Years ago, I scoffed at the homeliness of sauerkraut. I thought of it as that gray stuff that is slogged onto hot dogs at ballparks. I could have never imagined then that learning to prepare and love pickled cabbage would be one of the most fundamental shifts in my career, health and outlook on the world.
Sauerkraut krept into my life first by hearing about it in Holistic Nutrition School. I had just started recovering from adrenal fatigue and blood-sugar related health issues after having exhausted myself in Fine Dining for a few years out of culinary school. (It may surprise you to know that cooks and doctors are reported to have the worst diets!) My Naturopath got me onto numerous supplements, of which I found the probiotics to be the most helpful. Having regained my energy and passion for cooking, I switched gears, started working at Radha Eatery, a plant-based restaurant in Vancouver, and was inspired by my co-worked and now co-instructor, Cedana Bourne to go to CSNN to compliment the whole-food education I was getting at work.
The probiotics that I was taking in pill form had to come from somewhere in food, I thought. I knew that they were in yogurt, but where else could they be found? What are probiotics? I found out that they are healthy bacteria- microflora in our guts, mucous membranes and even our skin. Without these helpful bacteria, we would be unable to absorb nutrients or fend off invasive bacteria and yeasts. I learned that in modern lifestyles, these bacteria are at risk! We are killing them off with antibiotics, chlorinated water and by not consuming them as part of a traditional diet! The good news though is that they are found in an abundance of traditionally prepared, fermented foods including sauerkraut! It was time for me to take my health into my own hands. And re-claim the ancient skill of preserving food by the often slow process of fermentation.
Fermenting food is basically leaving it out of refrigeration for long enough for micro-organisms; wild or selected, to eat sugar, transforming the food nutritionally and flavour-wise. Two simple ingredients: cabbage and salt was transformed over time and in the right conditions by probiotic wild bacteria and yeasts to become wonderfully sour, probiotic and enzyme rich, and naturally preserved without heat or vinegar! Fermented foods have benefits ranging from health-enhancement of individuals and groups by preserving cultural traditions to environmental benefits from lessening dependence on packaged and far-way foods and preserving local foods through the winter.
Cedana is a fermentor. We met as she was making sourdough flatbreads in the restaurant. Our friendship blossomed over kombucha tea, making beer together and then daring to make other fermented projects like sauerkraut, kimchi, brined pickles and more. We started ‘culture club’ meetings for awhile, inviting people from all over who had interests in real food, slow food and especially fermented food. We shared sourdough bread and cinnamon buns, beer, mead, homebrew wines, pickles, fresh cheeses and the stories about how we made them. I had begun to have a sense of community in this urban tribe of do-it-yourself foodies. Inspired my books like Wild Fermentation by Sandor Katz, we embarked upon fun food adventures. I started specializing in preparing sauerkraut (maybe a generational memory from the German Grandmother who I never got to meet?). I had begun healing my health issues by learning to prepare whole foods, especially traditionally fermented ones. Check out this article in the Globe and Mail about my ‘fermentation fetish’.
What most of us foodies had in common was that we were learning these skills by seeking them out. This started conversations about why these skills were being lost. How long ago was it that our families lived on farms? Grew and preserved all their own food? Turns out that nearly all foods have a history of having been fermented, and all cultures fermented foods. As time=$ in these modern times, the slow traditional foods are being replaced by poor ‘food-like products’ like processed cheese vs. the real thing, vinegar pickles with sulfites for added crunch vs. fermented pickles and more.
All of this enrichment of my life: connecting with people, reclaiming a skill, my health and even being inspired to teach other people how to make fermented foods (which began my path as a culinary instructor!) I can trace back to and give my deepest gratitude for sauerkraut and the people who inspire and teach me how to make traditional foods from many different food traditions.
Many of you may have heard of ‘slow foods’. The slow food movement started in Italy as a backlash against the fast food movement and lifestyle. In honour of slow, traditional and real food, I am announcing an event that we are doing as part of the Slow Food Vancouver Earth Day Fundraiser. On April 21 at 10 am I will be at the Nat Bailey Farmer’s Market talking about the importance of preserving food traditions. All are welcome!
On Earth Day, April 22 I am teaching a fermented foods class. 15% of profit goes to Slow Food Vancouver and Slow Food members get a 15% discount. Click here and scroll down for the menu and to register.