fermenting vs. canning
updates with a side of my favourite plum chutney
Truth be told, I’m much more of a ‘fermenter’ than a ‘canner’. I started fermenting food about twenty five years ago now. It was the beginner classic - sauerkraut - that got me going. Shortly thereafter a sweet friend of mine, Ruby, who is Chinese but had spent a few years in South Korea working on a family farm, shared with me the delicious kimchi her South Korean farm family shared with her. I was hooked. I would make huge batches of Ruby’s kimchi every fall when the cabbages were ready and we would eat those fermented delights with everything.
From sauerkraut and kimchi to anything that grew. I was a fermenting fool! Once I got the framework of fermenting down pat, there was no stopping me. I learned that one can make a salty brine and float stuff in it like we do when we make fermented pickles and radishes and even fruit like hard plums and pears. I also learned that one can dry salt things like you do when making sauerkraut or fermented, julienned carrots mixed with hard apples and onions - stuff like that. From there it’s just letting your imagination soar.
Back then I didn’t can anything. I thought it was kind of stupid to can things, really. You cooked the life out of the plants and added a bunch of sugar and then cooked everything again. We didn’t eat bread so who needs jam? We didn’t eat nightshades so that took out all of the tomato sauces and peppers. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why someone would can something when they could ferment it and end up with a bubbling, effervescent, fully alive food instead of a dead one. Then I got sick.
It took me a good long while, when I was in the dregs of Lyme disease, to realize, okay, it’s more like ‘admit’, that the cultured foods in my diet were not serving me. The raw milk kefir. The cultured raw butter. The kombucha and jun, the fermented vegetables of endless varieties, and the endless varieties of yogurts that were heavy in our diets were causing problems. My histamine issues were through the roof. My skin was itchy and crawly all day and all night. Oh, but I was convinced it was other things. How could such nutritious foods cause me issues? Besides, these foods had become a part of my identity in a way. I taught some classes on how to ferment food. I showed my friends and clients and espoused the glory of these foods. But when you get sick enough, even the sacred cows come up for review.
It took awhile for my biome to adjust to removing the cultured and fermented foods I was eating, but within a month or two I started feeling better. After a few months of avoiding those foods entirely, I tried eating some and the faded memory of what it was like to be itchy and inflamed came roaring back. Lesson learned. I stepped back from fermenting and culturing altogether when I turned to a solely animal based diet. Only animal foods and nothing else. I didn’t even eat dairy for a good long while and you know what? I felt better than I had in a decade.
It was at that time of eating solely animal foods that I came to understand that fruits and vegetables are not always our friends. Many of them are loaded with inflammatory chemical compounds - their defences against things that like to eat them. Sometimes we can dilute these compounds, sometimes we can’t. But in the end, it was just how good I felt removing them entirely that was a revelation to me. When I did start reintroducing some plant foods back into our diet, it was with caution and observation. I could eat a fermented pickle every now and then but nightshades remained a problem (for everyone I’d argue, but few want to hear that). I noticed that a spoonful of a canned chutney, cooked with vinegars and spices, was much more pleasing to my body than a mound of sauerkraut. Yes, I know, it’s supposed to be the other way around, but I don’t find that to be true. Not for me. Not over the long run.
The problem was, I was still turned off by canning. We still don’t eat bread or grains or anything one would make sweet preserves for. And I never liked the idea of the FDA guidelines that demand pasteurizing food to a deadened pulp. I get that we don’t want botulism, but how come old cookbooks and even modern day European cookbooks don’t demand the water bathing and other conventions of North American canning? I started ordering in cookbooks from Europe and noticed that what the recipes said here was different than what they said there. I don’t like being controlled. No way, no how. And when I dug right it into it, I realized that the “truth” I was told was merely some American guidelines that everyone was to scared to go against. That’s cool, I get it. But it’s not what I decided on for myself and that opened up a whole new world for me.
I started canning using old techniques and the methods still espoused in Europe. And, suddenly, canning looked very different.
We like to eat our preserves as zingy little accompaniments to meat. That might mean that I have a big, juicy slab of roast beef with a spoonful of cherry mostarda on it. Or maybe I cook up a couple of ducks that I slather in apricot preserves or plum chutney first. Maybe my beef bourguignon gets a jar of brandied cherries thrown in instead of the called for wine. That sort of thing. A little goes a long way but it makes all the difference. And the best part is how good we feel eating this way.
A meal for us today looks very different than it did a couple of decades ago. Then we were still eating local, farm food with a focus on nourishing animal foods but typically, our meals would be a protein with two vegetable sides. Maybe a salad and some roasted vegetables. Maybe some squash with a blob of carrot and celeriac ferments. That sort of thing. I was convinced of the necessity of plant matter in order to be healthy.
Over the last few years, our meals have evolved. Now they are mostly animal foods with a light dusting of some sort of plant for variety or flavour. My beef stews, as an example, have eight pounds of beef, a couple of onions, two litres of bone broth, and a handful of radishes in it along with whatever spices I use. So, in a bowl, you might find a couple of radishes, but the meal is definitely all about the beef. This approach affords us what we’re after - the nutrient dense animal foods as star of the show, with a little somethin’-somethin’ from the vinegary piccalilli or whatever else looks good that day.
I’m still fermenting food, but it’s nowhere near to the degree that I used to. Now I’ll ferment some fruits including cucumbers and plums and apples or whatever else suits my fancy. I fermented some cherry salsa along with another peach salsa with fresh herbs. I like it better than the nightshade tomatoes. I’ll do some big batches of carrots with different herbs and fruits that keep all winter long. I love fermenting food, it’s so much fun and, seemingly magic, but I keep it to a minimum. The best part about eating simply is in actually eating simply. To me, a beef roast from a well raised and properly finished, solely grass fed, mature animal is a marvel. I am happy to eat it with just salt. But for those times when we’re trying to be gourmet, a plop of something on the side is good enough for us. It makes things easy to approach our food like this. Besides, I really think it’s the healthiest way to eat.
Everyone has to figure out what works for them. There are fundamentals though. We all need nourishing animal foods from well raised animals. We should all eat seasonally and with as few products that need an ingredients list as possible. From there, you may have to deviate from the foods everyone is insisting are healthy. I don’t believe that humans today have the vitality that we once did. Most of us have been vaccinated, medicated, and raised in these big human zoos. We’ve been climate controlled and drenched in artificial light. Our water is poor and our food isn’t as nutritious as it once was. This idea that we all have to eat a certain way, as espoused by whoever espouses such things, in order to be healthy, is nonsense. The idea that noticing inflammation when eating a nut means we should solve some phantom issue rather than just not eat a nut is bizarre to me. Might it just be possible that her carpal tunnel or his ‘tweaked’ elbow might be from the handful of cashews they ate the night before? You can guess what I think.
Food is a powerful force in our lives. It shapes who we are. It shapes how we think. It mediates our emotions. It can make us deeply depressed or vibrantly clear and alive. It can fill our bodies with energy and clarity and bring us closer to spirit or it can dull us, numb us, and make us impatient. A wedge or a bridge. It’s powerful stuff.
Alright, a little update from around here. Our second steer of the season has been