The Pickl-It system for producing tasty lacto-fermented foods was the blessing that emerged in our efforts to help our adopted son.
He was eleven months of age when we adopted him, diagnosed developmentally at a two-monthold level. Lacking motor skills—no crawling, sitting or interest in holding toys—he occupied himself by head-banging or hyper-focused staring at one object. If we touched or talked to him, he’d react by bursting into ear-splitting screams. Rejecting our offers of comfort and hugs, he’d free himself from our grasp, avoiding eye contact when we pleaded with him to let us help.
There was no doubt that a poor diet during his first 11 months of life— sugar water and soy formula— played a role in his poor physical and mental condition.
Nearly as troubling as finding blood trailing down his cheeks, resulting from his self-mutilation, was the condition of his gut.
My husband and I were “poopologists,” as one doctor along our journey described us. We’d been trained by twenty years of parrot keeping, monitoring the health or illness of our flock by observing the color, shape and frequency of their droppings.
Applying that knowledge to our son, we were greatly alarmed by his “droppings.” They alternated from bright gold to dry and white, with a sawdust-texture. If we didn’t immediately change his diaper, flame-red half-dollar size blisters appeared. We noticed that when his bowel movements cycled from bad to worse, his over-sensitivity to sound and light, hyper-focusing on objects, self-mutilation and insomnia all intensified.
TAKING ITS TOLL
The constant health and behavior issues were taking a toll on our entire family. Seeking the advice of doctors, we were discouraged when they failed to show any interest in the topic of our son’s bowel movements. Each appointment ended with a referral to yet another doctor. When we finally reached the top of the stack of diplomas, degrees and specialties, we weren’t any farther ahead than when we first began. In frustration, and only partially in jest, I suggested we’d get better results if we glued parrots feathers to our son, letting our board-certified avian vet take a look at him. All health-based discussions about our parrots always began with good solid data, obtained from various blood panels and stool cultures.
At four years of age, our son displayed significant visual and auditory hallucinations, as well as violent behavior during his Early-Intervention therapy program. A psychiatrist determined that the only “logical explanation” for his “condition” was schizophrenia, but given its rarity in a child so young, she referred us to her former colleagues, recognized as world renowned autism researchers.
They took a “conservative” approach, tabling the schizophrenia-diagnosis, and instead orchestrating a whirlwind series of tests over the next few months: MRIs, EEGs, BEAM (kicked-up EEG), IQ, competency exams, as well as stool, urine and blood panels. The tests ruled out seizures, brain tumors, fragile-X,and epilepsy. Relieved to eliminate conditions our son didn’t have, we still weren’t any closer to understanding his condition.
We found clues in a WAPF article, “Soy: The Dark Side of America’s Favorite ‘Health’ Food,” where we learned that estrogens (including the phytoestrogens in soy) can block the efficiency of thyroid hormones. Low levels of thyroid hormones can mimic psychiatric disease, paranoid depression and even hallucinations. We also learned that soy formula can depress learning and contribute to anti-social behavior.
Everything began falling into place. Noting the “poopologist” role we’d taken with our son, one of the doctors agreed that our best plan of action for our autism-spectrum son, was to continue following WAPF dietary guidelines that we had adopted in order to heal his gut. She urged us to increase our variety of lacto-fermented foods which she described as “nature’s original probiotics,” very effective at replenishing the intestinal mucous lining and maintaining a healthy microbial balance, so lacking in children like our adopted son.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
Within thirty days of stepping up our production of lacto-fermented beets, sauerkraut, carrots and kefir, the changes in our son’s “poopology” were amazing. In addition, he became more calm, making eye-contact and responding to us in full sentences. An administrator from our son’s school phoned to ask if we’d put our son on drugs without telling them, because he had become more teachable in a very short amount of time. It felt great to tell her the only thing we put him on was real food!
There was one final bump remaining on our road-to-recovery. Like so many other children suffering from autism spectrum disorders, our son had sensory issues—in his case, an acute sense of taste and smell, created a very narrow range of acceptable flavor and texture. My fermented foods were erratic, lip-puckering sour one week; the next, mushy and bland. He expected the new batch of sauerkraut to taste like the last batch. When they didn’t, his response was often one of indignation and rage.
When my husband took a wine-making class, we found a solution! Combining airlock technology from wine-making with the old fashioned, air tight glass wire-bail canning jars, we created Pickl-It, an anaerobic lacto-fermentation system.
The advantages over using simple mason jars are numerous:
• anaerobic conditions
• tight-fitting wire-bail seal and lid
• automatic release of excess carbon dioxide and oxygen
• eliminates manual “burping” of wire-bail jars
• eliminates discoloration of food due to oxidizing
• pest-proof barrier
• consistent flavor and texture
• reduced fermenting odors, especially helpful for “sensory” issues
The jars with airlocks are now available in sizes ranging from three-quarters to five liters, with two sizes of airlocks. To order and for recipe ideas, visit www.pickl-it.com. Below are a couple of recipes from our website. While the two preceding generations of my family abandoned traditional foods, my desire is for my children to return to living nutrition. Pickl-It is an easy, successful system my children are now learning, which they will carry with them into adulthood and passing it on to the next generation. As our oldest says, “I can’t imagine living without these pickles!”
Select the Pickl-It jar of the appropriate size based on the amount of cabbage you will be preparing. In general, one medium cabbage will fill a three-quarter liter jar.
Slice cabbage into 1 mm threads using a mandolin—thin, uniform cuts are key to great sauerkraut. Layer your cut cabbage in the jar, sprinkling each 1-inch layer with salt. Use 3 tablespoons salt per 5 pounds cabbage. Push 6-8 times with wooden dowel, compacting until all the cabbage and salt is loaded. Latch the jar with the Pickl-It lid and insert the Plug-R into the lid’s grommet, keeping air out.
Allow container of cabbage and salt to macerate, that is, allow the salt to pull water from the cabbage, for 30 minutes at room temperature. Check brine level; if you’re at maximum fill, or brine is 1-inch above cabbage, latch the lid closed. If you need more brine, allow the cabbage to macerate longer.
Fill water in the airlock and wrap Pickl-It with towel, blocking light, taking care not to cover the airlock. Check the jar in 24 hours to make sure the sauerkraut hasn’t expanded, reaching the airlock; if it has, remove some brine and kraut. Continue to ferment for 7-10 days at 68-72 degrees F. Traditional cultures did not eat the kraut sooner than 2 months. May be stored in the refrigerator or a root cellar.
Red Lentil Dosas
3/4 cup long-grain rice, such as jasmine or basmati rice
1/4 cup red lentils
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
grass-fed, organic ghee for frying and drizzling
Place rice, lentils and water, in a Pickl-It, cover, add airlock fill with water, and allow mixture to soak for 8 hours at room temperature. Drain, reserving the soaking water. Place rice and lentils in food processor; blend until smooth. Add reserved soaking water and blend. Scrape the puree back into the Pickl-It, cover and lock lid, making sure the airlock water is filled to the line. Allow batter to ferment for 12-24 hours. Stir in salt, turmeric, pepper and cilantro. Heat a cast iron tortilla flat pan and brush on thick layer of ghee. When water bounces across the surface, you’re ready to cook dosas. With a 1/4-cup ladle, spoon dosa batter onto hot pan, using the back of the ladle to spread a 6-inch diameter. Cook for 30-60 seconds. Drizzle the top with melted ghee. Carefully turn and cook another minute. Keep warm in a low oven over simmering water, while cooking the remainder of the dosas, or hand them out to the extended plates, hovering mid-air.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2010.