Super-savvy food preservation

Stock your pantry with healthful, preserved fruits and veggies

Get your lacto-ferment on
Lacto-fermentation, for the unfamiliar, is the time-honored process by which fruits and vegetables are naturally preserved without cooking, freezing or the use of canning machines. Via a method that employs sea salt and pure water (and often whey), the starches and sugars in fruits and veggies are converted by friendly bacteria to lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative. Lacto-fermentation also makes foods more digestible and increases their vitamin levels, and produces enzymes that promote the growth of healthy intestinal flora. Sauerkraut is a common lacto-fermented food.

Probiotics is another name for those live, friendly bacteria. Lactic-acid bacteria include the acidophilus promoted in store-bought yogurts.

People should eat “small amounts of lacto-fermented food with each meal,” advises Carol Albrecht, co-owner of Oroville’s Chaffin Family Orchards. Lacto-ferments “provide natural probiotics and enzymes to help us digest and assimilate our food. If we eat foods that are totally cooked, and no raw foods or lacto-fermented foods, it steals enzymes from our own organs and cells. All traditional cultures ate some foods cooked, some foods raw and some foods fermented.

A no-cost “Lacto-fermented Veggies and Fruits” class—part of a monthly series of nutrient-dense, whole-food cooking classes sponsored by the Chico-Butte Valley Chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation—will be held at the Chico Grange Hall (2775 Nord Ave.) on June 21 at 6 p.m. Albrecht will be on hand to walk you through the steps of making raw, lacto-fermented raspberry jam, blackberry syrup, cherry chutney, corn relish, tomato salsa and dill pickles so that you can both preserve the bounty that comes from your garden (or farmers’ market) and add healthful probiotics to your diet.

“We need to be converting from eating processed to eating nutrient-dense food,” added Albrecht. “If you find yourself overrun by cucumbers and berries in your garden, lacto-fermentation is a way for people to preserve these things and increase their nutritional benefit. … And it’s so stinkin’ fast. I [turned] three lugs of berries [into jam and syrup] in 40 minutes.”

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“On a hot day in Virginia, I know nothing more comforting than a fine spiced pickle, brought up trout-like from the sparkling depths of the aromatic jar below the stairs of Aunt Sally’s cellar.”—Thomas Jefferson

I love this book
Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation, by Sharon Astyk ($19.95), is available at Lyon Books (which, incidentally, has a wonderful selection of timely, topical books on gardening, and food preparation and preservation). Astyk is an academic-turned-subsistence-farmer from upstate New York who has really done her homework when it comes to the current economic crisis, its impact on food supplies and how one can become self-sufficient (and more well-nourished) in the face of all that.

Astyk’s well-written and -researched book advocates the return of the pantry in one’s home, and gives detailed information on how to stock it so that one has the (ideal) three-month supply of food in case of such things as a natural disaster or a disruption in the supermarket food supply.

Her book also offers recipes (including ones from the Depression, which help a family stretch their bucks), and has thorough chapters devoted to dehydration, canning and fermentation (including lacto-fermentation).

Happy Father’s Day, dads!
Get out there on Sunday and plant some cucumber starts with your kids—it’s not too late. According to garden writer Jennifer Jewell, cuke starts can go in the ground through the end of June, and “once it gets hot, they’ll start making fruit.”