About a year ago I read, or started reading a book called Nourishing Traditions. It is huge with tons of information in it and I still haven't read everything yet. Basically, it teaches that the foods and preparation of foods that traditional peoples used was the healthiest. For instance, many cultures eat large quantities of fat, either in the form of actual meat and the fat on it, or in fresh milk/milk produts, eggs, nuts etc. Yet, they have little to no heart disease, obesity or health problems in general, including perfect teeth. Another practice was to soak or pre-digest grains and flours, legumes and nuts before cooking and eating them. This was to break down a substance that inhibited the nutrients in the food from being readily absorbed in the body.
Now, at first it is very intimidating. Fermentation is just not a popular thing with most people, nor is taking time to prepare foods slowly. However, I have made gradual changes over the last year, and I'm sharing them with you all.
Let's start with breakfast. We generally eat all natural good quality eggs in any form several days a week, at least 4 times. We enjoy cooking them in virgin coconut oil, which oddly tastes great on the eggs. Who'd have thunk it?
On other days we eat our beloved Scottish oatmeal. My kids really like it, so I make 1.5cups dry oatmeal, which probably comes out to 3-4cups cooked. Oats contain phytates, which is a substance that inhibits the nutrients from being broken down and absorbed in the body. So, at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours before you eat it, you soak the oats in filtered water and an acidic medium. The preferred is whey, which is from milk or yogurt, or good quality buttermilk, kefir (a fermented milk) or if there are severe milk allergies, vinegar. I keep buttermilk on hand all the time, so that is my usual choice. When cooked, the oatmeal has a slight tang, like good buttermilk biscuits. We top ours with cinnamon, raw honey or brown sugar and some milk. I also make pancakes, muffins etc. and remember to soak the flour about half the time :)
While we are on the topic of soaking, I have finally found THE way to cook beans. I was terrible at cooking dried beans because the after effects were not pleasant. So I didn't cook them very much. After I read Nourishing Traditions, I decided to try it the way it said to in the book. You take your beans, however much you want to cook, wash them, and then soak them in warm water and a couple of tablespoons of vinegar or 1/4 cup of whey.( I used Bragg's Apple Cider vinegar because it's 'living') Let them soak at least 12 hours, drain water, put beans in pot with lots of fresh water, and slowly let it come up to a simmer. Let them simmer on low for a few hours, until tender, then season as desired. Works great, no after effects :) This method works for all types of beans except lentils, which only need about 7hrs to soak. This same process is also used for whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, bulgur wheat, millet, and quinoa. (prounounced keen-wah)
Dairy products- I actually found a source of raw milk close by. Why raw milk? Well, during the pasteurization process, many of the enzymes necessary for digesting the milk are destroyed, and ultimately the nutritional value is lowered significantly. People drank milk straight from the source for how many years? Obviously the world didn't die out so it must have been a good thing. We buy two gallons of raw goat milk every two weeks. It is expensive, but I supplement it with organic milk from the store to help stretch it. The goat milk is specifically for drinking. We eat storebought yogurt as of now (I'm in love with the Brown Cow brand full fat plain yogurt with honey on top). I tried to make yogurt from the goat milk, but it flopped majorly.
Speaking of fermentation, I have been brewing an interesting drink called kombucha. It is a drink made from regular ole tea and white sugar. BUT, you place a 'mushroom' or scoby it is called, which is a large pancake looking mass of bacteria basically. They are the good guys though. They convert the sugar and caffeine into an excellent form of probiotics and natural detoxifiers. It's taken awhile, but I finally got the recipe adjusted to something we really like. What is neat about this thing is that each time you make a batch, the 'mother' mushroom creates a new 'baby' one, so then you have two. Now you can make two separate batches and end up with 4 scobies and so on...
Nourishing Traditions also explains that traditional breads were not made from commercial yeast, and that yeast is a relatively 'new invention'. People made sourdough bread with starter. The one in the book is a rye starter. Very simple- you take a cup of rye flour, a cup of water and mix together, then leave in a warm place with a breathable covering (towel, cheesecloth) over it. You actually 'catch' a wild yeast, and then each day for 7 days you add more flour and water. Then you have enough starter to make some bread. Candy graciously brought me some of her starter and saved me the time of creating another one since mine didn't make the move. Can't wait to try her Amazing bread recipe. ** I have pictures of the starter and me adding to it, but I can't get them to load. I will try again later.
Apparently, people also used to ferment or pickle just about everything before refrigeration. The good lactobacilli would inhibit the growth of bad bacteria and render a very digestible chocked full of the good guys (probiotics- good bacteria) quality food. Here is a step by step process for making the 'real' lacto-fermented pickles. I was originally going to do this with some fresh cucumbers from someone's garden, but I just didn't have time before they needed to be used up. So, I just used regular cucumbers from the store and peeled them.
Here is the general set up and recipe from the book.
I peeled and sliced the cucumbers about 1/4 inch thick. In they go into a quart sized jar- actually this jar might be a bit bigger, not sure. I pour in the whey that I drained from a container of yogurt. *Note to self, do not try to use fat free yogurt to get whey, because you don't get much! That's what I get for being cheap.
Then I add the whole mustard seeds, the wonderful smelling fresh dill weed, and a tablespoon of salt. I use Real Salt, which is salt extracted from the ocean sea bed and contains all the minerals and the reason why it looks like beach sand. Then I added two cups of filtered water, stirred it a bit, and closed the lid. It is important for the lid to be tight fitting for this one. Then I sit it in a corner of the kitchen for two days to ferment. They are then transferred to cold storage, or the refrigerator. The texture will not be crisp and crunchy like pickles made with vinegar, and the last time I made them I didn't have the dill or mustard seed, I think I used garlic instead. I will be reporting on how this batch turns out in a few days.
One other basic skill of cooking the Nourishing Traditions way is making homemade meat stocks. I was doing this regularly for awhile, but somehow got out of the habit of it. Stocks made from the bones of chickens, cows and fish provide a very nourishing powerhouse of nutrition. This is not a hard process. For awhile I was using my stockpots and simmering my stocks in it. Then I learned that I could use my large crockpot to cook a stock. You take either a whole chicken, cut up or left whole, or leftover chicken bones, put in crockpot with half to a whole onion, a carrot, a stick of celery, some whole peppercorns (if desired), a bay leaf and a little salt, cover with water, and add approximately 1/4c vinegar to the mix. Let sit for an hour or overnight. The vinegar draws out all the nutrients from the bones and veggies. Then turn the crockpot on low and let cook for 10 hours. Afterwards, strain stock and cool, then either refrigerate, use it right away or freeze. Boy does it make such a difference in homemade soup or anything that calls for broth.
Now, while I do try to make the healthiest food possible for my family, I have to be practical. I don't have access or money to buy all organic foods. We do have three tomato plants that are producing tomatoes, and access to produce stands, but as far as meat goes, we stick to ground turkey and other turkey products, chicken and a little beef. Pork doesn't agree with us too well. We eat lots of veggies, either in salads, fresh or frozen. But, my kids eat goldfish crackers, juice from frozen concentrate, occasional cereal and the homemade treats I make. All in moderation here. I could do a lot better with our diet as far as cutting the sugar more, but isn't that part of being a kid? The sheer excitement and enjoyment of eating a cookie or a popsicle? Hey, at least it is homemade :)
Here is the set up- bowl with strainer, cheesecloth, then yogurt. You can see the whey in the above picture where I am pouring it into the cucumbers.
If you are wondering how you get whey from yogurt, here is how. I have a sieve that I lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel will work and set it over a bowl. I pour the plain yogurt into the sieve and let sit for several hours or overnight. The whey drips down into the bowl and the yogurt becomes firmer and 'yogurt cheese'. So now you have whey and cheese, or curds and whey Little Miss Muffet, ha,ha!