A True Honor

 

Today is a very exciting day for me; one of the posts I wrote for my homesteading blog was featured on the blog of one of my personal heroes today, Gene Logsdon’s blog, The Contrary Farmer.

I am really in awe right now and truly honored. Gene, along with Wendell Berry and David Kline, among many others, notably, Joel Salatin, are such amazing and down to earth (literally, in so many ways) advocates for the agrarian movement. Their writing has inspired and taught me so much. So to have my writing featured on a blog of Gene’s writings is well, just WOW.

Thank you so much to Dave Smith and Gene Logsdon for featuring my post! If you want to follow my homesteading adventures, please check out my blog Got Goats? – we are on facebook too and would appreciate if you could “like” us! THANK YOU!

Bringing Home the Sausage, Part 2

Delicious Maple Smoked Bacon and Pork Loin

 

Before I get to the “meat” of my post, I want to give a great big THANK YOU to Rachel and the team from ThriftCultureNow.com for featuring me and this blog, as the Thrifty Blogger of the Week . You can follow them on facebook and get their Thrifty Tip of the day, on their facebook page I have to hand it to Rachel for painting me, the blog and our lifestyle in such a wonderful way. So please check out the article, and their website for more great info!

 

So last week, I shared with you a comprehensive post about breaking down a whole pig into useable parts, the genius of my friend Cole Ward, The Gourmet Butcher (who was also nice enough to give me a shout out on his blog, recently) and the making of fresh sausages.

 

This week in my Value Added Products class at Sterling College, our instructor, Chef Anne Obelnicki showed us about the art of curing, fermenting and smoking meats. We pretty much used up the rest of the pig yesterday. It was a long day – 10 hours of standing, cutting, simmering, mixing, grinding and stuffing in a hot and humid kitchen. I totally lost count of how many times I washed my hands in the first 5 minutes.  When I got home around 7, Roberto had dinner ready. I scarfed it down and went to bed shortly after. Dealing with a whole animal, even when you break it up into two days, is hard work, but it is also FUN. You get such a huge feeling of accomplishment from the whole process! Plus it is really fun working with a few other people feverishly to get it all done!

 

 

Yesterday we hot smoked the maple bacon and brined pork loins we started curing last week. We also smoked the hocks and the bones. Nothing on this pig went to waste. We trimmed the jowls to start curing guanciale and used the second shoulder to make fermented sausages – spicy sopressata and hunter’s loop. We also made another brine for the 2 hams – we injected the brine first and then placed the hams in the leftover brine to continue curing. These products will have to ferment and cure for several weeks, so I am not sure I will be able to taste the outcome. But the preparation was an education in and of itself, and has led to a lot more questions for me, mainly about the use of nitrites.

 

“Pink Salt”, spice blend for spicy sopressata and wood chips soaking

 

I guess it is a good thing that I don’t want to make sausages for a living, as Roberto and I have been avoiding foods with nitrites for several years now. I did a lot of reading this week about charcuterie, and it seems that if you are going to age anything that will not be cooked at some point, nitrites are used.  For example, you don’t need nitrites to cure bacon, since that will be hot smoked once it has cured. But you do use nitrites to make salami, sopressata and various other cured meats that will not be cooked.

 

Apparently nitrites are naturally occurring and can be found in dirt, rocks, etc as well in an abundance of vegetables, most notably beets and celery, which is what some producers of cured meats use in the place of “pink salt” ( “pink salt” is salt mixed with a smaller amount of powdered nitrites that is dyed pink so that you don’t sprinkle it on your eggs by mistake) when curing.  So even “Nitrate Free” foods still contain nitrites, even if it is just in the form of celery juice, because nitrites are naturally occurring.

 

Nitrites do two things when curing – preserves the food and contributes to aesthetics – namely color and taste. It reacts in the meat to form nitric oxide which retards rancidity and suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria, like the ones that cause botulism. However, nitrites react with amino acids in our digestive tract to create nitrosamines, known DNA-damaging chemicals.  Not only that, but you know it is harmful when it is suggested to use gloves when working with “pink salt” and other forms of curing salt. Yes, it is supposed to convert to something less harmful through the aging process, but can something like that ever be truly safe?

 

According to Harold McGee, the author of famed book : On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, “…yet at present there is no clear evidence that the nitrites in cured meats increase the risk of developing cancer…” yet he also exclaims in the same book when comparing the difference in taste between grass and grain-fed beef that “another important contributor to grass-fed flavor is skatole, which on its own smells like manure!” and also, “the saturated fats typical of meats raise blood cholesterol levels and can contribute to heart disease”. So personally, I think I will take his lax attitude towards nitrites with a grain of sea salt.

 

This issue of nitrites is something I definitely need to explore more. Like, is there a difference between naturally occurring nitrites, like celery juice and sodium nitrite which is added to many processed foods.  Luckily we don’t eat much cured meat or any processed foods.  Just bacon once a week…and our favorite prosciutto – Prosciutto di Parma which I also learned in the Harold McGee book,  is cured with sea salt not nitrites.

 

But the fact that an old and revered food art, like charcuterie has a long use of nitrites in its history is a little disheartening and I was pretty bummed to learn about it. I guess you can’t assume just because it is a traditional art, or because it is “natural” it is good for you.  I guess in the case of cured meats, it is the lesser of two evils – botulism or nitrites? I am not sure I like the odds.

 

If you have more information about nitrites, the differences (or NOT) between naturally occurring and things like “pink salt”, I want to hear about it! So please leave a comment.

The Bleater Sisters and Why I Grow My Own

(Iona and Inga, affectionately known as,”The Bleater Sisters”, getting acquainted with Claire, their new herd-mate)

If you haven’t seen my new blog, Got Goats? , please check it out. There are some great pictures and cute animal videos on there of our two Alpine Goats, Astrid and Claire as well as our two newest additions, two Shetland sheep – Iona and Inga. We have had some fun adventures getting to know them over the past week. I was joking on facebook over the weekend, that I have a new idea for an exercise video – “Getting in Shape with Sheep” – get a sheep or two, a nice big outdoor pen and a sheep lead, and then try to catch them. I promise, you will be in shape in no time!

So why all the animals? Yes, they are cute and good for your glutes, but that is not the reason we have them (well, not entirely, anyway). In the past year, since we moved to our little homestead in Northern Vermont, we have acquired 16 more animals, bringing us to a total of 19 animals under our care. For some people, it may seem like a lot. Some days, it FEELS like a lot. But it has become what we believe is vital for our health and our ability to thrive.

Moving from city or suburban life to the country has its growing pains, but for us, it was something we just had to do. Disillusioned with being a slave to the system that lets you have just enough money to pay the bills every month with no security was too risky for us. In a world becoming less and less secure every day, we decided to do away with things we didn’t really need and put that money into tangible things, practical purposes that will serve us over the long run in these hard economic times. So we have no cable, no iPods, and just one car. I cook the majority of our meals from scratch and we buy animals and seeds to feed ourselves, a small price to pay for security.

Food prices are increasing, the economy continues to plummet and they are finding everything from Staph to Ammonia in supermarket meat. Eggs, vegetables and peanut butter are getting recalled at an alarming rate.

(Delicious farm fresh egg, from our hens)

We have just had enough and have decided to take full responsibility for our health and food. As one of my heroes, Joel Salatin says, we have chosen to “opt-out” of our modern food system. This system is built on misinformation, disease – both for the animals we eat, and for us. Our food culture in the great USA, has become one based on fear, not food. Many people think is OK to eat supermarket meat with ammonia and processed foods full of additives, but raw milk, straight from the animal, is illegal in many states, and eating a raw egg from your own backyard hens or making your own lacto-fermented condiments gets people up in arms. This is pure madness and the only way I see out of it is to grow your own, or buy from local farms and businesses that you know and trust. Not only is this the best way to keep yourself healthy, but it contributes to keeping your local economy robust, and helping your neighbors to make a living doing one of the most natural things humans can do – providing fresh food.

I have been talking a lot recently about food sovereignty and the loss of our birthright to fresh, real foods. Another one of my heroes, Winona La Duke asks “How can you talk about sovereignty, if you can’t feed your people?” I believe this is why there has been an increase in young and women farmers in the past decade. People know that our food system is sick and are trying to help turn the tide by becoming active participants in making a better, more sustainable food system. In March Sedgewick, Maine became the first US town to declare Food Sovereignty for its people. What does this mean? It means that consumers there can choose to purchase local food from any food producer without the interference of government regulations. So if you want to buy eggs or raw milk from your neighbor, you can without the government stepping in, regulating it.

(My favorite local farm, Applecheek).

I have talked on this blog before about why I support local farms, and why I became a homesteader. It all comes down to whether you believe that you have the right to choose for yourself and your family what foods to eat. We are raising a lot of our food now because we don’t believe that the majority of food out there, at grocery stores, chain restaurants, airports, rest stops, etc. are safe. We personally believe that un-healthy food has become so much the norm, that it has basically infiltrated the entire food system. Restaurants and grocery stores more often than not, get their food shipped in from faraway places, rather than relying on the bounty of their own town, state, region or country for that matter. To us, that is about as broken a food system as you can get. By raising our food and purchasing from local farms and businesses, we are using our dollars to vote for something else. We are voting for a strong and healthier future, physically, and economically. The sheep, the goats and the chickens are all part of that future.

(The first egg from our flock of heritage breed hens)

But in order for me to sell eggs, or in the future dairy products to my neighbors or local community, I have to be in constant fear of breaking some rule or regulation that has no place. If people are allowed to risk cancer and liver cirrhosis everyday by smoking and consuming alcohol – all legal and sanctioned by the government, why in the world should it be so bloody hard to sell milk or eggs to your neighbor? I promise that I will get back to posting recipes soon. But these issues seem to be getting worse and worse every day and it is hard to post about recipes, when there is so much at stake, things that are just basic human necessities and rights, things that are so important for our future.

If these issues are important to you, here are some suggestions:
* Check out Local Harvest to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies. They also have an online catalog. Many local farms provide CSAs, herd-shares or farm-shares. In most areas you can find produce, dairy products and eggs locally.

* If you live in a big city, find some farms outside the city limits and talk to them about starting a buying club. You will be surprised that many already do this. Check out your local health food store and ask them to start carrying local products and if you do shop at the grocery store and they ask you when you are checking out if you found everything you were looking for – tell them no, you are looking for local produce/milk/eggs, etc. Voting with your dollars, meaning where you chose to buy your food, makes a big impact on the food system. The more people who “opt-out” or demand local food, the more the stores will have to start catering towards that. So be heard!

* If you have a yard of any kind, you will be surprised at how much you can grow. If local ordinances allow, and many do, you can raise a few backyard chickens for eggs or pygmy goats for milk. One of the best books about that is The Backyard Homestead: Produce all the food you need on just a quarter acre!Outdoor & Recreational Area Gardening Books). But even a small container garden on a patio or balcony can keep you in fresh veggies and herbs through the warm months – which are right around the corner, so start planning! If you want to learn more about raising backyard chickens for eggs or meat (one of the easiest animals to raise for food), check out my friend Diana’s post at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, Urban Chicken Keeping 101. Or if produce is your thing, check out Nourished Kitchen’s guide to Cold Weather Container Crops you can grow at home!

I don’t expect everyone to start homesteading and I know many people right now don’t believe they have the resources to find or buy good food. But it is out there, most likely not too far from you, and surprisingly affordable. Buying meat in bulk or subscribing to a CSA is cheaper than buying certain cuts of organic meat or organic produce at the grocery store and it is fresher too. Farmers want your business, they want to feed their local community and many will work with you to help you get the good stuff reasonably. You never know until you ask!

You don’t have to eat a 100% local or organic diet to make a difference either. It is about baby steps and small changes. Even if you make a commitment to buy what you can locally, or to buy only US produce, it is a lot. Don’t become dogmatic about it, or make yourself crazy, but do what you can and if you do what you can every day over the course of a year those small changes will make a big difference.
* Most importantly, keep up to date on local, state and federal regulations and ordinances that affect your ability to grow your own food or buy food direct from farmers or neighbors. If you disagree with what is happening to our food system, please let your voice be heard.

 

This is post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. Link up and share all that you do to live a simple and intentional life!

Musings on Homesteading, Dairy Goats and Future Plans

 

 

This is going to be a long one folks, so for that I apologize. I almost scrapped this post last night. It was one of those nights – I was questioning why I blog and feeling maybe like I was becoming too self-involved or narcissistic – “look at me and all this cool stuff I am doing”. People like that bug me so much, as if they invented blogging, organic gardening, farming or homesteading for that matter.  I try to keep a level head. But then I realized after sleeping on it, that part of why I blog is because I have transformed so much personally these past few years, and I know I have gotten SO MUCH inspiration from others who were already on the homesteading path well before me. Part of my Life’s Work is to bring back the old ways, simpler ways of living, old skill sets that people relied on for centuries. These skills are more and more rare in our modern world. It is my duty to share my story with others and help where I can. If my experiences can help anyone then having this blog is worth it.

 

 

 

As many of my facebook friends and readers know, Roberto and I welcomed two baby Alpine goats onto the homestead a week ago. This important event marks a long held dream for us and a real symbol of something we have been working towards for the past 3 years – the chance to live an honorable, sustainable life as stewards to the land and animals we raise on it.

 

 

The first year we spent looking for a place to call “homestead” in northern Vermont. Last year we started with a large kitchen garden and a mixed flock of heritage breed laying hens. This year we are introducing dairy animals, in the form of the Alpine goats and two Shetland sheep (soon to arrive).

I get to my computer later and later these days. We now have 17 animals on the homestead and will get up to 19 before the end of April, when the sheep come. The morning routine of caring for all these creatures, including bottle feeding the doelings for the next month, means I get settled to my computer and breakfast for the humans by 10:30 or so. I love it, and am happiest when I am outside taking care of everyone. This has made me think a lot about my future plans. Up until this point, my future plans were getting the animals. Now that I have achieved that, I am starting to think about what is next for me, us and our menagerie.

For one, I have started a new blog Got Goats?, where you can follow our goat (and sheep) adventures! It will be a mainly pictorial blog of the goats and sheep and their lives. I already have one about the dogs, so I figured why not the goats too ;) There are a few posts up – mostly pictures and a video. Which with this sup-bar internet connection we have can be frustrating.

 

I have been devoting a lot of kitchen time these past few months on cheese and dairy making as seen through my Let’s Get Cultured series  (with more to come). I am working on a lot of recipes for dairy products so once the goats and sheep are producing milk (late winter/ early spring 2012) I will already know what to do with all the milk! Initially I will be creating dairy products for our own consumption, but do hope to sell them locally, in time. We have already been selling our chicken eggs locally for the past few months. So I am definitely thinking about adding “food producer” to my titles of “food writer” and “food advocate”.

Sustainable agriculture and the local food movement have become so much a part of my life, especially in the last year that I can’t really separate it from my heart and my conscience and I need to be more actively involved. Not just by sitting at a computer and typing, or going to conferences, (both important) but by getting my hands dirty through hard work. The land has been calling me for over a decade and although I might have gotten sidetracked for a few years, I am finally coming back full circle to what I know, in my heart of hearts is my true calling. I have always loved sheep and goats and when I got to work with them over 10 years ago, living on the Navajo Reservation, I knew I was doing what I was meant to.

 

Me as an aspiring shepardess on the Navajo Reservation in 1998…

Someone in the Vermont Coalition for Food Sovereignty, which we recently joined, said to me that food sovereignty is a life and death issue, and I absolutely agree. Not only do I love these animals, but I love the healthy and life affirming foods that we can produce from them and the symbiotic relationship that develops between ruminant and handler, or shepardess, in my case. We live to care for them, and they live to nourish us. In this country where things have gotten so bad for small farms, preserving our inherent right to choose what we eat and where it comes from IS a matter of life and death.

Many people take the food we eat for granted. People are so disconnected from where their food comes from and how it gets to their table. Some know that a lot of animal products are not produced with the welfare of the animals that provide it accounted for. Too many that know close a blind eye to the reality of how animals raised on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) live and what it does to our environment. Heck many people don’t even want to think that in order to eat and live ourselves, we must kill. Many believe that it is too expensive to eat food that is made with respect to the animals and the environment, much to our universal detriment. I believe we are well past the point where we can afford not to be sustainable in our food systems.

As humans, we have lost our birth right. For at least 10,000 years humans have been working the land. Just in the last 500 years, since the Industrial Revolution did humans start working outside the home in mass numbers to make a living. But even then most families kept animals for food. Children grew up learning the skills needed to take care of themselves – to build houses, create heat, forage for food and grow it. Many of those children were in a better position, as children, than the adults of today. Where we sit right now, we as humans are in the worst health, physically, mentally, and spiritually. More people are seriously ill with chronic health conditions that clearly relates to the foods we eat. Our children are sick and in a world where 1 in 2 children will develop Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime (a lifestyle disease), we are well past excuses. Too many people live pay check to pay check and it only takes a disaster like Katrina or recent events in Japan to see what happens when the majority can no longer depend on the grocery store, mass transit, access to medications or oil.

 

My heart hurts when I look and see how unsustainable most of the world lives. In order for me to look in the mirror and feel like I am living an honorable life, I have to become a truly active partner in the relationship with our food system in a sustainable and respectful manner. At least I need to have the assurance that I can feed my family if a disaster were to occur. I wish it weren’t true but if faced with a disaster, the majority would become destitute before they would know how to take care of their families. We are in a bad place.

So just when I thought my days of institutionalized learning were far behind me, I spent all day yesterday getting a college application, letter of intent and college transcripts together so I can apply for Vermont Table, a summer course being offered at Sterling College, here in Vermont. It is a course that incorporates sustainable agriculture, culinary arts, food writing, local food systems, on farm food production and food entrepreneurism. My love and passion for animals and food are not enough, there is more practical knowledge that is needed and this course offers a holistic approach to this world view that I hold so dear. So I hope to be going back to school in about a month. It is only a summer course, but we will see where it leads, and it should get me on more sure footing when it comes to managing a small homesteader farm and selling products locally on the small scale, which gets me closer to my ultimate goal of homestead sustainability.

Please check out Simple Lives Thursday for more tips on living more simply.

Food Goals 2011!

Happy New Year to all my readers! I wish you all, health, happiness, love and prosperity in 2011! Blogging has given me all of these things, and I am eternally grateful for all of your support these past years. The Leftover Queen is going to be better than ever this year! So please make sure you are subscribed to my  email updates, RSS feeds,  and my NEW Monthly Newsletter (see box at the top right).  You aren’t going to want to miss a single post! This year I will be focusing more than ever on my homesteading adventures, cooking real food, making my own convenience foods, making dairy products and much, much more! Make sure you are following me on Facebook (if link does not work do a search for: The Leftover Queen) and Twitter (@leftoverqueen), I often post things on there that I don’t blog about, and there are often many interesting conversations going on!

Last year I made a list of food goals for myself – and I am happy to look back at them, and see that I accomplished every single one, even though I don’t think I looked at the list once since I wrote it. The only thing I didn’t accomplish was getting sheep and goats. But that is in the works and will *hopefully* be happening this spring. The barn is just waiting for them!

In 2010, after moving to Northern Vermont, I have basically become a full-time locavore. The majority of the foods we eat are local or something we have grown ourselves. If it isn’t local, we at least buy it from a local, independent store, instead of a chain. Even our holiday celebrations are locavore. This means we have eaten the freshest foods and best ingredients, while supporting our local economy, even in these hard times. It is because of this, that I am now, more than ever convinced that everyone, no matter what their economic situation is or how busy they are, can find a way to feed their family the best, freshest food possible. We are living proof of that truth – with full time jobs, raising animals, growing food plus all our other extra-curricular activities and crazy schedules. We always share dinner together at the table, as a family – every single day.

These are all good changes. I am extremely happy with how much I learned about homesteading this past year, and look forward to many more years on this journey. I have finally found my calling in life, and it is simple: become more sustainable, more self-reliant and bring back the old, tried and true ways of doing things. This is the best way I know how to honor and respect my ancestors. Something that is so important to my spiritual practices. This means constantly evolving and learning new skills and techniques – in the kitchen, the garden, the barn and the woodlands. I want to create the kind of life where when we have a family, our children will grow up with all these skills as second nature. Something neither Roberto nor I ever had.

This year, to continue on this journey, my goals are:

Food Goals 2011

Discover the foods of my ancestors and learn about the traditional preparation of those foods~

I have learned quite a lot about my ancestry this year. As an adoptee, this has been a lifelong journey, that I was finally able to get some answers to, after following my new year’s resolution in 2010 to get my DNA tested.  I strongly believe that the best foods for an individual to eat, are those foods that their ancestors ate. Which had a lot to do with motivation towards this goal.  As individuals we have come up through the ages, riding on the coat-tails of those that have gone before us. I wrote a bit about that in this post.

So look for recipes this year from the following cuisines, as I explore the foods of my ancestors: English, Scottish, German, Danish, Dutch and perhaps even some Mohawk recipes.

Play more with dairy products ~

My doctor told me that although wheat and gluten really mess my body up – that I am one of those rare people that have a good reaction to dairy – that it actually helps me, and gives me energy! This made me so happy! I love dairy. So although in 2010 I learned the techniques for making yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, cheeses, crème fraiche, etc, I want to perfect the recipes and play with them – learn to use them even more in my cooking and flavor them.

Play more with home-brewing techniques ~

I usually make a batch of limoncello every year – but now that we are not in Florida, it wouldn’t be a locavore thing to do. So I am thinking this year about mead. Something my ancestors definitely enjoyed and definitely using local ingredients.

Eat more liver, wild caught seafood and roe ~

All important components of a healthy fertility diet. This couples nicely with one of my personal goals and wishes for the new year! ;)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers and anyone else who is celebrating this holiday!

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year, because it is the only real harvest festival that is still celebrated by most everyone in America. I believe harvest days are still very important  times to celebrate and give thanks for the bounty, to take a minute out of our busy schedules to take stock (hee hee) of the important things in life, like food, family, friends, all that good warm and fuzzy stuff.  And although venison is not gracing my Thanksgiving table, like I had hoped for this year, I really can’t complain, because one of these guys is.

Photo Courtesy of Homestead Hatchery

It is a Standard Bronze Heritage Turkey that we got from Applecheek Farm and it is going to be getting a high heat, maple butter infused treatment in a few hours. I am thankful to this turkey for feeding my family for many meals to come. In a later post I will talk about having a truly local Thanksgiving to really get in touch with that harvest festival feel.

This year I wanted to stop and take a moment to give thanks for all the many blessings we have received this year. Most notably, moving to this beautiful part of the world, and beginning a life of purpose, living close to the land and its many creatures that feed us in one way or another. I am thankful for family and friends, new and old, a special reunion with my biological sister Myia, who I was able to meet less than 2 weeks ago. I am thankful for our animals that make life so fun – our indoor furry friends,  and our outdoor feathered friends.

I hope that all of my readers have a wonderful day today, whether you celebrate Thanksgiving or not, enjoying this day and all the blessings it brings.

The Politics of Food: Help Save Small Farms!

Cows at my favorite local farm, AppleCheek Farm

Do we as Americans have a right to chose the foods we eat? Seems like a simple enough question, and I am sure that many of you reading this, think of course we do! After all this is America, land of the free…But it would be a mistake to become complacent about the food that is available. Our complacency will lead to the extinction of small family farms and in turn local food systems. This is one of the MAJOR issues of our times. Think about it. Think how deep it goes, how over-arching. If Americans lose the right to chose what foods they eat, it is major infringement on our rights as a free people.

I know when we moved out to the country to start raising animals and vegetables for food, I had a lovely idyllic dream that one day, sooner than later, I would sell sheep and goat cheese at our many local farmers markets. It would be a way for me to share my love of these animals and the wonderful delicious and healthy food that can be made from their milk. The American Dream, right? Well for small farms it is more of a nightmare. In the name of food safety the government has passed and is soon to be passing more legislation that calls into question the ability of small farms to even operate and exist. Through this legislation small farms are set up for fines, seizures of product and even jail time. If we allow this to happen, where will it stop?

There is some legislation that is up for vote imminently. That is S510 designed to provide greater controls for food safety. However, if the bill passes the FDA with have greater control over the ability to execute raids, seize products and force recalls on small producers. The Farm-to-consumer Legal Defense Fund, who spoke about the bill at Wise Traditions, explained that the bill can be used to strategically drive small producers out of business all in the name of food safety. A similar story with the meat industry a few years ago. In that industry, USDA overwhelmed small plants with paperwork requirements, most of which had no real connection to safe food making their ability to operate business impossible.

We almost live in an idyllic world up here in Northern Vermont with so many family farms and local foods. As I write this, I think about what would happen if they were all of a sudden GONE. Or if the friends I have that run these farms were raided by people armed with automatic weapons, traumatizing their children, families and animals. Not so idyllic is it? Everyday these small farms are living on the edge of ruin and our government is doing all they can to make that a reality, all in the name of food safety.

Now before I delve into this any deeper, let me ask you, are cigarettes legal? How about alcohol? And what about high fructose corn syrup? Yep. All legal and all studied and shown to major health problems and even death. So how in the world is drinking raw milk or eating raw cheese more of a threat? How is producing and eating foods that have proven over the test of time to be healthy and nutrient dense foods, warrant SWAT-like raids on small family farms when you can walk to your local convenience store and easily get all three of the other above mentioned foods? The government allows our citizens to chose to ingest harmful things, but is taking away our rights to eat foods that are good for us. Does that make any sense? Many of us chose not to consume those products, and those people who fear raw milk products, based on mis-information can also chose not to consume those products. But to allow raids and product seizures thereby not allowing the public to chose…that is at the very heart of our independence.

Please go watch the trailer to the upcoming movie, Farmageddon!

So if you care about small and local farms, support them. But I ask that you take it a step further. Contact your local senators and voice your concerns. Visit the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund for how and what to say to your senators.

You can also help those family farms who have already had their products seized, their lives in ruin. Even $5 can help these families get the legal aid they need to get back to doing what they do best, farming.

PLEASE CLICK ON THESE LINKS TO DONATE!

Estrella Family Creamery
Click here to lend your support to: Help the Estrella Family Creamery and make a donation at www.pledgie.com !

Morningland Dairy
Click here to lend your support to: Uncheese Party and make a donation at www.pledgie.com !

Please go see Kelly The Kitchen Kop for more posts like this!

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!