Home Fermentation of Vegetables: A Modern Resurgence of Classic Preservation Techniques

Home Fermentation of Vegetables: A Modern Resurgence of Classic Preservation Techniques

Egyptian Fermentation Containers

Egyptian Fermentation Containers

For thousands of years, people have been fermenting their home-grown vegetables for their own consumption. It started out due to the need to preserve foods for as long as possible without modern refrigeration. Since then, the popularity of fermented foods has increased and decreased, but lately many more people have been returning to old techniques.

Essentially, fermented vegetables are ‘the flavorful space between fresh and rotten’; at least The Art of Fermentation author Sandor Katz thinks so. They are actually vegetables which have had their starches and sugars converted into lactic acid – a naturally-formed preservative which stops ‘bad’ bacteria from growing. It sounds gross, but fermented vegetables taste great! Some common examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, pickles, kefir – even ketchup and mayonnaise started out their lives as fermented foods before they became mass produced.

It is believed that thousands of years ago, wine, cheese and bread were the original fermented foods. Alcohol probably started it all off over 7,000 years ago in what is now known as Iraq (formerly Babylon). In addition, hunter-gatherers may have eaten fermented and rotting fruits when food was scarce. Having to continue to eat this over time would have led them to develop a taste for fermented fruits. Evidence of bread (another fermented food) has been found in 3,500 year-old Egyptian tombs, and fermented milk and meat products are also thought to have been invented in Babylon.

These fermentation techniques and recipes were passed down through the generations, being developed as they went, to become what they are today. You may think you know a lot about modern bread and alcohol fermenting techniques, but when it comes to vegetables, there’s a big difference in how they were fermented in the past to the techniques used today.

One modern technique is to ferment the vegetables in a clay crock, before transferring them to jars, but a far quicker and tastier option is to simple ferment the vegetables while already in glass Mason jars.

Modern Fermentation of Cabbage (Sauerkraut)

Almost any vegetables can be fermented, but cabbage is a great starting point. It is important to remember that fermentation intensifies flavors, so onion, garlic and some herbs will be too overpowering. The washed and shredded vegetables need to be squeezed until their juices come out, then a little salt, celery juice or starter culture (such as kefir grains or whey, for example) should be added. Salt is the traditional ingredient; its purpose is to inhibit the growth of bacteria which will cause the food to putrefy. The more salt that is used, the slower the fermentation process will be. Next, once placed in the jar, the vegetables must be pushed down firmly to remove all oxygen, which unwanted bacteria need to grow. Within the jar, the vegetables should be weighed down (covering them with a cabbage leaf is perfect), before the lid is tightly sealed. The jars need to be kept in a warm environment – room temperature should be fine – in order for the fermentation process to take place. The length of time that this will take varies from a couple of days to a few weeks. To a large extent it depends on taste, so keep tasting it by dipping in a sterilized spoon. Once it’s ready, it can be moved to the refrigerator and enjoyed!

With improving knowledge and technology, fermenting vegetables at home is becoming easier, quicker and more efficient. Techniques have changed a lot since the cavemen tried this out, but the principle and some of the ingredients remain the same to this day. As you can see, home fermentation of vegetables is actually a surprisingly simple process, so you have no excuse not to test out this time-honored, classic tradition yourself!

Living a Self-Sustained Lifestyle: Crazy or Just Plain Smart?

Self Sustained Living - Crazy or Just Plain Smart?With the rising cost of living and resurgence in the popularity of growing your own fruit and vegetables, becoming self-sustained is an increasingly appealing option. However, to do it properly, it is more than just a hobby; it becomes an entire lifestyle. Yes, you may be living a more independent and healthy lifestyle, but it will be hard work and you’ll be amongst the minority. Is living a self-sustained lifestyle worth it? I will address some of the things you will encounter as you attempt to live more self-sufficiently.

If you succeed in becoming self-sufficient, you will be able to provide everything that your family needs, without having to rely on any outside suppliers (or the government for that matter). You will build a knowledge base and skill set which will likely surprise yourself. There is no way to go about this half-heartedly; you will need drive, determination and motivation, and you’ll need it in bucket loads.

There are many reasons why you may choose to go down a self-sustained route. For some, it may be something like the desire to be prepared in case of an emergency. Should there be a global, political, economic or environmental crisis, you will be ready to bounce back and continue with your life quicker than others. On the other hand, you may be thinking purely of the environment. There is no doubt that becoming self-sufficient dramatically reduces your carbon footprint; so if you  are conscious about how your actions are affecting the planet and future generations, then this is a way to alleviate any self-imposed guilt. Furthermore, by becoming self-sufficient, the food that you eat is certainly going to be healthier as well. By becoming self-sufficient, you will eliminate the pesticides and other chemicals applied to food that is produced in bulk for mass consumption. Not only is this great for your own health, but it great for the health of the environment as well.

Home Cooked Meals with the FamilyOne of the biggest influencing factors for people to become self-sufficient is the sense of personal satisfaction that they achieve. There is nothing more satisfying than eating a meal made from food that you’ve grown, prepared and cooked yourself! My opinion is that any effort you put into self-sustained living is worth the time. We need to be examples to the next generations. We simply cannot sustain this generational mindset that the government will take care of everyone. There simply isn’t enough money in the coffers to accomplish that socialistic pipe dream.

Another massive advantage to being self-sufficient is that your living costs will go down over time. It is true that you may have some start-up costs, such as buying dried goods like rice and beans in bulk for long term storage or seeds to plant in your garden. However, the amount of food you receive for the initial investment far outweighs the cost of purchasing the products from the grocery store. You will also want to consider purchasing local grass fed beef, local organically raised pork and chicken for long term freezer storage. If you have the land, consider raising the livestock yourself. Over time, you will more than pay for the up-front bulk purchase and storage costs with the amount you save on grocery shopping. Keep in mind, however, you will need to balance these out against the costs. Buying a side of beef and a hog once or twice a year is more expensive up front however; the price per pound will be significantly lower. When you are trying to save money, is spending hundreds of dollars to get yourself set up worth it?

One of the most appealing, fun and rewarding things about taking on this lifestyle is the new range of skills that you are going to learn. Don’t know how to skin a rabbit, make your own soap, or fix a leaky roof? More basically, if you do not know how to cook from scratch with whole foods, you will soon enough! It is all about trial and error and learning. Grandma's Cookbook RecipesDon’t be afraid to try a new food like rabbit or make a meal from a cookbook your grandmother had her entire life. In fact, one of the most rewarding things my family enjoys are simple home cooked meals that we share around our family dinner table. Knowing that I produced the food on the table makes it all the more rewarding.

However, it is important to remember that it is almost impossible for a single person (and even a single family) to do everything themselves. Think back to centuries ago, before the advent of technology, when everyone farmed their own food and washed their clothes by hand – even then, people did not do everything themselves. There was a lot of trade, so they still had to rely on each other. In that sense, it would almost be better to have a whole self-sufficient community. Trying to convince your neighbors and friends to follow suit may be a challenge! So many people have grown up in the “handout generation” that they may not have a clue about where to start. The important thing is not to be too hard on yourself. Self-sufficiency is a difficult lifestyle initially.  Don’t be afraid to ask others who live the lifestyle for help whenever you need it.

All in all, the decision on whether or not to have a self-sustained lifestyle does not have to be a difficult one. I will concede that it is certainly not a way of life that will suit everyone. However, it does have many advantages, namely the sense of freedom and feeling of control over your lifestyle that it will give you. To many, it may seem like living a self-sustained lifestyle is crazy – the hard work and upfront costs might feel like more effort than they are worth. It is more of a mindset that you do not have to be dependent upon commercial suppliers of processed foods. You can easily consume home grown and healthy foods. It just takes more planning up front. You do not have to be dependent on the government to take care of you. You are in control of your life, not the politicians in Washington, DC.Politicians Don't Control Your Life

Those who have already made the transition to a self-sustained lifestyle would probably argue that they are just plain smart! They can live simply, how they wish, without needing to rely on anyone for anything. Ultimately, it all comes down to you as an individual, and as a family. What do you ultimately want to achieve? Are you prepared to put in all of the hard work and dedication? If you think that the pros of living a self-sustained lifestyle outweigh the cons – if you think you have what it takes – then you may well end up having the last laugh!