Fermentation Made Easy! Mouthwatering Sauerkraut: Master an Ancient Art of Preservation, Grow Your Own Probiotics, and Supercharge Your Gut Health
By Holly Howe
Library and Archives Canada
Holly Howe’s goal is jars of sauerkraut happily fermenting on the counters of one hundred thousand homes. With Howe’s book, Fermentation Made Easy! Mouthwatering Sauerkraut, anyone armed with a glass jar, a cabbage, sea salt and touch of chutzpah can begin the tantalizing adventure into the colorful, bubbly world of the friendly Lactobacillus.
Sally Fallon Morell’s beloved Nourishing Traditions inspired Howe to take the fermentation plunge back in 2002. A grade-school teacher by trade, she followed Fallon’s instructions for basic sauerkraut after learning that virtually all of the cultural groups Weston A. Price studied included some variety of fermented edibles in their diet. Howe wanted the health benefits that these peoples derived from their native diets, and she was willing to give the anaerobic process a try for her family’s sake.
At that time, most Americans knew about fermentation solely in the context of alcohol. Research on the microbiome and the gut-brain connection was still in its infancy, and kombucha wasn’t the trendy beverage du jour that it is today. Thanks to the ongoing work of the Weston A. Price Foundation, the publication of Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation, the launch of a bevy of blogs and YouTube videos by at-home fermentation experimenters, and other efforts, the return to ancient food traditions, though still not mainstream, is slowly gaining ground.
Howe is trying to speed that process along (although by now she knows a thing or two about patience and timing). Almost twenty years after her first humble batch of sauerkraut, Howe remains passionate about all things lacto-fermented and wants to share the miraculous microbial journey with others. In addition to writing this book, she is the founder of MakeSauerkraut. com, an online compendium of amiable kitchen wisdom where you can download step-by-step guides, recipes for everything from pickles to fizzy coconut water and recommendations on tools and equipment.
The typical reader of this journal may already be well-versed in the health perks of fermented vegetables, but it never hurts to go over this information again, especially if you need to get reluctant family members on board. Luckily, we are now at a point where plenty of scientific studies stand at the ready to back up the powerful claims of a food preservation method that has been around, largely by necessity and innate wisdom, for millennia.
As Howe explains, lacto-fermentation can dramatically increase the bioavailability of minerals and nutrients and supercharge antioxidant potential. For example, one cup of fermented red cabbage can contain as much as seven hundred milligrams of vitamin C. Food prepared in this way enhances digestion, calms our mood, lowers cholesterol, boosts immunity, neutralizes toxins and pesticides, aids in weight loss, reduces the risk of certain types of cancers and much more. Lacto-fermentation also creates an amino acid called L-glutamate that humans tend to find tasty and even borderline-addictive.
After breezing through all the reasons why you should be fermenting at home in Part One, Howe hopes you will be convinced enough to break out a knife and cutting board and get to chopping some cabbage. Part Two covers a few basic concepts, including sauerkraut’s three key ingredients (bacteria, salt, cabbage) and the equipment you will want to have ready before you get started (most of it is optional, so don’t be alarmed). Part Three comprises the seven fundamental steps to creating your first batch, as well as a discussion of how to troubleshoot any potential hang-ups. There are plenty of illustrative pictures, guidelines, tips and tricks to hold your hand along the way.
After following Howe’s seven fundamental steps a time or two, you should feel ready to make a foray into Part Four. Here you will not only find classic and dill-flavored recipes, but also plenty of ways to tickle the palette with herbs like thyme, juniper berries, rosemary, caraway, cilantro, cumin and cardamom, as well as vegetables such as beets, carrots and garlic. There is even a chapter of recipes for sweeter sauerkrauts (such as the kid-friendly Cinnamon Apple Sauerkraut), and a chapter on spicy varieties, including kimchi-style and curry-inspired versions. Part Five wraps up with more helpful tips on how to add sauerkraut to your daily meals (if you’re like most people, it will soon become second nature to add a dollop to almost any-thing); how to select the best produce (fresh and in-season is a good rule of thumb); and tools to make things easier (such as a specific digital scale). In addition, there is a handy appendix outlining how much salt to add per ingredient weight, a glossary and general guidelines on how much sauerkraut to eat at once. (Someone brand new to fermented foods might start off by sipping on the brine.) And Howe doesn’t stop there, offering readers additional helpful tips, intriguing recipes and downloadable cheat sheets on her MakingSauerkraut.com website. Overall, Fermentation Made Easy! provides a totally unintimidating toe-dip into the world of fermented foods. In this regard, one of the book’s appealing features is its vibrant and enticing up-close photography. Even if a photo just shows julienned root vegetables in a glass jar, it looks like something you want to stick a fork in and eat—like now. Something deep inside your gut just knows it is good. Sandor Katz’s tome on fermentation may be a great coffee table conversation starter, but Howe’s friendly invitation into this sometimes overwhelming subject may be more likely to wind up on the kitchen counter, perhaps dusted with salt. Fermentation Made Easy! may not be the “everything you ever needed to know” re-source for fermenting, pickling and preserving; for example, Howe is up-front that the book doesn’t cover how to make sauerkraut in a crock (although that information is available on her website). Nonetheless, this is probably the entry-level book that—besides Fallon’s classic, of course—Howe wished she had back in 2002. Someone should tell Costco to stock up; there are well over one hundred thousand people out there who could use this easy-to-follow, easy-toflip-through book. Two thumbs up.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2020🖨️ Print post