A Review By Dor
Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD
I’m simultaneously sad and exhilarated when scientists catch up with cooks and say things like, “A medical revolution is underway…”and when you continue reading the conclusion is that we all need to eat homemade sauerkraut. Honestly, haven’t our Hungarian grandmas been telling us all along to eat pickles because they’re so good for us? Haven’t our Korean grandmas been putting kimchi into everything else forever? My new favorite book is The Brain Maker by David Perlmutter, MD (of Grain Brain fame, I adore this man). A medical revolution that affirms what traditional cooks have known all along is my kind of revolution.
What I didn’t know – and what I’m so thrilled to learn – is how profoundly the content of our guts affects the functioning of our brains. From ADHD and autism in children to the rising tide of early dementia, people from the so-called civilized world suffer often-preventable debilitating brain disorders. No matter what Suppers meeting you go to – blood sugar, digestive disorders, vegan, omnivore, low carb, carb addicts – people complain of brain fog and mental fatigue. Perlmutter says it all starts with your microbiome, the vast population of organisms that inhabit our gut and outnumber our own cells ten to one!
I am of the “Eat-a- pound-of- dirt-before kindergarten” school of thought, a gardener who seeks to avoid putting city water on my spinach and berries. Now science tells me why, and why I want to grow the organisms that come in from my garden by lactofermenting – just about everything. Allie and I had a productive argument about the relative merits of various kinds of home fermentation. I’m trying all the kinds that don’t involve wheat (although I bet a lot of us could eat a properly fermented sourdough and not suffer).
Check the Suppers calendar for fermentation workshops at North Slope Farm, Terhune Orchards and my house. Charlie and I are doing one on kombucha making and will be sharing our SCOBYs. And doesn’t some one want some of my kefir grains?
Sauerkraut Demistification, By Allie
Dibs on those kefir grains, by the way. Clarification is important here, both in terms of helping to demystify the process of making your own sauerkrauts and also so that we all understand why we ferment and which fermentations are the best ones to perform. Let’s dive into the science a little bit.
Very basically, the process of lacto-fermentation utilizes the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, as well as other probiotics, or lactic acid bacterium (LAB). These special organisms are present on foods that grow close to the ground and they do the best when they are in an anaerobic fermenting environment – which just means an environment without oxygen.
That environment is extremely important to the process because the environment dictates which bacteria are going to be present. We want to harbor the good guys only – the probiotics we discussed before – the places where they thrive -like salty, acidic brines – are also the places where harmful bacterium don’t want to be!
If you’ve done things correctly then you will have created an environment which first kills off all of the bad bacteria (because they don’t like the salt and need oxygen) and then allows the lactobacillius to start working on converting sugars into lactic acid. That acid is why fermented foods have that bold tanginess!
That’s the science for you. Here’s a comforting thought though – whether you understand all that bacteria/probiotic/cillius discussion or not, the process itself is really quite simple.
Step One: Slice cabbage as thinly as you can. Don’t forget to take out the core! You can also slice up any other veggies you want to ferment with the cabbage. Dino kale is a good one, leafy herbs, carrots and other crunchy vegetables – go nuts.
Step Two: Add salt – usually 1 Tablespoon of salt per head of cabbage – and start to massage and squeeeeeeeeeeeeeze that cabbage. Massage it like you are massaging a pro wrestler’s shoulders, even if you don’t want to have to do that. Use the same amount of strength. You are finished when you can lift a handful of cabbage and squeeze that fistfull and water streams out of your fist.
After that happens you are available to add some liquid flavor – throw some water, ginger, jalapeno, garlic, lemon peel, orange peel, etc. – anything you want – into a blender. Blend it up and mix in with kraut before packing into the jar.
Step Three: Pack tightly into a glass, wide mouthed Ball jar. Make sure to pack it really tightly to create that anaerobic environment!
Step Four: This is the easy part – wait. You can do all sorts of things to try and keep the vegetables underneath the liquid brine that is created.
Some folks put a small glass jar with some water or marbles in there to hold the veggies down. There are even special sauerkraut pots that they sell where you can put water in the moat and keep the air out. Don’t worry, it’s only $150 for the pot. Or you can use a two dollar mason jar (and that’s when they’re not on sale).
Probably the easiest thing to do is what Dor does – just make sure the water is there and visit your jar daily. With a spoon, press veggies down underneath the brine at least once per day for three days. Keep the metal lid of the jar – just the lid, not the screw top over the jar to help keep out air, dust, and bugs but other than that…not much to worry about.
Keep tasting – by the third day your kraut should be beginning to have that classic tangy taste. In a week she should be done fermenting and can be popped in the fridge!
1 medium head green cabbage, shredded
1 Tablespoon salt
1/2 bunch kale, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
1 1-inch piece ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled
3/4 cup water
1. Place cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Begin massaging the cabbage very forcefully, breaking down cell walls and drawing water out of the cabbage. Continue squeezing and processing cabbage until water streams out of fistfulls.
2. Add kale and carrot, continue massaging until kale is wilted.
3. In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, and water and process until liquid or mostly broken down. Pour over vegetables and toss until mixture coats vegetables.
4. Pack into glass jars very tightly and continue adding and packing kraut until jar is almost full.
5. Each day press vegetables down underneath the brine with a clean spoon. Make sure there is enough brine to mostly cover veggies. Taste on the third day and allow to continue fermenting for about 1 week. Some sauerkrauts take longer depending on the room temperature. When done, refrigerate! Kraut keeps up to 3 months or so in a refrigerator.
*There should be liquid at the top of the jar once packed. If not, it’s possible you did not process vegetables enough or perhaps you need to add brine. Give it a day and if the liquid level is still a concern then make brine with 1 cup water mixed with 1 teaspoon salt.*