of all – that it is common for German families to take a walk through the woods on the weekend to get to a specific restaurant, pub or café serving some specialty – maybe a confection or cake or perhaps a home-style hearty meal to enjoy. I just love the idea of that. We did something similar in Italy, taking the Via Francigena to San Gimignano and enjoying a lovely meal of gnocchi with truffle sauce and stewed wild boar. One of the best meals of my life. Food tastes so amazing when it is well deserved.

It was this romantic thought that inspired this meal. I imagined myself taking an invigorating walk through the black forest, coming out of the forest, with a scent of something savory cooking in the air and following my nose to a cozy warm gastropub to enjoy a hearty meal.

The veal and white bean stew is entirely of my creation. The buckwheat spätzle is based on the original spätzle recipe in the cookbook.  We had originally made the spätzle to accompany a recipe for kielbasa and lentils from the same cookbook, being its traditional accompaniment.

(Kielbasa and lentils with buckwheat Spätzle )

We used some homemade kielbasa and it was good, but not nearly as outstanding as this combination!

Veal and White Bean Stew:

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of cannellini beans, cooked (I use dry beans, soaked overnight in warm water and a TBS of apple cider vinegar and then cooked until tender)

1 lb of veal stew meat browned in 1 TBS butter

2 onions, caramelized (cooked down with red wine vinegar and a little water to prevent burning)

2 cups beef stock – homemade is preferable

1 cup of water

Bay leaf

1 clove of garlic, minced

2 TBS tomato paste

2 carrots, chopped

2 cups green cabbage, shredded

Season with salt, pepper and thyme

METHOD: The day before, cook the beans, or you can use canned. You might also want to caramelize the onions, brown the veal and make the spätzle. The day of cooking place all the ingredients in a crock pot, except for the spätzle . Cook on the high setting until it comes to a boil (about 2-3 hours). Then add the spätzle and cook on low for another 5-6 hours until everything is heated through. You could put the spätzle in at the start and just cook on low for 10-12 hours, but it might become a little more mushy.

(Making Spätzle  using the “cutting board method”)

Buckwheat Spätzle

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of buckwheat flour

4 large eggs

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp fresh ground nutmeg

1 cup cold water

METHOD:  Combine the flour, eggs, salt and nutmeg in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (I don’t have an electric mixer and make the dough using my hands). Mix on medium until combined and slowly pour in the water until the batter is smooth, mix for five minutes more until the dough is elastic.

Bring 2 quarts of lightly salted water to boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Scrape dough into a potato ricer or colander with large holes and press dough into boiling water. Alternately, place dough on a cutting board and scrape dough into the boiling water. Cook until they are tender but still firm, stirring occasionally, about 3-4 minutes, they will rise to the surface when done. Lift the spätzle out of the water with a large slotted spoon, shake off the water and place in a bowl, mix with some butter or olive oil to prevent sticking together. Spätzle is also very good, reheated by sautéing in butter until golden.

*Note, I used the cutting board method, and as this was my first time making spätzle, they were a bit bigger than what is traditional, but I think they were the perfect size for my slow cooked stew, if they had been smaller, I would not have allowed them to cook with the stew, but stirred them in at the end before serving.

Let’s Get Cultured! Quark!

Quark is my new obsession. Even the name is fun to say! It is a fresh cheese traditionally made in Germany, which makes this another exploration into the foods of my ancestors (last week I was exploring my Scottish heritage with a traditional Burns Supper ).

Quark is one of the the oldest cheeses in Europe and has been enjoyed by Germanic people since at least the first century CE, when Roman author Tacitus described it in his writings. Tacitus kind of makes my blood boil, but I do like to imagine the Barbarian hoards sweeping through Europe with quark in their saddlebags. But what can I say, our little family are just berserkers at heart. Cheese, Barbarians…I am really starting to appreciate this lineage.

Back to the cheese: Quark comes in three types – a lower fat version called Magerquark, which can be used much in the same way as yogurt and viewed as a health food in Germany and Austria, a full fat version with added cream called Sahnequark or “cream quark” that is typically a base for a variety of many delicious desserts and then regular quark made with whole milk.

I first tasted quark a few months ago when I saw it at the store produced by Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery. and quickly found many delicious uses for it. It is a bit pricey at almost $4 for a small tub. Once I realized this was going to be a staple for me, I decided to consult my favorite cheese making book, Home Cheese Making: Recipes for 75 Delicious Cheeses to see if there was a recipe. To my delight I found a recipe on page 99, and discovered how easy it was to make using a buttermilk culture. A word about the book, if you are at all into making cultured dairy products, and don’t have this book, you should get it. For under $10 it is a real treasure trove of fantastic recipes, from really really easy, to artisanal and the instructions are very down to earth.

Be warned one recipe makes a lot of quark – so you want to make sure you have some ideas of what to do with it once it is made. I tried my hand at a no-bake cheesecake using agar-agar to create the right texture but it didn’t congeal and so I put it in the freezer and tonight we will have frozen quark cheesecake for dessert. I will keep working on a recipe though and post it once it has been perfected.

This is a very versatile cheese – you can use it like sour cream or yogurt. I like to put a dollop on homemade nachos, or add on top of a steaming bowl of beans and rice or tomato soup. For the sweet tooth, you can swirl with raw honey or maple syrup or fruit for a nice and satisfying dessert and I am sure it would be a good ingredient in a variety of cakes, muffins, pancakes and breads. This is an ingredient I will be experimenting with a lot now that we have it in such abundance.

I chose to make the full fat, cream added version of quark, and the texture is wonderfully creamy.
SAHNEQUARK INGREDIENTS:
1 gallon creamline milk
1 packet direct-set buttermilk starter
2-3 TBS heavy cream

METHOD:
Heat the milk to 88F, add the starter and mix thoroughly. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours or until set*
Ladle the curds into a colander lined with butter muslin. Tie the corners of the muslin into a knot and drain overnight (with the colander still underneath). If the quark is too dry the next day add a few more TBS of cream to the finished cheese. Store in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Makes 1-1/2 lbs of fresh quark.

*if you live in a colder climate or prepare this during winter be prepared to wait longer for the curds to thicken and develop. You basically want it to look like runny yogurt before moving on to the next steps.

This post is part of  Simple Lives Thursday Blog Hop!

Holiday Baking Series: Pfeffernusse Shortbread (Gluten, Sugar and Egg Free)

So now that I am in the habit of revealing my secrets to you, I will tell you another one. I believe in Santa. Ever since I was a little girl I have baked special cookies for him. I also leave carrots for the Reindeer, but that is another story. I am not kidding. You may all think I have gone crazy, but really, the magic of this time of year has always been with me. It is a time when many people return to a more childlike way of being – snuggling into warm blankets, eating special treats, and enjoying quiet entertainment and time with family and friends.

I have always loved spice cookies. They are not overly sweet, and usually made up of nuts as well as flour. This year I have really gotten into making shortbread. A good friend of mine shared his recipe with me, when he brought buckwheat shortbread to our housewarming party.

Using that recipe as a base, I decided to spice it up by using almond meal and adding traditional Pfeffernusse spices to it. Pfeffernusse means “pepper nut” in German and refers to the fact that most recipes contain ground pepper. Pfeffernusse is in the Lebkuchen or Gingerbread family of cookies, which dates back to the 12th Century. Gingerbread is based on Teutonic honeycakes. There are also versions of these pepper nut cookies in Scandinavia and The Netherlands.

I spent the evening of the Winter Solstice staying up to see the Lunar Eclipse baking these cookies.

These cookies are a traditional cookie for this time of year. German lore tells us that Santa Claus places these cookies in the shoes of all good children during the feast of Sinterklaas which has its roots in various pagan customs of the holiday stemming from areas where the Germanic peoples were Christianized and retained elements of their indigenous traditions, surviving in various forms into modern depictions of Sinterklaas.

So you can just say that I am returning the favor.

INGREDIENTS:

8 oz almond meal*
4 oz gluten free oat flour
4 oz date sugar (or just 4 oz dried dates pulverized)
1 TBS Pfeffernusse Spice Blend: freshly ground: ¼ tsp each: tellicherry peppercorns and cardamom, 1 star anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger
8 oz butter (use the absolute best quality you can find. I use Vermont Butter & Cheese)

*to make your own almond meal, soak almonds in water overnight and then grind in food processor

METHOD:

Using a food processor, grind almonds, or use almond meal. Pulse in oat flour, dates (or date sugar) and Pfeffernusse spice blend until well blended. Then pulse in the butter, broken up into chunks. Pulse until the ingredients come together to form a batter.

Option 1. To make the stars, refrigerate dough for about an hour so butter hardens and is easier to handle. After an hour take dough out and press it out until about an inch thick. Then cut out into shapes and place on a cookie sheet to bake.

Option 2. Immediately roll dough into little balls using your hands and bake.

In a 375 F oven bake for about 20 – 30 minutes or until edges are browned.

Traditionally Pfeffernusse are rolled in powdered sugar. If you wish to do this you can make your own by placing maple sugar or evaporated cane juice into a grinder and grinding until powdered. See A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa for a tutorial (and another great cookie recipe).

Celebrating Yule (Jul, Jule, Winter Solstice)

I can be honest with all of you, my dear readers, right? I mean food blogging is all about sharing recipes, cultures and traditions, right? Well I would like to share with you some of my food traditions for this time of year, which are a bit personal.

I celebrate Yule. Yule is the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice, which generally falls between December 21-23. I am Pagan. Which means I have my own rich traditions for this deeply special and sacred time of year.

Winter Solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years, spanning many cultures. If most of us traced our family trees back far enough (and for some we might not have to go that far) we would likely find many ancestors who celebrated this feast of light – the return of the sun after the darkest times of the winter, when the days begin to lengthen. The ancient Romans knew the celebration as Saturnalia, the Hindus call it Diwali, the Jewish festival of light is called Hanukkah. For those of us who follow the pathways of our ancient Northern European ancestors, we call it Yule, Jul, or Jule.

Many traditions from lighted Christmas trees, to Yule logs and mistletoe are a part of this rich history and have influenced more modern winter holiday celebrations. These were all ways to celebrate the return of the sun and light after the bleak Northern winter. A time to celebrate brighter days ahead – hope for the future. There are still many of us today who continue these time-honored traditions.

In our home we celebrate by decorating 2 live trees – one outside with edible ornaments for the wildlife to enjoy and one indoors, potted that we can use year after year. We also burn a yule log, which is carefully chosen to represent maximum heat potential and longevity and then at midnight on the solstice we turn out all the lights for several minutes, and then turn them all back on to welcome the sun and the light.

In commemoration of this holiday, I also enjoy preparing a delicious feast. Isn’t that what all food obsessed people do? Did you know that the tradition of the Christmas Ham comes from ancient Scandinavians and Germanic peoples? The traditional meal for these proud people was a whole roasted hog, a tribute to the God, Frey, who is associated with boars.

This year I found out that I have some German and Scandinavian (Danish) roots of my own, and to celebrate this new-found heritage, and honor my ancestors, I decided to focus this Yule feast on those cuisines. Typical Jul fare in Denmark includes roast pork, potatoes and red cabbage. So I created a delicious Yule feast consisting of Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut, Red Cabbage and Mashed Purple Viking Potatoes with fresh local cream and butter.

For dessert we enjoyed a Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding with Cherries. All washed down with some delicious local sparkling mead. (recipes below).

If you would like to celebrate the Winter Solstice and need some food for thought, here are some ideas from years past:

Norwegian Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus (spiced meatballs in gravy)

Norwegian Mulled Wine and Sweet Porridge

Winter Solstice Cocktail Party

Yule Log cake or Bûche de Noël

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THIS YEAR’S RECIPES:

Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut and Red Cabbage

2 large bone-in pastured pork chops

1 TBS wild game blend (juniper, savory, mustard, brown sugar)

3 ½ cups shredded red cabbage

4 slices of dried apple snipped into strips

salt & pepper

1 ½ tsp Beau Monde- allspice, bay, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, black and white pepper

1 pint homemade winekraut

for Cherry Sauce

1 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

¼ cup fruity red wine

palmful of dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ tsp vanilla extract

black pepper to taste

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Season pork chops with wild game blend. In a large cast iron skillet sear pork chops on all sides in butter or bacon fat. In the bottom of a tagine or dutch oven, season the red cabbage with salt, pepper and beau monde. Place the chops on the cabbage and pour the winekraut over everything. Add the apple slices. Roast in oven for 2 hours.

After 1 ½ hours make the cherry sauce. In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil, over medium heat then reduce heat to low. Reduce the sauce until it is ½ of the original amount. Place in a small serving bowl for ladling on top of the pork. Serve with mashed potatoes. Serves 2.

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Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding (no sugar added, egg and gluten free)

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup of almonds (I soak my almonds in water and salt overnight and then store in the freezer)

¼ cup dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

¼ cup dried wild blueberries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ cup water

1 cup cooked brown rice

½ cup whole milk (preferably raw)

1/3 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

1 TBS pure vanilla extract

¼ cup Drambuie or brandy

METHOD:

Soak almonds one day ahead (optional). Soak cherries and blueberries in warm water for at least ½ hour. Also soak the rice in the milk. This will allow the berries to plump up and the rice to absorb some of the milk.

Right before serving, dump the berries and their soaking liquid in a small saucepan with the extra cherry juice, vanilla extract and booze. Heat up over medium heat, bring to a boil and then simmer until berries have soaked up most of the liquid.

To serve, pour the berry compote over the rice and milk mixture. Serves 2.

Traditional Sauerkraut w/ Juniper Berries and Lacto-Fermentation Questions Answered

Last month in my post My Life As A Squirrel, I discussed various ways of preserving foods for winter. I did an overview of various preservation methods, advantages and disadvantages to those methods. I also made the case for why we, as Americans should be preserving more food. If you missed that post, be sure to check it out, it is full of great information.

I have also been featuring lacto-fermented foods on this blog . My most recent foray is in traditional juniper berry sauerkraut. You can see the recipe at the end of this post. My posts on lacto-fermentation have raised a lot of questions and comments from my readers about this ancient art of food preservation. Is it safe? For many the process of lacto-fermentation goes against fundamental things were have been taught about food safety. We have been taught to be afraid of food, in a world of industrial big agriculture, salmonella and e-coli scares.

I really did not feel like enough of an expert to answer some of those questions, being a lacto-fermentation newbie myself. So I consulted a professional! Through my good friend Jen, I was introduced to David Klingenberger owner of The Brinery, an Ann Arbor, Michigan business focused on the ancient art of fermentation. David agreed to answer some of my questions, and yours about this process of food preservation. He and I share a lot of similar thoughts and values when it comes to not being afraid of food, and what he calls the “re-skilling” that is so important to people interested in preserving traditional foods.

Lacto-fermentation has had a very long history. What personally draws you to this ancient form of food preservation?

As a young man 10 years ago, I found my way to a local organic vegetable farm here in south eastern Michigan. I felt deeply drawn to growing food, and feeding my community. As I learned the skills of agrarian life, I was drawn to lacto-fermentation. I love that it is a raw food, teeming with beneficial bacteria that not only preserve the food, but are of the utmost benefit to our health!

The process of lacto-fermenting scares a lot of people. When I write posts about it, I have even gotten emails and comments from people claiming I will kill my readers if they make my recipes. The idea of allowing vegetables and other perishable food items to sit out at room temperature for weeks and sometimes months goes against the modern way of looking at food safety. What do you tell lacto-fermenting newbies who are interested, but at the same time afraid of these types of foods?

I think there is a re-skilling and a re-learning that is necessary for our modern culture! I like to remind people that fermented foods have been very common and continue to be so. Everyone knows yogurt, cheese, salami, sauerkraut. These are all naturally fermented foods. Yogurt is the perfect example, and perhaps the most socially acceptable in our modern age. It’s a much similar process with lacto-fermented vegetables. There is a modern myth that we must destroy all Bacteria. (for example anti-bacterial soap). We need the beneficial probiotics found in lacto fermented foods!

Once the food has gone through the fermentation process, how does it need to be stored? Many recipes and books call for refrigeration, but people have been preserving foods this way before the advent of refrigeration and some say they can be stored in a cool basement. Can these foods be stored out of the fridge, and if so for how long? At what temperature? Are there some basic guidelines that you can share based on your experience?

Good question! Theoretically fermented foods do not need refrigeration! However the warmer it is the more it ferments. I have had sauerkraut in a basement for 8 or 9 months before. It wasn’t the best texture or flavor, but was totally edible and fine! So Yes, I do believe out of the fridge is fine. The middle of summer is probably not a good time to leave it out for extended periods! Make batches in the fall, and it will ferment slowly and keep longer in the cold of winter! Fermented foods will keep better the colder they are stored! And that is where refrigeration comes in! It’s not necessary, but allows more temp. control. Remember: if a proper laco-fermentaion has occurred then, you cannot get sick! I think it just comes down to taste/texture preference!

How can you tell if something has been properly lacto-fermented? Are there any tell-tale signs?

As far as I know, proper lacto-fermentation occurs under the brine! As long as the veggie are submerged under the salty brine, they will ferment! Conditions become very inhospitable to pathogens in that salty brine! The ph lowers quickly, which means the acidity levels rise! I have an electronic ph meter that I use to measure ability levels. LACTO-FERMENTATION CREATES CONDITIONS UNFAVORABLE TO PATHOGENS! Especially when their is no hermetic sealing of the jars!

Your company, The Brinery, sells several different kinds of lacto-fermented veggies. What is the first lacto-fermented food you tried, and do you have a favorite variety today?

At the Brinery I make Sauerkraut, Pickles, and Kimchi. Within those categories, I make many variations! I started out 10 years ago with good old sauerkraut, which I think is the perfect gateway fermented veggie to make at home. It doesn’t get more simple and pure than cabbage and salt! For my business, Kimchi has become quite popular. I just started making it for the Brinery, and love it! I try and do my own variation on a traditional Korean kimchi. I use dried Korean hot pepper flakes, and fish sauce for a traditional flavor. I try and source all produce from local organic farms. I also offer a vegan kimchi with no fish sauce. I have enjoyed making cucumber pickles, and turnip pickles as well. I am constantly experimenting and attempting to come up with new recipes!

Do you have any tips, anecdotes, etc. for people that are interested in learning how to prepare fermented foods? Any advice to those who have some experience but want to broaden their fermentation horizons?

I love preserving food through fermenting! Anyone can do it with little experience or investment. I feel it’s an important step in the re-skilling of our modern culture. Do it for health, for fun, for homesteading! Don’t be afraid. Trust yourself. Food is not scary. It doesn’t have to come from a factory or a laboratory. Food was naturally fermented at home for thousands of years! Even if you see moldy funky stuff on the top of you fermented veggies, that’s o.k. Scrape it off, and most likely, what ever has been under the salty brine is o.k! Don’t be afraid!
Anything you want to share with readers that I did not cover in the questions, but that you feel is important to share?

Have fun, eat living raw food! I think the best introductory book is Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz!

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Recipe for Traditional Sauerkraut with Juniper Berries
from The Joy of Pickling

INGREDIENTS:

5 lbs trimmed and cored white cabbage- save some of the outer leaves
3TBS pickling salt
1TBS whole juniper berries

TOOLS:

5 pint sized mason jars

METHOD:

1) Quarter the head and shred the cabbage very thinly.

2) Add salt and juniper berries to the cabbage and thoroughly mix with your clean hands.

3) When it has softened and released some liquid – about 10-15 minutes, pack the cabbage into pint sized mason jars and tamp down with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula, pour the brine evenly over the cabbage.

4) Weight the cabbage to keep it under the brine. Place a clean outer leaf from the cabbage on top of teh shredded cabbage and then place a food grade plastic bag filled with more brine on top of the leaf (1 ½ TBS pickling salt for each quart of water), in case of a leak. This helps if the brine gets scummy – you can replace the leaves instead of skimming off the scum or mold. Cover the container with a cloth or pillowcase and store in a dark place.

5) Within 24 hours the cabbage should be submerged in its brine. If it isn’t dissolve 1 ½ salt in 1 quart of water and pour as much as you need to over the cabbage. Check the sauerkraut every day or two for scum. If you find it, remove it, and replace the brine filled bags and cabbage leaves.

6) Start tasting the kraut after 2 weeks. It will be fully fermented in 2-4 weeks at 70 degrees and 5-6 weeks at 60 degrees. It will have a pale golden color and tart flavor.

7) Store it, tightly covered in the fridge or cool place. Or you can freeze it for later use.

This is part of The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania. Check out the other great posts!