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:
- Homemade Vegetable Stock 101 :: Simple Bites
- Homemade Staples for Grocery Staples :: Simple Bites
- How to Grow Sprouts at Home :: Simple Bites
- How to Make Brown Stock :: Simple Bites
- The Benefits of a Local, Traditional Diet :: Simple Organic
- 5 Foods Everyone Should Eat More Often :: Simple Organic
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.