I remember when I first read about lacto-fermentation. I was reading through Nourishing Traditions for the first time over five years ago. It seemed so far out there as a possibility in my kitchen that I kind of just skipped right over it, right along with the organ meats section.
Instead, I started with the easier and less weird traditional foods practices. I soaked our beans and our oatmeal. We ate plenty of healthy animal fats. We ate organic produce and pastured animal products. All of these were great for our overall health, but something was missing.
I have since read through Nourishing Traditions a few times, usually in those nursing the newborn months that require lots of sitting. And I kept coming back to fermented foods over and over again, but still for about two years I hesitated.
And then we realized we needed to be growing our own food or finding it closer to home. Which also meant lots of preserving. I spent that first summer canning pickles and tomatoes and jams over a boiling canner in 90 degree weather. Not only was I sweating like you wouldn’t believe, but I was also killing everything decent in those cucumbers, tomatoes, and fruits through the canning process.
So I bit the bullet and began fermenting those vegetables. It has been over three years now and I haven’t turned back.
Lacto-fermented vegetables are a traditional food, meaning that they were eaten by our ancestors for thousands of years before refrigeration, pasteurization, and the modern diet was invented.
When you lacto-ferment a vegetable you are allowing the naturally present organisms to proliferate. These natural organisms, some of them organic acids, some of them beneficial bacteria (known as probiotics) preserve the food product you are fermenting, whether cabbage or cucumbers.
This was revolutionary for me. You can actually preserve this food without having to rely on freezing or hours of canning, both of which use a ton of energy, something I wasn’t really excited about in terms of creating a sustainable homestead.
Let’s be honest, generally speaking good food costs more money than its artificially cheap counterparts. But when you put in a little bit of time to make these lacto-fermented vegetables you can literally save a ton of money. Let me tell you how.
First you start with in-season foods, whether they come from your garden (preferable), or a local farmer. When there is an abundance of anything it is almost always less expensive. So getting your cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers in the heat of summer and fermenting them into salsas and pickles right then and there will give you gallons of these goodies all winter long, at a fraction of the price of the store-bought counterparts.
You will also avoid having to buy canning lids over and over. Pick a fermentation vessel – jars, crocks, etc. – and reuse them year after year.
Finally, you will save the electricity, gas, or other fuel required to can and freeze produce and we all know that adds up.
Who doesn’t want to preserve food in a way that actually increases its nutritional value? You can create more probiotics and enzymes, more vitamins and minerals, and a completely living food when you ferment it.
This is particularly important in those months that you may not be able to get your hands on anything fresh. These krauts, pickles, and more will act as a digestive aid to your hearty winter meals by breaking down fats, proteins, and carbohydrates and making them easier to digest. It will also make it easier to assimilate the nutrients in your overall diet.
Whatever your reason for trying lacto-fermentation – health, sustainability, or savings – there is no reason to put it off. These tangy foods are delicious. I recommend starting with salsa and pickles, two of our family’s favorites. You can also find some fermented foods in the refrigerator case of your local grocery store or online.