Get cultured, invest in stocks & take a long, hot soak: next steps in getting off the food grid

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by Maggie

Maggie Hollinbeck lives in Northern California, and in addition to careers as a musical theatre actress and psychotherapist, she has turned her attention to her love of all domestic arts, especially traditional foods wisdom. She blogs about her journey at Maggie's Nest.

In a recent post at my blog, I detailed the first steps my family took toward de-centralizing our food system, a concept Michael Pollan introduced to me in his groundbreaking book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you’re a regular Simple Mom reader, you’ve no doubt read about benefits of buying local and joining a community-supported agriculture program — the first two steps we took.

Today I’m writing about our third step: buying raw materials and making our own. This is Morpheus’ red pill, folks, the one that can unhook you from the food matrix. This step represented a sea change for me, dramatically lessening my dependence on packaged and processed food (good news for the environment and my family’s health) and making already good food even healthier. It taught me how to get cultured, invest in stocks, and take a long, hot soak.

Here are three ways to unhook yourself further from processed food — make your own basics.

1. Get cultured.


Photo by Joe Photo

An ancient food craft is being revived today, and I say Vive La Revolution! Cultured foods have been a staple of every culture’s dinner plate for thousands of years, from Korea’s kimchi to Ireland’s corned beef; from Greece’s yogurt to Britain’s marmalade. Even America has its own versions, symbolized dutifully (if sometimes pitifully) as the ubiquitous pickle spear by your deli sandwich.

Pickled, fermented, cultured, soured: what we’re talking about here is the primary way civilization preserved food before the advent of modern refrigeration. Fermentation allows access to fresh food in the dead of winter and, unlike canning or smoking, to do so while retaining and even enhancing nutrient value.

Fermenting takes surprisingly little time to prepare, and the finished product can last months or even years. All you need to get started is a good book (Nourishing Traditions and Wild Fermentation are two), some Mason jars, and starter culture which, if tended well, can nourish your family for generations.

San Francisco’s popular Boudin Bakery still makes every loaf of bread using starter from its original mother dough, alive and well since 1849! If you want training and support in starting, consider taking one or more of Jenny McGruther’s online cooking class, Get Cultured! How to Ferment Anything.

2. Invest in stocks.


Photo by caspermoller

Put down the boxed chicken broth. Step away from the bouillon cubes. There is a better way! All you need is the bones from last night’s roast chicken, those discarded bits and ends of veggies you’ve used during the week, a dash of vinegar and a stockpot of water. Within hours (24-36 hours, if you’re patient, but even a few will do) you’ll save money and provide your family with the nutritional equivalent of liquid gold.

Nearly every traditional society throughout history has boiled animal bones to make nutritious and delicious bone broth (also called stock). Making stock distills the incredible nutrient density of animal bones – minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorous, and the naturally occurring gelatin we need for strong hair, nails and joints – down into a tasty and surprisingly versatile liquid. Stock forms the base of all good soups, and nothing is quite as comforting as a hot mug of rich bone broth on a frosty day.

You can use it in place of milk and butter for rich, creamy mashed potatoes, or as the foundation of almost any sauce or glaze. Make a batch and store it in the fridge in Mason jars (don’t forget to freeze some in an ice-cube tray for easy portioning) or, if you’re adventurous, you can join me as I experiment with keeping a master stock.

3. Take a long, hot soak.


Photo by David Masters

Grains, nuts and beans are all “seeds” of the plants from which they come, packed with nutrients necessary to grow a whole new plant, all in a tiny package. These seeds also contain anti-nutrients that do some funky things to our bodies: phytic acid blocks absorption of the very nutrients we are trying to ingest; enzyme inhibitors disrupt digestion; lectins wreak havoc on the intestinal system and have been associated with a pre-diabetic condition called leptin resistance which has been linked with obesity.

Fortunately, our ancestors developed soaking methods to significantly reduce the anti-nutrient value and make these foods more nutritious and palatable. All it takes is some warm water and an activator – salt, whey, lemon juice, vinegar, even a cultured food like yogurt can do the trick.

Prep is quick: set the food into a bowl, cover with warm water and stir in your activator. Cover with a cloth and let it sit for 6-8 hours (beans prefer a longer soak). Drain off the liquid, and you’re done! You’ll get more nutrients out of what you eat, and these foods will cook more quickly, too.

In the case of nuts, once soaked you can run them through the food processor for the most nutritious nut butter ever, or dry them to use as snacks or in recipes – whole, chopped, or ground into flour.

Culturing, making stock and soaking are widely discussed on the Internet, but I first learned about this trifecta of good nutrition, this red pill of kitchen wisdom, when I read Nourishing Traditions for the first time in 2006. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. If you take the red pill, get ready to spend a lot less time in the grocery store and only a little more time in the kitchen. The results will be delicious!

For further reading:

Do you make your own stock? Soak seeds or grains? Ferment anything? I’d love to hear what you do, along with any tips you have to share.

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Comments

  1. We just started making kefir and using it in smoothies for breakfast. My four kids LOVE them and they are full of goodness! Buying Nourishing Traditions right now!

  2. I just made some Sourkraut, it was yummy but my liqiud all escaped and some of it has turned pink so I think we need to start again. I want to make some cultured salsa next.

  3. Can’t wait to order the book “Nourishing Traditions”! Loved your article. I have been telling my friends forever that I thought they should stop worrying about fat, eat butter, not margarine, limit sugar but don’t do artificial sugar, and what’s with all the “lite” yogurt sweetened with chemically derived fake sugars!! I love yogurt, the thick creamy kind with a whole whopping 3-6 grams of fat…but try to find it nowadays with the “lite” craze taking hold!!! I make stocks..but did not realize I could do them from the bones…I’ll start doing that. I do put them into ice cube trays to pop a cube or two into a small pan of greens, beans, veggies, etc. for flavor. I learned a ton just reading this – very excited about making some more changes for the better!!!

  4. avatar
    Christie says:

    Gnowfglins.com has a great sourdough e-course. Gnowfglins’ course is at least 20 lessons, each with a different recipe. I highly recommend it!

  5. Good post. This is a very nice blog that I will definitively come back to more times this year! Thanks for informative post. I am sure this post has helped me save many hours of browsing other similar posts just to find what I was looking for. I just want to say: Thank you!

  6. While I don’t blog about it, I have been spending the last year or so, I have been switching to organic locally grown meats, and I have been doing more canning, pickling, ect. I think it is scary what is done to our food supply, and I am trying to eat clean, as much as I feasibly can. Homemade stocks are so much easier to make, and you know canning them isn’t so difficult either. One of my favorite things I made was dill pickles I fermented with crab boil instead of your typical dill pickle seasonings.

  7. Maggie, as a “real foods” blogger, I really enjoyed this post! What a nice surprise to read about these choices here on Simple Mom!

    Jaime @ Like a Bubbling Brook

  8. I think a big thing holding me back from soaking is not understanding how that will change cooking times. For instance, if I soak brown rice, what will my cooking time be. Will it get mushy? Same goes for beans, etc. Does Nourishing Traditions address this? I need something aimed at a newbie soaker : )

  9. For making stock, I have loved and lived on this tip-get a freezer bag to keep veggie odds and ends that you don’t use, carrot ends, mushroom ends, leftover somethings and then freeze it until you have a full bag. Then use that to make your own stock, so you don’t waste anything at all. Plus, you can still compost it afterwards! Saved us quite a bit of money I think!

  10. This will certainly result in a better return on investment than anything invested in the NYSE! Thanks!

  11. Maggie, loved this post – would never have guessed the delights within from the title!!
    I am going to start soaking more – had great luck with better-tasting quinoa. With beans, after a soak, I drain in the colander and let sprout for a couple days with washings. They cook up so quickly and taste so delicious – plus easier to digest.

    Just tried kim chi this year w/ purple cabbage and my eldest gobbles it up. Amazing how these fine traditions make such a difference in how food tastes and the pleasures in eating. Pretty easy too!

    • Sarah, I was also surprised at how these methods really bring out wonderful flavors in foods. Bonus!

      • Sarah,
        Can you tell me a little more about letting the beans sprout? I always soak my beans before cooking, but always cook them immediately after soaking. Thanks for any info! Maggie, this was a great post, thank you for continued inspiration!

  12. This post is the PERFECT follow-up to my post yesterday about trying to fit more organic, fresh, and local produce into my diet while maintaining my budget. I just posted a link. I think the key for me is going to be learning how to do a lot of my own food growing/prepping myself, and this post is the perfect start. I’m going to try soaking my quinoa and my beans with lemon juice or yogurt from now on and see what happens!

  13. After one really nasty failed sauerkraut experiment last year I’m reluctant to give it another go….but this is really encouraging. Thanks for the tips.

    (And I switched to homemade stock a few years ago–so much better, and better for you!)

  14. avatar
    Kristi Sweeney says:

    Great post!! Thank you!

  15. I love, love, LOVE the title of this post! Wish I could come up with ones as creative. Guess I could, but then it would take me all day just to write the title, LOL.

    Anyway, Maggie, do you happen to know if the discoloration on sauerkraut after a few days in fridge is normal, or is it mold? I always end up having some, and although it tastes all right, I quit making kraut b/c I was thinking I was eating mold.

    If it’s mold, what could I be doing wrong? Thanks.

    • Thanks Emily! Ya know, I actually don’t have first-hand experience with the mold or discoloration. Does yours turn pinkish like another commenter here? You might ask over at the Butter Buddies forum at the Weston A. Price Foundation’s website, http://www.westonaprice.org. My understanding is that as long as the vegetables are underneath the top of the water, mold won’t occur so I make sure to fill with extra brine water if necessary, and weigh down the top with a plate or other heavy object.

  16. I have not done any of thing for awhile, thanks for the encouragement to get out my Nourishing Traditions and get started again.

    For the discouraged Sauerkraut cook, do try it again. It is my favorite!

  17. Thanks for giving my whole foods journey a little push! I’ve been reading Whole Food For Children, as I try to figure out what to feed my son to optimize his health, and I’ve learned so much about digestion and nutrition!

    I’ve always made my own stocks, but generally just for a big batch of soup. I don’t store them for use in other dishes, which I think about doing every time I buy broth and read its ingredients. And I knew you should soak beans and lentils, but didn’t know about soaking other grains.

    Time to spend a little more intentional time in the kitchen!

    (Also, brilliant title!)

  18. Great post! We’ve been making the switch from the grocery aisle to the kitchen counter for a couple years and am amazed at how it’s not as hard as I would have thought. And oh so satisfying to know we make our own yogurt and bread and cleaners, etc. I’ve just been reading up on soaking grains and nuts and am thinking of buying a dehydrator so that we can dry our grains after soaking and then grind them. Off to check out your blog, Maggie!

  19. Maggie, I was really impressed with how much great info you crammed into this well written post. It offers a great introduction to those new to real food, as well as good reminder and motivation for all of us to dig deeper.

    OH, and you title was rock awesome. You promised, and delivered. *applause*

  20. avatar
    Michelle says:

    I am encouraged by this posting! Thank you! I just read the book ” Deep Nutrition” and am on fire to persistently follow these guidelines. Especially remember “use cream or butter, olive oil or coconut oil (no veg oil ever!) and no sugar ( by that or any other name) honey and fruit ok but limited. I am just now eating my first batch of sauerkraut made with Kefir whey. It’s delicious! I have also been making my own mayonnaise using olive oil. It’s a little too strong olive taste but mixed with sour cream it’s good. I add honey for fruit salads and onion powder for other uses. I made sour cream with Kefir starter in Jersey cow cream. It’s amazing!

  21. avatar
    Michelle says:

    I just noticed a comment about drying food. I watched and then used Alton Brown’s method from Youtube or his show. Use a big box fan and 4 screens to put your food on. The air circulation dries it just fine with no heat to damage the nutrition!

  22. avatar
    Cristina says:

    Great post, and well-timed! Coincidentally, today I happen to be using 3 chicken carcasses I’ve been accumulating in my freezer to make chicken stock. I’m still relatively new at this, and I’m interested to know the technique for 24-36 hour chicken stock. Is there a link to more information or a recipe about this technique? Thanks!

    • I don’t know that there’s really a technique – just let your stock simmer in a stockpot or slow cooker for 24-36 hours. This allows more minerals to be released from the bones. I have read that some people end up with a less gelatinous broth with a longer cooking time, though, and that gelatin is so important. So play with it and see what works best for you!

  23. I always use yesterday’s bones to make broth- sometimes I will throw the bones in the freezer if the time sin’t right to make the broth. The only problem with this is soup or gravy made with store bought broth is not appreciated very much if I don’t have the fixings to make my own!

  24. Thank you for this info! As I am trying to switch more whole, real foods, this has been very educational!
    Bernice

  25. Some great ideas I’ll have to try! We’ve been making homemade chicken & veggie broth here for a little over a year now – so worth it! I’ll make a big pot of it and freeze it in quart-sized freezer bags (for better portions & fits better in the freezer). We use the broth for soups and love the taste of broth in lieu of water when cooking rice.
    You’ve mentioned some new techniques (well new to me) that I’ll have to try now!

  26. You are really inspiring me to get into better food habits and cooking. I was determined two years ago when my son was born, to not eat processed unhealthy food. Now that he is two, it’s so much harder to keep that up. But again, watching Jaime Oliver’s Food Revolution and reading your blog has totally got me all fired up again. Thanks so much!

  27. We live in Asia, and sometimes it is a challenge to figure out how to do some of these things while living in another culture. We definitely cook more from scratch here, but when it comes to wanting to preserve our own food, that gets a bit more challenging. For example, where in the world do you find Mason jars in Asia??? Are there international CSA’s? If anyone has any tips, I’d appreciate it!

  28. Maggie,

    We have joined a farm co-op this summer where we buy into the produce that is produced from the farm. Looking forward to eating from within the 100 miles – diet. I read your article with interest. I now freeze my own ginger – to use in teas and cooking. I will try some of your suggestions.

    And the other day I made bread in my bread machine – haven’t used it in 10 years.

    Thanks for this,
    Blessings,
    Jan

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