Homemade Sauerkraut & How it Taught Me to Grow a Life I Loved

homemade sauerkraut: beet kraut and curry kraut

homemade sauerkraut: beet kraut and curry kraut

I have a (slightly embarrassing) confession.  I didn’t eat sauerkraut until I was 23.  

The embarrassing part isn’t that it took me so long to eat it, but that it took me so long to know what it was.  Like kale and bok choi and hakurei turnips, I didn’t discover kraut until I began farming.  

Two years into my life as a farmer, still working on other people’s farms at the time, a new friend came over for a mid-winter dinner, bringing a jar of homemade sauerkraut with him.  I played it cool, like I’d eaten kraut for ages.  Like I totally knew what it was.

And when he left, I inspected the jar and asked Edge, what is this?  

Maybe this isn’t cause for embarrassment for you, but for me, a new sprout in the organic farming and homesteading community, I wanted to already know these staple foods.  I wanted to already know how to make kraut.  

I wanted to be past the seedling stage already.  To be fully rooted in this lifestyle that called so deeply to my heart (and belly).  

It’s not so unlike wanting to be 16 when I was only 8 years old.  But children don’t just leap over the ensuing years, and plants don’t just jump from seedling to seed head.  

In between is growth.  And that’s where the good stuff is.  

What about you?  Have you felt stuck between where you are and where you want to be?  Have you ever felt like you’re at the doorway of a new phase or community, looking in and scared to step through until you “know enough”?  You’re not alone.

After I got past the embarrassment, I ate the sauerkraut.  

It was crunchy and zingy, and while it took me a few tries to decide how I felt about it, kraut is now one of my favorite foods.  Eventually, I even began making it myself, first in jars, now in 5-gallon buckets.  

I’ve learned that stretching into the unknown is part of the seedling stage.  And while I may be scared of a misstep, the reality of my experience has been one of generous teachers who share their own mistakes and how they grew from them.  

I’ve learned that to be rooted in this lifestyle, I have to step over the threshold, put my hands in the soil, and ask questions.  I have to be willing to not know and willing to learn.

With tenderness toward my younger self, I offer you my two favorite kraut recipes.

But first, why make and eat sauerkraut?

Sauerkraut and other lacto-fermented foods are like compost for your gut.  Just as compost helps grow healthy soil, lacto-fermented foods are filled with probiotics to support a healthy gut biome.

Unlike canning, which kills bad bacteria through heat or pressure, lacto-fermentation uses high amounts of salt, which kills bad bacteria but leaves lactobacillus (good bacteria) to transform the vegetables into a tangy preserve through a process of converting lactose and sugars into lactic acid.

All you need for a simple homemade sauerkraut is sea salt and cabbage.  My two favorites, though, add a twist: curry and beets.  

What you’ll need:

  • 5 lbs cabbage : 3 tbs sea salt
  • Glass jar, crock, or food-grade plastic bucket
  • Wooden pounder (can be a spoon)
  • Plastic Gloves (if pounding kraut by hand, I find gloves save my skin from the salt water)
  • Weight for the top of the crock/jar (can be a smaller jar weighted with water, a plate, etc.  Be sure to use glass, pottery, or food-grade plastic—not metal).
  • For curry kraut, add 1.5 tbs of curry
  • For beet kraut, use 2.5 lbs cabbage and 2.5 lbs shredded beets and mix thoroughly

Step 1 : Prepare

  • Get your supplies ready.
  • Shred cabbage with a knife, mandolin, or food processor.
  • Weigh out 5 lbs cabbage to 3 tbs sea salt.

Step 2: Assemble

  • In a large bowl, sprinkle sea salt onto cabbage and mix thoroughly.  Alternatively, you can add salt a little at a time directly into the jar/crock as you add cabbage.  For curry kraut, sprinkle curry powder in at the same time as the sea salt.
  • Taking one or two handfuls at a time, pound the salted cabbage in the jar/crock, releasing water from the cabbage as you pound.  Add more cabbage ss the water releases and covers each layer.  Continue until all the cabbage is pounded into the jar/crock and the brine is covering the top.
  • Weight the cabbage down under the brine.  For lacto-fermentation to occur, the cabbage must be completely submerged.

Step 3: Wait

  • You’ve done your work.  The rest happens on its own.  Now you’re in that space between beginning and finished, when you have to trust the process and give space for transformation.
  • Keep the fermenting kraut at room temperature.  Taste test in about 5 days.  When it’s fully fermented, store kraut in the fridge.
  • Try it with sandwiches, roasted chicken, or beef stew.  Anything, really.  I love kraut as a side dish to most lunches and dinners, and even with my eggs for breakfast!  

Now I’d love to hear from you.  What embarrassments or questions have held you back?  What do you want to know more about when it comes to organic gardening, homesteading, and creating an organic life?  

Leave your questions in the comments below, and we’ll find the answers together.

Make the Perfect Morning with Homemade Chai

homemade chai

All mornings are perfect for homemade chai, but some particularly so.

Take this morning: a clear sky, the first hard frost crystallizing the fields, and the warmth of the wood stove against the crispness of a November day.

Even if it’s not the weekend, making chai gives me permission to stretch the morning out, to move with the sunrise and not the speed of the second hand.

I wish I could give you a recipe for chai, but I can’t.  I’m not that precise, and anyway I usually stray from recipes myself.  So I’ll give you what I call “recipe improv” instead: the ingredients, the method, the invitation to try it yourself.

Ingredients:

  • Black tea ~ Our current tea of choice is CTC Assam.  Orange Pekoe, Ceylon, or English Breakfast also work.  Try them all, do taste tests, and know that your chai will taste different with each type of tea.
  • Water
  • MilkMilk matters.  Whole milk will give you the richest chai.  If you’re not after richness, or if you’re scared of fat and only drink skim, skip chai completely and just boil some water.  The best milk to use is local raw milk, which will always be fresher than store-bought pasteurized milk, and in our experience has the best flavor.  
    • *Since going on an anti-inflammatory diet as part of my lyme protocol, I’ve experimented with different milk alternatives.  Coconut milk offers the best substitute when it comes to the fat factor.  Soy milk is my second choice.
  • Sweetenermaple syrup or honey.  
  • Cardamon
  • Cinnamon
  • Optional: cloves, fennel seed, orange peel, ginger, black pepper, salt

Method:

Fill a small or medium pot halfway with water, add a few cardamon pods (and any other optional spices you’d like), and bring to a boil.  Depending on the number of cups we’re making, we add anywhere between 2-5 pods.

When the water is at a boil, add one teaspoon of tea per mug of water, and let steep for 3-5 minutes.

Turn heat down to a simmer and add enough milk to double the volume (or until the tea is a nice creamy golden color), then add sweetener.  If you over-sweeten the chai, it can turn into a dessert rather than a breakfast drink, so go slow.  You can always add more sweetener to your cup at the end.

Let the chai simmer until the milk froths up, then turn off the heat.

Pour chai through a strainer and into your mug.  If you like salt, sprinkle the smallest amount in now.

Drink!  Smile.  Exhale.  Repeat.

Invitation:

Our chai changes with the seasons and what ingredients we have on hand.  Be playful, know that some cups will be better than others, and keep on going until you find your favorite mix of ingredients.

At some point you may find, as we have, that the process itself becomes a meditation, almost as centering and enjoyable as that first sip itself.

Almost.


Do you make homemade chai, too?  What’s your favorite recipe?  If this is your first time making it at home, let me know how it turns out!

Easy Herbal Remedies for Cold Season

organic elderberries

organic elderberries

It’s that time: cold season.

My son Waylon’s been stuffed up all week with a head cold and a cough.  Yesterday Edge caught the same thing, and the two of them cozied up together on the couch for a daytime movie.  

There was a time I believed I’d never allow multiple days of movies when the sun was shining outside, but something about a 4-year-old’s droopy eyes, stuffy nose, open mouth and booger-wiped cheeks really softened me.  

I made a fresh batch of elderberry syrup to combat the cold, and we’ve all been taking spoonfuls throughout the day—Edge and Waylon to get better, and me to stay well.

In between spoonfuls of syrup, we’re drinking ginger-honey-thyme tea, which is so much better than a cough drop.  The warmth of the tea eases the chest and encourages circulation.  And it’s delicious.  

If you’re caught with a fall or winter cold, try these easy herbal remedies:

Ginger-Honey-Thyme Tea

Ginger is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and can increase the speed of recovery from coughs and colds.

Honey has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and can soothe sore throats.

Thyme is an antiseptic, antispasmodic, and expectorant, meaning it eases sore throats and coughs, brings up phlegm, and relaxes the respiratory system.  

Ingredients

  • 1 quart water
  • 4-6 ½” slices of ginger
  • 1 tsp dried thyme, or 1 TBS fresh thyme
  • 1 TBS honey

Add ginger and thyme to water and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat, cover with a lid and let simmer for 5-10 minutes.  Stir in the honey (if a TBS is too much, start off with a smaller amount and adjust to taste).

For a real kick, add a clove of garlic.   

Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry syrup is anti-inflammatory and anti-viral, and reduces the severity and duration of cold & flu symptoms; drink it when you’re healthy, and it will help keep colds & flu at bay.

Ingredients

  • 3 C water
  • 1 C elderberries (fresh or frozen)
  • ¾ C honey, or to taste
  • ¼ C apple cider vinegar, or to taste
  • 1-2 TBS ginger, chopped or put through garlic press (optional)

Equipment

  • large stainless steel saucepan
  • medium stainless steel pot
  • fine-mesh sieve
  • glass quart-jar with lid

Combine water, elderberries, and ginger in saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn down to medium heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Take off heat, and crush the berries with the back of a spoon, or a wooden pounder.  

Place the sieve over the pot and ladle the liquid and berries into sieve, pressing the berries with the back of a spoon to squeeze out any retained juice.  Compost elder seeds and ginger mash.

While still warm, add the honey to the pot and stir to combine, then mix in the cider vinegar. Taste the syrup and add more honey or cider vinegar to your liking.

Pour syrup into a glass jar and store in the refrigerator, where it will keep up to three months.

For cold prevention, take 2 or 3 times a day with meals.  If you’re in the midst of a cold, take 1 teaspoon every 1 ½ – 2 hours.


What’s your favorite herbal remedy?  Share it below in the comments~

Nana’s Apple Pie: a recipe for life

rolling out Nana's apple pie crustIt’s the feel of the dough that’s most important.

When the milk and oil and flour and that pinch of salt are all mixed together and I scoop my hands into the bowl to knead the final moisture into the dough, I know immediately if it will roll out or not.

If it breaks at all as I turn it in my hands, the ball falls heavy into the compost, and I go back to the bag of flour with my fork to fluff it up and begin measuring each ingredient again.

If it’s smooth and shiny and flexible against my pull, I lay it down on wax paper with another sheet on top, and begin to roll.

My Nana’s pie crust isn’t finicky per se.  It just demands full attention.

It’s stubborn in the way that she was, unafraid to blankly tell you when you’re wrong.  And in her way, too, it softens with approval when it stretches beneath the rolling pin and gives a little nod as it lays into the pie plate.

I pull her recipe out a few times a year: for rhubarb custard pie in the spring, for apple pie after picking in the fall, and for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

peeled apples for Nana's apple pieYears ago, when I began celebrating Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, I carried Nana’s apple pie with me.  More than her mashed potatoes with sausage, more than her pork and beef stuffing, more than anything else from my childhood celebrations, Nana’s apple pie holds the heritage of taste and tradition for me.

Made with granny smiths and one or two macs, the tartness of the apples keeps it from being overly sweet, while the milk-brushed crust laces a toasted, almost nutty flavor through each bite.

I’ve encountered many people from pie-baking families who claim their grandmother’s is the best, but whether it’s because of the countless memories this pie holds for me, or because it truly is the best, Nana’s recipe has ruined me for all other apple pies.

Nana's apple pie

As I assembled the ingredients one Thanksgiving, my niece, Aiyla, asked if she could help.

I showed her how to fluff the flour and gently fill the measuring cup.  Remembering the lure of the rolling pin, I handed it to her and watched as the crust grew wider.  Together, we chopped the apples and piled them into the plate, then sprinkled the spiced sugar and flour over them and topped the whole thing with slices of butter before laying on the top crust.

“North, East, South, West,” my niece Noor said as she looked at the pie.

“Oh yeah, it looks like directions,” said my sister-in-law.

Confused, I looked and saw it, too: the “N” that I slit in the crust, plus the four slits along the perimeter, made the pie look like a compass.  I remembered the first pie my dad made after Nana died, and how he replaced the “A” with “N” and we all ate it feeling her absence and presence at once.

Now I see how Nana’s apple pie has become somewhat of a compass for me.

I’ve made this crust in the midst of many journeys: in Northern Ireland, North Country New York, New Zealand, Alaska, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont.  Each time I make an apple pie I think of her.  I see her confident wrinkled hands and her silver hair twisted up in a bun and her blue eyes watching so closely.  I see the quiet praise as she slowly ate each bite, and I realize the lesson she taught in every meal: what we feed each other matters.

It could be apple pie or mashed potatoes—whatever it is we bake and cook for each other, it deserves our full attention.  That’s the difference between a successful crust and a broken one: how much of ourselves we bring to the table.

Nana's apple pie

 

Nana Spring’s Apple Pie Recipe

CRUST: Makes 1 top or bottom for a 10″ pie

  • 1 1/2 C flour  (Note:1 1/2 C flour = 200 grams.  Nana always did this by feel, but after too many failed crusts, my dad went to her house and said, “Make a crust.  I’m watching how you do it.”  The key was fluffing the flour with a fork, and lightly filling the measuring cups, which yields less flour than a packed cup.  After much trial and error, my dad got scientific and weighed out the correct amount).
  • 6 TBS oil
  • 1/4 C milk
  • Pinch salt
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together all ingredients.  When it is mostly incorporated, knead it into a ball with your hands.  The dough should be moist enough to roll out smoothly without cracking.
FILLING:
  • 6-8 apples ( Granny Smiths with 1-2 Macs)
  • 3/4 C Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp flour

Instructions:

  1. Peel and cut apples in 1″ chunks and put into crust
  2.  Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour over apples
  3. Place 4-5 pats butter on top of apples
  4. Put on top crust, pinch the sides together
  5. Lightly brush crust with milk, then sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake at 435° for 15 minutes, then turn down to 350° for 50-60 minutes.

Magic Soup Starter

making magic soup starter

Before soup season comes soup-starter season.

When my husband Edge farmed in Alaska, this was the “magic stuff” that started many meals throughout the winter months. If you don’t have veggie stock on hand, this preserve will make up for it fast.  (I once had a roommate who always remembered to put veggie scraps in the freezer.  When the bag was full, she’d pull it out to make stock.  It always impressed me.  To this day, I still don’t remember to do this).

The magic soup starter is a vegetable-salt preserve.  With more salt than a kraut, it will keep without fermenting.

You can use any combination of vegetables.  Here are my favorite:

  • celery
  • carrots
  • onion
  • garlic
  • sage
  • thyme

You can go beyond these veggies, and add kale, beets, or any other root vegetable (just be aware that beets will turn your stock red).  Alternatively, keep it simple with celery, carrots, and onion.  The only rule in this recipe is 5 lbs of vegetables to 1 lb of salt.

Once made, store the soup starter in a cool, dark place (we keep ours in the pantry).  We always go through it within 2 months.  Kept longer than 3 months, the color in the vegetables will start to fade.

 

Magic Soup Starter
Recipe type: vegetable-salt preserve
 
Ingredients
  • 5 lbs of vegetables—any combination of:
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • 1 lb salt
Instructions
  1. Grate or finely chop the vegetables and herbs
  2. Weigh vegetable mix to 5 lbs
  3. Add 1 lb salt
  4. Mix thoroughly
  5. To store, pack tightly into glass containers
  6. To use: Sauté 1 heaping TBS of soup starter in 1 TBS olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add 4 C water, bring to a boil. Strain out the veggies for straight stock, or keep them in and add fresh vegetables to make vegetable soup.