Here’s what happening in the Handmaiden’s Kitchen
My Amish friends, kind purveyors of terrific raw milk, butter, cream, eggs and produce, also have a yard for their chickens that is mostly a haven for lambs quarters in prodigious quantities. They don’t eat lambs quarter themselves, so they allow me to go and harvest as much as I like while we’re there. I’ve been freezing it for wintertime eating. When I bring home the bags of these nutritious greens, I take all the leaves off the stems (composting the stems, natch). The leaves get blanched in boiling water for three to five minutes, then poured into a collander (save the water you boil it in--it’ll have lots of vitamins and use it as part of a soup stock or drink it). I run cool water over the lambs quarter and when it is cool, put in it ziplock bags, marking the date and toss it in the freezer. Prodigal Gardens explains it well, and has some terrific recipes too. Actually, I’m feeling a bit guilty about this--I should tell Joaz and Lydia why I harvest and eat the lambs quarters--I don’t think they realize how nutritious it is. As it is though, they have so many vegetables in their gardens that I doubt they have time for this “weed.”
The tomatoes have come in and are doing their best to keep me very busy. I haven’t canned them so far, though I will probably end up doing a batch or three. I’ve been making tomato sauce and freezing that. A basic tomato sauce is super easy to make, mostly because I don’t bother peeling and seeding them. Saute up some garlic and onions, add a bunch of cut up ripe tomatos, some chopped up basil, oregano and parsley (dried if you don’t have it fresh), some wine or water and salt/pepper and cook it til it tastes mama mia good. I have one of those handheld blender things--and what a great tool for the kitchen that thing is!--and so I blend it well when it has cooked enough. Yum. Tomato sauce is one of those universally useful foods to have around. If you’re as poor as we are all probably going to be, some fried corn mush topped with tomato sauce and cheese can make an excellent dinner.
Mostly what I’ve been doing, however, involves lacto fermentation, which is something you should know about. You can read about it here, here and here.
Lacto fermentation is a method of preserving food with the added bonus of making that food extra delicious and healthy for you. Here’s what Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions has to say:
"It may seem strange to us that, in earlier times, people knew how to preserve vegetables for long periods without the use of freezers or canning machines. This was done through the process of lacto-fermentation. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. Starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted into lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria. These lactobacilli are ubiquitous, present on the surface of all living things and especially numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. Man needs only to learn the techniques for controlling and encouraging their proliferation to put them to his own use, just as he has learned to put certain yeasts to use in converting the sugars in grape juice to alcohol in wine."
Lacto-fermentation is ancient, preserves food, and makes the vegetables, fruits and beverages easier to digest while increasing vitamin content and adding probiotics to your diet. If you have a root cellar or other cool place where you can store foods long term, then you should learn how to ferment your own vegetables. If you have a love for pickles and other sour-tart foods, you’ll love fermented vegetables. As Fallon points out, this is a worldwide custom, every culture knew how to ferment vegetables and fruits to preserve them and to make them even more nutritious.
The basic process is this: Pick the best vegetables or fruits available to you--organic if possible. Clean and cut up the vegetable, usually diced or shredded. Put the vegetable in a bowl and pound it to get some of its juices going. Put it in a clean glass jar, then add some sea salt, whey and water. Leave an inch of head space in the jar, then put the lid on tightly. Leave at room temperature (about 70 degrees) for a few days. This gives the lactobacillus time to ferment. When it tastes sour/tangy to you, then you can store it in the fridge or in the root cellar or another cool place. Sally Fallon explains this in her article and her cookbook. It is very simple and cheap and will preserve your vegetables for months. There are recipes available on the web, just google lacto-fermented recipes and you’ll find them. I’ve talked about vegetables here because I haven’t tried fruit yet. I keep my fermented veggies in the fridge for now, but will put them in the root cellar or cold room when we get that going.
Where you get whey: If you can get raw milk, you can make your own curds and whey. Raw milk left at room temperature will sour, but it doesn’t go bad, at least not in the few days you leave it out. Pasturized milk will definitely go bad left at room temp. I leave a quart or two of raw milk at room temp for two to four days (the time varies because “room temperature” can vary). When the milk has separated, you pour the milk through cheesecloth, allowing the liquid (whey) to collect in a pot, and keeping the curds in the cheesecloth. I use a collander lined with cheesecloth, and when most of the whey has gone into the pot underneath the collander, I gently tie up the cheesecloth onto a wooden spoon placed on top of the collander. I allow the when to drip off the curds for 8 to 10 hours or so (overnight) and in the morning, I have a quart of whey, and some cream cheese in the cheesecloth. I store the whey in a quart jar in the fridge, and use up the cream cheese in recipes. The whey will keep for months. You can add a tablespoon of whey to a cup of soup or water for extra nutritional value, but mostly I use the whey in fermenting. In the 19th century, there were lots of whey houses (think coffee houses or oxygen bars) and it was renowned for its health-giving properties.
“Whey is such a good helper in your kitchen. It has a lot of minerals. One tablespoon of whey in a little water will help digestion. It is a remedy that will keep your muscles young. It will keep your joints movable and ligaments elastic. When age wants to bend your back, take whey . . . With stomach ailments, take one tablespoon whey three times daily, this will feed the stomach glands and they will work well again.” Hanna Kroeger, Ageless Remedies from Mother’s Kitchen (p. 87 in Nourishing Traditions)
If you can’t get whey, you can make piima milk by purchasing some good non homogenized whole milk and adding piima culture. I haven’t looked but I’m sure you can find piima culture to buy through google or check your local health food store. Once you have piima milk, you can then make your whey and cream cheese curds--just leave at room temp for a few days until it separates. Note I am not talking about whey powder here--this is the liquid stuff.
Using lacto-fermentation, I’ve made beet kvass, a very healthy tonic drink. Tart and pleasingly sour, it will strengthen your liver and alkalize and clean your blood. This couldn’t be easier: peel two to three raw beets, dice them up, put in a quart jar and add one tablespoon sea salt and four tablespoons whey. Fill the jar with filtered or clean water and let sit at 70 degrees for a few days, then refrigerate. Leave the beets right in the jar. Once you’ve drank all the liquid, you can refill the jar with water, leave out for two days, then in the fridge again. I’ve been reading that you can also ferment herb teas, which sounds very interesting. More on that later.
Another thing I’ve fermented is gundru. This is a survival food from Nepal, “poor people” food. Gundru can be made from spinach or any other green. And it doesn’t require any salt or whey! All you do is clean the greens, cut them up into small slices, then use a rolling pin to crush the greens more and get their juices working. Cram as much as possible into a clean jar and put on a tight lid. Leave out at room temp. Next day, pound on the greens in the jar again using a wooden spoon. Then you leave it out for 10 days. At the end of 10 days, the greens will smell tart and fermented, like they’ve been cured. The lactobacilli on the surface of the greens will have done their job. If there is any excess water, drain it, and then put the cured leaves out in the sun to dry. It took the batch I did one day to sun dry (it was hot as hell that day). I then put the greens into a small jar and I’ll add them to soups and stews. The gundru taste interesting--it is a good addition to the Greens Jar for adding to wintertime food.
Then there’s purlane stems fermenting and watermelon rind, using the basic salt, whey, water method. As well as some Amish cider that is fermenting in a slightly more alcoholic mode.
There’s other projects going on as well, freezing and drying foods, but this has gotten too long. With life and times about to get harder for most of us, I’m trying to learn ways to harvest free, healthy food, and preserve them for my family. Anything we can do to heighten our nutrition will lessen our need for doctors. And if we’re eating a lot of basic rice and beans, it will help that our vegetables are preserved in ways that make them tasty, interesting and good for us. Give fermentation a try--all our ancestors did.