Simple Scrumptous Sauerkraut

I was not raised eating this lovely food.   My Italian momma's table was always brimming with veggies - but pickling cucumbers in the summer (canning with vinegar) was the closest I came to the tangy goodness of what I would later discover.  One of my parent's favorite expressions while introducing new food to us was 'broaden your horizons!'   The only sauerkraut experience I'd ever had was watching people pile it atop their hot dogs at a baseball game in the summer.... the sour smell mixing with the stale onions in the heat.  Not too appealing - and so, the strange and slimy-looking condiment was never part of my horizon-broadening experience. Now.  ERASE the image I just painted for you.

After tasting it myself - I will tell you it is NOT what I thought.  It is refreshing and crisp.  Tangy and salty.  If you like pickles, you'll probably love sauerkraut.

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I was amazed to learn that the concept of fermenting vegetables was a very common practice before industrialization (and the demand for mass quantities) changed the way that people preserved their food.  I had heard of a 'pickle barrel' but never realized that those pickles could be kept in that barrel ( in a cellar for months on end ) - because they were being magically preserved in a brine... they had been fermented.

Once again - (the old me) - heard the word 'fermented' and thought of stinky cheese.  Rotten leftovers in the fridge, left to putrefy.   But actually, the process of lacto-fermentation is quite amazing.  Adding lacto-bacilli (in the form of whey) to vegetables and allowing them to ferment, actually boosts the nutritional value of the vegetables themselves.  It takes them beyond simply being preserved (which is great in itself) and turns them into a SUPERFOOD!

"The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine."  (get more in-depth here)

If that's not enough to get you excited - here is another great link with MORE reasons why.

You may already love sauerkraut.  Sadly, the sauerkraut you can buy on a store shelf is NOT loaded with any of this superfood-ish goodness.  Most of it gets it's flavor from vinegar and has been pasteurized (heated) which kills any beneficial enzymes and friendly bacteria.  Never fear!  I am about to show you how easy it is to make your own.

This lovely fermented vegetable is one of the easiest and most gratifying fermented foods I've made.

All you need are a few very simple ingredients:

  • Fresh organic cabbage - 1 medium/large head
  • Whey from organic yogurt - 1/2 cup
  • Salt (kosher or sea salt - non-iodized) - 2 tbls.
  • a bowl for mixing
  • a potato masher (or any other bashing tool)
  • a large jar for fermenting, with a lid
  • a small ziploc-style baggie (or save a large outer leaf of the cabbage)

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First things first.  You can read my post here about how to make your own yogurt.  If you want to skip that step - you can purchase some organic plain yogurt and get the whey out of that.  Don't use Greek yogurt, though (since the whey has been drained out already).  You've probably seen whey before, though you may not have known it.  Whey is that clear-ish, yellow-ish liquid that you may have seen right on top when you open a tub of yogurt.  It is a byproduct of culturing milk (you've heard of curds and whey... well, the yogurt can be called curds in this example, and the clear liquid is the whey).

Get a strainer or sieve and place a piece of cheesecloth (if you have it) or a clean piece of smooth cotton fabric, or even a large coffee filter inside of the strainer.  Pour your yogurt into this and let it drain.  You should be able to get 1/2 cup of whey out of 16 oz of yogurt.  Any extra whey can be kept in the fridge and will last for months and months as long as it is well strained.

Slice your cabbage into thin pieces or shreds.  You might find a food processor helpful, but I find it still has to be re-chopped a bit, since it doesn't always slice evenly.  I also find hand chopping therapeutic.  TIP:  If you don't have a nice, non-serrated knife - get one.

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Once your cabbage is shredded,  put it into a mixing bowl and add your salt and whey.

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Now for the fun part.  Start bashing and smashing that cabbage, mixing the salt and whey in as you go.  You are releasing the juices from the cabbage and beginning the process of breaking down the cells of the cabbage.  I've tried skipping this step (not smashing ) - and it takes longer for the kraut to be ready to eat.  I believe this speeds the process.  You should smash and bash for at least 10 minutes - up to 30.  It's good stress relief.

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Next, begin spooning your kraut mixture into a large jar ( I use 1/2 gallon mason jars) packing it in tightly.  You'll want to only fill it 3/4 of the way full, so you have room to weigh it down at the top.

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You then need to pour in  some filtered water, enough to completely cover your cabbage.  Any cabbage left floating above the surface may get moldy.  The salt and whey are what keep the cabbage fermenting safely, and free from any nasties.

I've experimented with different objects to try and keep that darn cabbage beneath the brine's surface... but the simplest way is to fill a small ziploc baggie with water and use that to weigh down the cabbage inside the top of the jar.  *update* ... I now save a large cabbage leaf from the outside of the head and use it to press down on the cabbage in the jar.  It works well because it sort of sticks to the side of the jar.  Then you can pour more brine on top and it holds most of the kraut down this way!

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Then, open the baggie and fold down over the  jar's edge, and screw  on the lid.

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Don't screw the lid on too tight (air will need to escape a bit) and keep in mind that the cabbage is going to expand.  Set your jar on top of a plate of some kind to catch any overflowing brine.

Place your beautiful jar of lovely fermentation in a dark place (fermented food does best in the dark).  It will ferment best at 64 -70 degrees.   You really could eat it right away, but the flavor will get better with time.  I like mine best after 5 days of fermentation.  Once you taste it and are happy with where it's at - transfer to the fridge.  The flavor will continue to get better, but the cooler temp will slow the process way down. Ours doesn't last long enough to be concerned with it sitting too long, but it should last at least 6 months or more in the fridge.

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All of my girls (ages 4, 6, 8, 10) love the sauerkraut! We'll have it as a snack with a hard-boiled egg, or as a side dish with a sandwich.  It's delicious with grilled sausage, any meat or fish.  We toss it into our salads, too.   The other day I ended up with this delicious, quick snack:  I slathered a slice of sourdough bread with some home-made hummus, then put a layer of sauerkraut and topped it with sprouts and some salt & pepper.  YUM!

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As with any fermented food, you will want to give your system some time to get used to the new friendly bacteria.  Don't go and eat a heaping bowlful your first time.  Trust me, I wanted to when I first tasted mine!  You may even experience some mild gas or bloating if you eat too much at first.  Let yourself get used to it - and as your system starts to build up and become colonized with these friendly bacteria, you'll be able to eat more with no problem.  That said, sauerkraut is meant to be condiment, not a main dish!

Once you get in the sauerkraut groove - a whole WORLD of  other fermented veggies awaits you!!  You can ferment pretty much ANYTHING.  You can add spices like mustard or fennel seed, garlic, onion slices to flavor your veggies.  I want to try fermented salsas next.   Do a google search for 'fermented vegetables' and you'll find so many others to try.  Here are my two new faves:

Sweet lacto-fermented beets, and ginger carrots:

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Because of my daughter's  MRSA battle - I absolutely LOVE this quote - and it is fitting to leave you with these words from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions book:

"Scientists and doctors today are mystified by the proliferation of new viruses--not only the deadly AIDS virus but the whole gamut of human viruses that seem to be associated with everything from chronic fatigue to cancer and arthritis. They are equally mystified by recent increases in the incidence of intestinal parasites and pathogenic yeasts, even among those whose sanitary practices are faultless. Could it be that in abandoning the ancient practice of lacto-fermentation and in our insistence on a diet in which everything has been pasteurized, we have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms? If so, the cure for these diseases will be found not in vaccinations, drugs or antibiotics but in a restored partnership with the many varieties of lactobacilli, our symbionts of the microscopic world."

So go ahead people... 'BROADEN YOUR HORIZONS!'   Try something new (or old - depending on how you look at it!) your body will thank you.

-Sarah

Making your own yogurt is easy. REALLY!

Did you know you DON'T need a yogurt maker to make amazing yogurt?  I didn't.

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When I first decided to try and incorporate more probiotic foods into our diet, it was because of my daughter's battle with MRSA, as well as my husband's battle with his own health issues regarding yeast/fungal overgrowth.  After learning more about the immune system - it amazed me that the intestinal tract is directly linked to overall immune system health.    It also put me on the fast track to finding ways I could incorporate the healthy bacteria we needed!

Yogurt was the first thing I started making.  Probably because it was the most easy to introduce (yogurt wasn't as intimidating as sauerkraut or kefir).

There are a TON of how-to's online for making home made yogurt.  Each of them will be a bit different, but in my tutorial -  I want to stress SIMPLICITY.   To be honest, I was a bit nervous about the idea of leaving milk without refrigeration for 6 hours.  Would it really be edible?  Would it stink or taste sour? This was because I didn't understand how fermentation works.  What protects the milk from the bad bacteria which could potentially grow in it, is the good bacteria that you are introducing in the form of the starter culture.  I've never had a batch stink or turn funky while culturing!

Here's a simple recipe you can make at home - with some pretty basic tools:

You'll  need:

  • 1 half gallon organic milk (I prefer whole)
  • a pot to heat the milk in (preferably heavy-bottomed)
  • 1/2 cup of organic plain yogurt - (this is your starter culture)
  • a candy thermometer (usually around $5 in any grocery store baking aisle)
  • whisk
  • sterilized glass jars or containers (to fill with your yogurt)
  • a cooler/ice box

STEP 1:   Heat milk until it reaches at least 180 degrees.  ( and just  starts boiling... be careful it doesn't boil over!)  Then remove from heat and set aside to cool.

STEP 2: Sterilize whisk and glass jars or containers by submerging them in boiling water for a couple minutes.

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*(important!) Don't add your yogurt starter until the milk has cooled down to at least 110 degrees, otherwise the heat will kill the starter culture, and the milk won't thicken into yogurt.

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STEP 3: Dilute your plain yogurt (starter) with a bit of milk - then whisk into the rest of the warm milk.

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You can remove the 'skin' that forms while the milk cools, or just whisk it in.

STEP 4:  Pour yogurt mixture into sterilized jars/containers and place into cooler.

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STEP 5: Add 3 jars of hot water to the cooler to keep the yogurt at the optimum temperature.  Close lid of cooler.

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Remove your yogurt after approx. 6-10 hours.  (I have left mine for up to 14  hours and it still was more tart but still great)  Move to fridge and enjoy!!

SOME TIPS AND ADVICE:

  • If you like thicker, greek-style yogurt - this is easily done!  Get a strainer and set it over a bowl.  Place a piece of cheesecloth if you have it - or coffee filter (I just use some cotton fabric) and pour your yogurt into it.  Let it sit like this for as long as you like, depending on how thick you want it.  You will get a thicker yogurt as the whey drains out of it.  SAVE THE WHEY in your fridge for later!  It is the beginning of MANY wonderful fermented foods like sauerkraut, as well as a useful tool to soak grains and beans prior to cooking.
  • The process can still go on if you make some mistakes.  I have let my milk boil over, and thought 'oh no! it's ruined!'  I went ahead with it, and it was still good.  The texture wasn't as smooth - but it was definitely edible.  I've also let my milk cool way down to below the ideal temperature.  No problem.  I heated it up slightly until it was in the 'window' it needed to be, and then stirred in the starter.
  • I often am impatient while I'm waiting for the milk to cool all the way down to 110.  I just read a tip:  Carefully place your pot of hot milk in the sink, and surround it with cold water to help it cool down faster.  I'm going to try it!
  • I've had batches turn out too runny.  This has been because I didn't heat the milk until boiling.  I had hoped to keep the beneficial enzymes from my raw milk in tact - but I've found that (unless you want to stir in added powders to thicken) you MUST boil the milk in order for it to thicken nicely.  I still use my raw milk because I love the cream on top - but I will also use regular organic (pasteurized) milk as well.
  • Some people will use a dehydrator to keep their milk at a consistent temperature while culturing.  I  have not found this necessary. You may end up playing with the amount of hot water you add to your cooler (depending on it's size, and the amount of yogurt you are making) but don't let this stress you out.   In fact, Jamie Oliver  has a recipe which calls for  an even simpler method:  Heat the milk till it boils, cool it until you can hold your finger in it, stir in the starter and leave on the stove with the lid on!   It really IS a simple process that people have been doing for centuries!  I find that my house is too cold during the winter months to keep it that warm.  I may try this simpler process during the summer, though.
  • The biggest problem I've had is forgetting to save some of my yogurt  to start the next batch!  We eat it all up too quickly.  I usually end up purchasing another single plain yogurt to start my next batch... but be smarter than me, and save a cup of each batch to start the next.  Just remember the ratio is approx.  1/2 cup of yogurt starter for 1/2 gallon of milk.  Simple!
Home made yogurt with frozen blueberries, vanilla extract and a drizzle of honey
Home made yogurt with frozen blueberries, vanilla extract and a drizzle of honey

Here's an interesting fact.  For anyone who has a seriously deficient gut - yogurt won't be the best thing to begin with.  Emma and Jeremiah had a harder time digesting yogurt at first - but they could tolerate drinking kefir just fine.  Here's the reason why:

Yogurt contains transient beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system clean and provide food for the friendly bacteria that reside there. But kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract, a feat that yogurt cannot match.”   "Because the curd size of kefir is smaller than yogurt, it is also easier to digest, which makes it a particularly excellent, nutritious food for babies, the elderly and people experiencing chronic fatigue and digestive disorders."  quote sourced here

So... if your intestinal tract does not already have enough friendly bacteria - yogurt isn't probably the best place to start.  We have seen the proof of this with our girls.  It took awhile for Emma (drinking lots of kefir,  first - which gave her no stomach aches) before she could start eating the yogurt without any stomach aches.  I will post and upload a kefir tutorial soon, as well!

Hope you give this recipe a try!

-Sarah

On bacteria - bad AND good!

I did not expect to become such a hippie. Having spent most of my life growing up in Santa Cruz, CA - it would seem natural.  My lovely momma fed us very well - we ate lots of fresh veggies - but you wouldn't have spotted any sprouting grains on the countertop or kefir fermenting away.  I had lots of friends in Santa Cruz who grew up this way ... they were the 'interesting' ones.

I am now, fully embracing these 'interesting' foods.  I make yogurt and kefir regularly, we've become huge fans of sauerkraut of late, as well.  My new obsession is sourdough - and I've even started making my own home-brewed kombucha tea. (though I'm learning as I go)

All of these foods are VERY rich in natural probiotics, which we need to foster a healthy immune system.  I didn't start making these foods because they were hip.  I didn't go on a quest to eat more healthfully, and I didn't necessarily feel the need to get more in touch with natural food.

My kid got sick.

4 years ago, my daughter Emma ended up with a case of MRSA when she was almost 8.  What looked like an infected spider bite - ended up being this nasty strain of antibiotic-resistant Staph.  These infections are EXTREMELY painful. (the dime sized sore on her shin was so painful that she was limping).  At this point, I had no idea about the harmful side-effects of antibiotics - which is the reason (in my opinion) why she, out of my four girls - contracted MRSA to begin with.

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Her being my first born - I didn't know how to handle common childhood sickness (like ear infections) in any other way than to visit my pediatrician.  Although he was a kind and knowledgeable man - he prescribed my baby girl with antibiotics every time I took her in with symptoms of an infection.  Even if it was the day after she complained of symptoms.  When I would ask my doctor if it was too soon to have brought her in , he would always say "No, it's good you brought her in now".  This re-enforced the idea that if you 'catch it early' the antibiotics would stop it sooner.

Unfortunately, I now know - the antibiotics may stop the infection sooner - but they also weaken the body's natural immune response, making it harder for the body to heal itself on it's own.  The antibiotics do kill the bad bacteria causing the infection, but they also destroy all of the healthy bacteria in the gut, which is the key to the body's overall immune system function.

MRSA used to be found only in hospitals.  It is a mutated strain of staph that developed a resistance to our common antibiotics, because of the over-prescription of them today. (insert: my previous, common experience of being prescribed with a drug to treat common infections instead of allowing the body to fight them first) This scary 'superbug' is now found widely among the general public.  There is good and bad bacteria everywhere, but it's the good bacteria on and in our bodies, that keeps the BAD in check.

Out of all of my girls, Emma had the weakest immune system, because she'd had so many rounds of antibiotics.  There was one winter that the pediatrician said "one more ear infection for her this season, and we need to consider tubes in her ears".  Though we thankfully, never made that leap - (we later saw a naturopathic doctor, who recommended eliminating milk, and limiting grains - never had another ear infection since) - the damage to her immunity had been done.

We (once again) trusted the doctors in the ER when they gave her antibiotics for the staph. The first round didn't work (they then realized it was MRSA) so we had to take her in every 8 hours to be put on an IV drip of a much stronger antibiotic.  When this had been done - and a week later, another sore emerged... I was extremely worried.

Then I read that more people are currently dying from MRSA infections than AIDS in the US (it can become fatal) ...I was panicked.

I had bleached down my house, washed every article of clothing, thrown out or washed every stuffed animal and toy - and yet her infection came back!  I HAD to figure out what else we could do.

My research led me to a man in the UK who had treated hundreds of people with MRSA naturally, using a type of colloidal silver called SilverSol.  I was SUPER skeptical at first - but after much research - we felt it was safe, and definitely worth the try.  The entire family went on a 30 day 'eradication course' to rid the bacteria from our home.  We all took the Silver by mouth, sprayed it in bacteria-prone areas (armpits and groin) daily, put some in the laundry loads, sprayed her sheets - and she has been MRSA free ever since.  (note: It is VERY common for someone who's had a MRSA outbreak to battle it again and again.)

It turns out, silver has a long history of use throughout the ages as a powerful antibacterial agent.  During the plagues of Europe, the wealthy families would have their children suck on the silverware to prevent disease (this did, keep many of them alive) - hence the phrase - "born with a silver spoon in your mouth".  The pioneers often would put a silver coin in their water buckets to keep the water potable for the journey - and silver bandages are, to this day used in burn units around the country (no bacteria can live in the presence of silver).

I will note that I DO NOT recommend taking colloidal silver unless it is Silver Sol.  There is a difference.  "Typical" colloidal silver (while effective at killing bacteria) does remain in your body as a free radical.  Silver Sol technology (patented) passes through your system in approx. 24 hours. 

The most fabulous thing about silver is that it destroys bacteria and fungus at the cellular level - without damaging the body's natural bacteria!  It works to boost your immune system - and it has had wonderful results for our family.  We use it for so many things.

Besides taking 1-2 tsp. a day as an immune-system booster,

  • We swish daily, after we brush to kill bacteria in the mouth - (then swallow!) (Listerine-type mouth wash kills good bacteria in your mouth - but silver doesn't!)
  • We've used it successfully to stop tooth, ear and eye infections
  • I keep a small spray bottle in my purse to use as a natural germ-killer to spray on our hands after being in the grocery store. (Did you know that using hand sanitizer or antibacterial soaps do the same thing to your skin, that antibiotics do to your gut? They kill all of the good bacteria with the bad, thus making you more succeptible to skin infections.  Simple natural soap and water is the best way to stay 'clean'.)
  • I put a few drops in my sink when rinsing salad greens in the summer to be confident in it's cleanliness
  • Use it to spray countertops or cutting boards after working with raw meat
  • I use the silver gel on cuts and scrapes in place of the antibacterial creams

If you're a researcher like me, you might want to check out the link (HERE) for more safety information and details on how and why it is so effective. 

NOW.

Back to probiotic foods.

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I had started this post with the desire to share a simple home made yogurt recipe. (I've done so, since - see it HERE) But I realized I had so much to share about the way that I discovered all of the rich probiotic foods - and that started with my understanding of gut health and the dangers of antibiotics.

Here is a list of some things that I have found to help strengthen our immune systems:

  • Avoid processed foods.  Spend some quality time in the kitchen with your family.   Anyone can cook healthfully - even on a limited budget.  Cooking with whole foods is more affordable and satisfying.
  • Begin to replace 'antibacterial' soap with all natural soap in your home.  Pharmaceutical drugs are not necessary to keep your body or home "clean". (as I've said - they end up doing the body harm when used reguarly).  Begin to replace cleaning products, body and skin care products with chemical and perfume-free ones.  You can find many home made cleaning recipes that work well HERE.
  • When hit with an infection (sinus, ear, eye, bladder, yeast) treat it with SilverSol.  Although nothing has had the same effectiveness for us as Silver, I also will take oil of oregano and garlic (allicilin pill form is very effective),  to help combat infection.  (I'm sure there are many more herbal supplements, but these are what I use.)
  •  Make antibiotics your LAST RESORT.  Although I never recommend taking them (and we haven't had to take any in the four years since we learned of SilverSol).  If you do end up taking them - make sure that you replace the gut bacteria you've lost with a probiotic supplement and/or eating lots of probiotic rich foods.
  • DIET - Drink lots of water and get plenty of rest - while avoiding sugar and carbs as best you can.  Make yourself home made bone broths, (Here's a link that will show you how) eat lots of leafy greens, natural meats from well-raised animals, and see how powerful the body is (when given the right tools and environment) to fight off infection, naturally!
  • Regularly incorporate probiotic/fermented foods into your diet like: home made yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut (and other fermented vegetables) and kombucha.  The gut makes up 80% of your immune system.  Making sure you have a good diversity of beneficial gut bacteria (probiotics) will ensure that bad bacteria can't flourish.  Read more about a healthy gut HERE and  Here's a post of mine on how to make sauerkraut.
  • Avoid pesticide-laden foods - Buying from a local CSA and eating food that's in season is best.  Organic produce does not contain dangerous pesticides which take a toll on your immune system.  To avoid the most toxic pesticides, consult the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list:  HERE.
  • Virgin Coconut Oil is another miracle food.  It is naturally antibacterial & antifungal. Read more HERE about coconut oil.
  • Get sufficient vitamin D - Part of why we often get sick more in the winter, is probably because we get less vitamin D sun exposure.  Read this interesting article about how Vitamin D is essential: HERE.  And click HERE if you want a great home made sunscreen recipe.

Thank you for reading about our journey and taking the time to research and take charge of your health!

I welcome your thoughts or comments!