a few years ago i read a great book called wild fermentation, by sandor katz.  (http://www.amazon.com/Wild-Fermentation-Flavor-Nutrition-Live-Culture/dp/1931498237/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357673966&sr=1-1&keywords=wild+fermentation) if you are at all interested in this topic then run, don’t walk, to your nearest library and request a copy… it is filled with clear explanations, as well as yummy recipes and fun stories.

in this really great book, he talks a lot about the benefits of lacto-fermentation. at first, i will confess that i thought lacto-fermenting had something to do with milk, but i was happy to learn that not only was it dairy free, but it was also cheap and super easy. the nutritional benefits are awesome, and the support for your immune system that comes from pumping up your supply of “good bacteria” is definitely worth your time.

here is a great and easy-to-understand definition i found of lacto-fermentation on about.com:

Lacto-fermentation is the process that produces traditional dill pickles, kimchi and real sauerkraut. It takes nothing more than salt, vegetables and water – no canning, no fancy equipment.

This simple process works because of the lucky fact that bacteria that could be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, but there are healthy bacteria (think yogurt) that can. I think of them as the bad guys vs. the good guys. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad guys in its first stage, then lets the good guys get to work during stage two.

The good guys on the salt-tolerant team are called Lactobacillus. Several different species within this genus are used to produce fermented foods.

The benefits of eating food with live, Lactobacillus bacteria include a healthier digestive system and speedy recovery from yeast infections. They are also supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties and be useful in preventing certain kinds of cancer.

In stage one of lacto-fermentation, vegetables are submerged in a brine that is salty enough to kill off harmful bacteria. The Lactobacillus good guys survive this stage and begin stage two.

In stage two of lacto-fermentation, the Lactobacillus organisms begin converting lactose and other sugars present in the food into lactic acid. This creates an acidic environment that safely preserves the vegetables – and gives lacto-fermented foods their classic tangy flavor.

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a friend in seattle is putting together a resource sheet and wanted to list the garden spring. i asked her how she heard about it, and she told me that a friend of hers in LA read this blog (from way back when), and back when i posted about moving to seattle, he got in touch with her and told her to look out for me. she sent me a link to his website, and guess what he does?

http://www.brassicaandbrine.com/

he makes lacto-fermented food!
so, i took this as a sign that it was time to post about it.
i just made a big batch of sauerkraut and am currently contemplating kimchi (although i have never tasted it, reading about it is making me curious…).
the first time i did lacto-fermenting, i was sure it was too easy and that meant i was messing it up. basically you put salt on your veggie of choice and then cover it with some water. i used distilled, but i can’t remember if that was mandatory, or if it was just preferred. the person i learned from uses a plate to weigh down the veggies under water so they stay submerged and will ferment, but i filled a big ziploc bag with water and put that over the top and then put the whole thing into a clear cookie jar type of thing on the counter. then it’s pretty much just watch and wait. the longer you wait, the more potent it gets. my friend makes her kraut to eat medicinally with meals, so she puts like a teaspoon on the side of the plate, but when i was at her house, i ate about 2 cups… i will justify that by saying that my gut has a lot of healing it needs to do, but i will also tell you that it was super yummy!
what’s the difference between this and the stuff you buy in the store (jars of pickles or sauerkraut or whatever)? that stuff is cooked when it’s processed, so the nutrients are pretty much dead. the good bacteria that you could ideally get out of these foods aren’t there when they’ve been heated in order to be pickled in a processing plant. they are delicious, don’t get me wrong; they just aren’t intestinally friendly in the same way as lacto-fermented foods are.
so, in the spirit of building you up and giving you something to read to pass the winter days, this is my latest suggestion.
just be forewarned- it will make it really hard to wait for summer😉