Home-Made Organic Sauerkraut
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Making your own homemade, organic sauerkraut is easy and fun, and you’ll get a better crunch and flavor than store-bought. The lactobacilli that actual do the work of making the kraut are already in the air. You just set things up so they can go to work.
Use a ceramic crock with a fired, non-porous surface, a glass jar or jug, or a food-grade plastic container. Make sure it’s food grade plastic or it will leach toxic chemicals into your kraut.
Use a mandoline or vegetable grater to make cabbage shreds. This recipe calls for three tablespoons of salt. If you are on a salt restricted diet, you have two options. Reduce the salt by half (this will result in a limp sauerkraut rather than the crunchy kraut we’re really after) or pass on making your own sauerkraut. The reason is that salt creates an inhospitable environment for pathogenic organisms, keeping your kraut safe to eat. Lactobacilli are salt tolerant, and not only that, they are a main component of your intestinal flora, and by eating homemade kraut, you’ll be recharging your intestines with natural, wholesome, and health-promoting bacteria.
The weight that’s called for can be a simple plate laid on top of the cabbage and weighed down with two or even three closed quart canning jars full of tap water. Eat a test sample of the sauerkraut after two weeks to see if it’s to your liking. It should be ready, and it should increase in sourness for another two weeks. It can be—and maybe should be—refrigerated after three weeks from inception, and eaten within six weeks from the day you made it.
If it turns brown and has any off-taste at all, discard it. But in all likelihood, you’ll find that your own sauerkraut puts almost all store-bought krauts, especially those that have been pasteurized (canned), to shame. And it will be 100 percent organic.
You can add other vegetables, such as spicy, fresh-split chilies, peeled and crushed garlic cloves, even a few juniper berries. But for your first batch, stick with cabbage alone.
2 heads of organic cabbage (about 5 pounds)
3 tablespoons non-iodized (kosher or sea) salt
1. Grate one cabbage and place in a vitreous crock, large glass jar or jug, or food-grade plastic bucket, not in a metal container.
2. Sprinkle half the salt over the cabbage. Grate the second cabbage and add it to the crock. Sprinkle on the rest of the salt.
3. Crush the mixture with your hands until liquid comes out of the cabbage freely. Place a plate on top of the cabbage, then weigh down the top of the plate. Cover the container with a loose lid or cloth.
4. After two days, scoop the scum off the top of the liquid. Place the plate back on, add the weight, and check every three days, removing scum as necessary.
5. After two weeks, sample the sauerkraut to see if it tastes ready to eat. The flavor will continue to mature for the next several weeks. Canning or refrigerating the sauerkraut will extend its shelf life. Yields about two quarts.
Remember that I reported to you a few months ago that the current Federal Secretary of Agriculture, like his predecessors before him in the Bush administration, brought in agribusiness flacks to help define what’s organic and what’s not? Well, they’ve done their work well, and the organic purity law is under attack by Big Ag again. Read all about it and see how you can protest at this link:
The Organic Center in Colorado has an excellent website devoted to disseminating evidence and science-based information about the health and environmental values of organic agriculture and foodstuffs. I really encourage you to check them out at www.organic-center.org.
Ajinomoto, the company that makes aspartame, has changed its name to AminoSweet. It has the same toxicity as before, but a new, nice-sounding name.
Aspartame was invented as a drug, but upon discovery of its sweet taste was transformed into a food additive.
This latest aspartame marketing scheme is an attempt to fool the public into accepting the chemical sweetener as natural and safe, despite much evidence to the contrary.
Can an Oyster be Organic?
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The short answer is no. Oysters are grown in ocean bays, inlets, and estuaries where the water’s quality cannot be controlled, only monitored.
If there’s a water quality problem—such as after a rain where dairy animal waste may make its way into the water or there’s a red tide—the Federal Government has inspectors in place that quickly shut down oystering in affected beds.
But that doesn’t mean that raw oysters on the half shell can’t be a part of a healthy, organic diet. These little morsels of soft, yielding flesh are chock full of minerals, as you’d expect from filter feeders in salt and brackish waters. They are especially rich in zinc, a mineral that’s essential for proper sexual functioning, particularly in men. There are some caveats about buying oysters, however.
1) The fresher, the better. Always, and without fail, find out from your fishmonger or supplier when fresh shipments come in and buy them then.
2) The more northerly they grow, the safer they will be. In southern oyster beds, such as in Florida and Louisiana, there’s a chance of oysters being infected with Vibrio vulnificus—a nasty disease that can cause death—and/or Vibrio parahaemolyticus, less life-threatening but a food poisoning so violently sickening you’ll want to die. Both are related to the Vibrio that causes cholera.
On the West Coast, select oysters grown from San Francisco north into British Columbia. These will most likely be Crassostrea gigas, although more and more oyster farmers are growing the prized eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, and even the European flat oyster called Belon in France, Ostrea edulis. If you can find them, little Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) are the indigenous oyster of the West Coast.
On the East Coast, select oysters grown from Chesapeake Bay north to the Canadian Maritimes. Almost all the oysters in commerce will be the native Crassostrea virginica. They are given different names—and even show different flavors—depending on where they are harvested. Malpeques from Prince Edward Island, Wellfleets from Cape Cod, and Blue Points from Long Island Sound are all Crassostrea virginica.
Qlympia oysters, called Olys (OH-lees) by their aficionados, are both farmed and wild harvested on the West Coast. Before the Gold Rush, they thickly encrusted the shores of San Francisco Bay. The dish called Hangtown Fry was the meal asked for by condemned miners in the Sierra foothills because it contained eggs, oysters, and bacon—all three ingredients hard to come by in those times, which might have prolonged the condemned’s lives for a bit until the noose was draped around their necks.
Placer mining—firing heavy streams of water at banks of soil, rocks, and perhaps a little gold—sent untold tons of slurry down to San Francisco Bay, which covered up the oyster beds and killed the Olys wholesale. Paper mills farther north up turned raw wood pulp into paper and incidentally soaked the surrounding shorelines with the toxic chemical wastes produced by the paper mills, which killed off the native oysters until, by the 1950s, Olympia oysters were an endangered species.
But then environmental laws went into effect, the paper mills shut down, and friends of the Olys have emerged to repopulate the inlets of Puget Sound with these choice little oysters. They differ by the inlet in which they grow. In Little Skookum inlet, for instance, they develop grooved shells that resemble a raccoon’s footprint in shape, and locals call them “coonfoot oysters.” But in most places from Olympia to Bellingham, and even down into California, they are known as Olympias, or simply Olys.
They are a small oyster, about the size of a half dollar coin—although younger readers may wonder at that description, having never seen a half dollar coin. Let’s just say they are about half the size of Crassostrea gigas, the Pacific oyster brought here in the 20th Century to replace the Olys, because C. gigas tolerates pollution better than Olympias. Most of our West Coast oysters today are local variations of C. gigas.
There’s not a lot of meat in an Oly, but what there is is sweet, tender, and briny. You would be well advised to keep your eyes peeled for them. Almost all farmed Olys are grown in natural inlets of Puget Sound and hardly qualify as farmed. Most oystermen (and oysterwomen) simply pick up Olys that have grown naturally on the gravelly and shell-strewn bottoms of the inlets. Several groups have been re-introducing Olys into their natural habitats in inlets where pollution or overharvesting originally wiped them out.
But there are still some natural, original beds of wild oysters growing in Puget Sound. There’s essentially no difference between naturally-occurring oyster beds and those reintroduced into wild places by environmentalists. All grow in the fertile waters of the Sound. All feed on the nutrients in the algae blooms caused by the nutrients released by salmon after they spawn and die upstream. And all are superior oysters in texture and flavor. Look for them, and buy them when you can.
Wild food may not be organic in the strict letter of the law, but they are organic in the spirit. Mother Nature, after all, does not use factory-made poisons as she gardens the world.
The Feast in the Forest
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Wild foraged food might not be organic, in the strict sense of that word, but it grows without the use of agricultural chemicals and feeds on the decaying residue of previous year’s plants. So, in the spirit if not the letter of the National Organic Program, it’s organic with a small “o.”
I don’t know about you, but as a youngster, I grew up roaming the wild hills of the Northeastern U.S.; in the Pocono Mountains, to be specific. There was a feast of wild food in those forests and meadows, along and in its streams, and by its pathways and roadsides.
Even in winter, one could drink tea made from the hips of the multiflora roses that grew everywhere and supported much wildlife. Those hickory nuts gathered in the fall cure themselves and dry out just in time for the winter holidays. Pennsylvania is a land of hunters, and small game like rabbits, pheasants, grouse, and wild turkeys was always plentiful. In December deer season began, and most folks I knew had a freezer for when the deer came home, cut into pieces and wrapped in butcher paper.
And winter was the lean time. In spring, our hillsides were covered with wild strawberries growing down among the field grasses, and when the sun shone and the humid air rose from the fields, it carried the scent of those strawberries to our noses. Soon we were on hands and knees, gobbling them by the handfuls. Wineberries, originally brought from China in the late 19th Century, escaped into the wild and their canes hung heavy with lovely sweet, garnet-colored fruit. The black raspberries had the most delicious flavor and there was even a native red raspberry. Blueberries and huckleberries were indigenous to those hills and never hard to find. Dewberries, a form of low-growing trailing blackberry, dangled their shiny black fruits along the roadsides.
There were fish in the streams—trout stocked by the State Fish & Game Department and native brown trout, too—along with pickerel, bass, and catfish that we kids would catch and cook ourselves.
Where I lived, the back country streams were spring fed, and so clear and cold you could drink right from them. In late summer, walking a fencerow or dirt road, you could smell the wild grapes and look up into the trees for them. They smelled and tasted like Concord grapes because Concord is a selected sport of the wild grape of the east.
The towering American chestnut forests were gone—wiped out by a fungus—but their roots lived on, sending up young trunks that could survive for about five to 10 years before succumbing to the fungus, and sometimes that was enough time for them to set a crop of chestnuts, and we kids loved finding and cooking those.
And the mushrooms: in the spring, there were the incomparably delicious morels, in the fall chanterelles, plus oyster mushrooms and black trumpet mushrooms, and if we were really lucky, the boletes that Italians call “porcini”—little pigs.
Watercress grew along the rivulets of spring water that issued from the ground. And when we kids couldn’t find anything to eat, there was always plenty of nourishing sunlight to warm us up on lazy summer days.
Such food was pure and delicious, and it nourished our young souls as well as our bodies, because its abundance assured us that the world was benign, and that nature was on our side.
Today I’m no longer tramping about the eastern woodlands, but I eat organic whenever possible. I find that organic food, because of the benign way it’s produced, gives me something of the same soulful nourishment that the wild foods of my childhood did.
The Best Hash Browns Ever
My mom made the best has browns ever, but the recipe passed on when she did many decades ago. Since then, I have been trying to recreate her hash browns. After many, many years, much trial and error, and lots of failure, I’ve finally been able to produce Hazel Cox’s hash browns from my very own kitchen, and they are as delicious as I remember them from my childhood.
Here’s how to make them.
Start by filling a large saucepan with water and add a scant teaspoon of salt to the water. Turn the heat to high and let it reach a full boil.
Use Yukon Gold potatoes. She probably used Russets, a floury type, simply because they were the only potato variety available back then, except for red starchy potatoes. Yukon Golds are choice because they are sweet enough to brown up nicely. Start with about three pounds. Cut them into small, 1/3-inch cubes. I set a potato on its side and cut 1/3-inch rounds to the middle of the spud. I set these rounds, largest cut side down, on the cutting board. There will be three or four rounds, depending on the size of the original potato. Then, very carefully, I cut down through the stack of rounds at 1/3-inch intervals, turn the stack 90 degrees, and cut again at 1/3-inch intervals across the stack. I repeat this with the second half of the potato. It yields a nice pile of small, raw potatoes. I repeat the process with all the potatoes.
Now scoop up all the potato cubes and place them in the boiling, salted water. Stir every minute or so to prevent the potatoes sticking to the hot bottom of the saucepan. In about five minutes, each little cube will be al dente—done “to the tooth” as the Italians say, meaning that they are cooked but still retain some firmness. Remove the saucepan to the sink, pour off most of the water, and fill the pan with cold water to stop the cooking. Set the pan with the potatoes and water aside.
In a large iron skillet over medium heat, lay four slices of thick, applewood smoked bacon. Turn the slices frequently to encourage the bacon fat to run. While the bacon is cooking, dice a small onion. I cut off the root end and the top end, then make a score on the skin from one end to the other and remove the outer layer of onion skin. Then, using a sharp knife, I make slices about ¼-inch wide down from the top end toward the root end, side by side, but not all the way through the onion. I turn it 90 degrees and again make ¼-inch slices from the top end down toward the bottom end, but not all the way through. Now I set the onion on its side and make ¼-inch slices from the top end toward the bottom end, resulting in a cascade of ¼-inch dice. When I reach the part of the onion that hasn’t been cut, I turn the onion interior side down, cut ¼-inch slices across this butt end, turn the end 90 degrees and make a second row of ¼-inch slices. Now the whole onion is diced.
The bacon should be sizzling and yielding up its fat to the skillet by this time. When the bacon has started to become brittle and rendered out most of its fat, remove the slices to paper towels. Use this meat for salad dressing, BLTs, or what have you, but it’s the fat in the pan that you want. Now drain the potatoes and add them to the skillet set over medium high heat. Turn the potatoes every couple of minutes with a spatula, lifting then and turning them over so a new side will start to brown. After 15 minutes, add the diced onions, and continue turning every two or three minutes. Right about now, add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. This is a personal preference, so I’m not going to suggest amounts of salt and pepper. Personally, I like lots of pepper and less salt. But add the amounts you like.
Turn and cook the potatoes until they achieve a speckled brownness, but don’t let them burn black, even a little, for that means they are becoming bitter. This may be another 20 minutes of so. Serve immediately. I guarantee the potato lovers in your family will bless your name.
Putting the Garden to Bed
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Whether your garden is just a small plot of flowers by the front door or a full-on truck patch, you’ll want to put it to bed for the winter. The purpose is to prepare the garden beds for next spring, when you’ll be planting again. Start by pulling out any weeds that you’ve let grow as summer turned to fall and garden work became less appealing. Especially pull out any weeds that have gone to seed. Then turn any finished crops or frost-bitten annual flowers into the soil with a spade. They’ll rot overwinter and help fertilize your soil. Cut perennials off about two inches above ground level and remove the tops to the compost pile, or let them lay on the ground to rot over winter. Now fertilize the beds with at least two inches—or more if you’ve got it—of well-made compost. A cubic foot of compost will cover about six square feet of soil, or shovel compost onto the beds and rake it out evenly so it’s about two or three inches deep.
Leaves are your friends. Cover your garden beds with leaves you’ve raked up. Scavenge the neighborhood for your neighbors’ bags of leaves. Cover your beds with a good six inches of leaves and wet them down with a hose. If you have the time and inclination, run your lawnmower over the leaves to reduce them to chopped mulch. If the mower is blowing the chopped leaves too far afield, chop the leaves with the mower near a wall, where the leaf mulch will collect. Then transfer it to the garden. Leaves are super-nutritious for the soil.
If you have tender plants that will need protection overwinter, such as hybrid tea roses, Make chicken wire cylinders about three feet in diameter and three feet tall. Trim your dormant roses back as you normally would—to two or three canes each about a foot long. Now cover each plant with its own wire cage. Fill the wire cages with leaves and fix a piece of bird netting over the top so rain can enter but winter winds can’t whirl the leaves away. If you live in a very cold region—USDA Zones 5 or colder—you should additionally wrap the rose canes with old cloths, old cloth rugs, or anything that will cover them against the cold, before putting the wire cages over them and filling them with leaves.
Your seed catalogs will start arriving around the first of the year. Order early to make sure you get what you want. When things start warming up in the spring, turn the overwintered leaves and compost into the garden soil and add another two or three inches of compost to the soil surface. Your garden will be ready to grow, and will start growing cold-season crops when the soil temperature reaches a steady 50 degrees F.
The term “organic” has its own watchdog agency separate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Cornucopia Institute is a non-profit organization located in Cornucopia, Wisconsin, that seeks justice for family organic farmers. Part of that task is to guard the term “organic” so it is not misused or applied to foods that are not organic. The Institute recently released an important report on breakfast cereals and granolas. It’s important enough to give you the full executive summary. You’ll note that the full report includes a scorecard of 50 cereals showing which are truly organic and which aren’t. The results may surprise you. Here’s their executive summary of the report, followed by a link to the scorecard.
Federal law requires that organic food products be produced in ways that promote ecological sustainability, without the toxic inputs and genetically engineered ingredients that are common in the conventional food system. Increasingly, these organic products are forced to compete with products that claim to be “natural.” No legal requirements or restrictions exist for foods labeled “natural.” The term, in many instances, constitutes meaningless marketing hype promoted by corporate interests seeking to cash in on the consumer’s desire for food produced in a genuinely healthy and sustainable manner.
Unlike the organic label, no government agency, certification group or other independent entity defines the term “natural” on food packages or ensures that the claim has merit (other than meat, where the USDA has created some extremely modest requirements). Each corporation determines its own definition of the “natural” label. “Natural” generally is thought to mean “no artificial ingredients,” including preservatives, but the farms and processing plants that produce ingredients for “natural” foods are not prohibited by law from using dangerous pesticides, genetically engineered crops, fumigants, solvents and toxic processing aids. These agricultural and manufacturing inputs are not required by law to be listed on ingredient labels.
This report explores the growing trend toward labeling conventional foods as “natural,” focusing on breakfast cereal and granola, which are considered staples in many American households. Since breakfast cereals are popular with children, it is especially important for parents to be aware of the differences between “natural” products, with conventional ingredients, and certified organic ones. Children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of synthetic pesticides and other inputs that are commonly used in “natural” products but prohibited in organics. This report stresses that the terms “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable, and an analysis of the differences shows why health-conscious and ecoconscious consumers should check carefully for the word “organic” before putting a box of cereal or bag of granola in their shopping cart.
Section I of the report covers the legal requirements that distinguish organic claims from “natural” claims on food packages. Federal law requires that foods with the “organic” label be produced in ways that are substantially different from conventional food production. Independent USDA-accredited certifying agents ensure that organic producers follow these strict federal standards. No such legal requirement exists for “natural” labels on foods. Since no federal law exists to define and standardize “natural” claims, each company comes up with its own self-serving definition.
Section II explores several company definitions of “natural,” underscoring how vastly different they can be. For example, some companies go to the expense of procuring non-genetically engineered corn in “natural” products, while many “natural” breakfast cereals contain high levels of genetically engineered ingredients. Yet despite the substantial legal difference between organic and “natural” labels on foods, polls show many consumers are unaware of these differences.
In Section III, results from various polls show that many consumers erroneously believe that the “natural” label has merit, such as signifying that the food is free of pesticides and genetically engineered ingredients. Companies that market “natural” foods to ecoconscious and health-conscious consumers benefit from this widespread confusion between organic and “natural.”
Section IV details various tactics that have been used by companies in their attempt to appear to be equivalent to organics, intentionally blurring the distinction to mislead shoppers. To empower consumers who wish to support companies that are committed to organics, food safety and environmentally sustainable agriculture, Section V includes company profiles of organic and “natural” cereal and granola brands. This section lifts the veil on corporate owners of popular brands that sometimes actively hide their identity from their customers, perhaps knowing that consumers drawn to “natural” labels would not be interested in enriching multibillion-dollar corporations. Bear Naked®, owned by Kellogg Company, is an example: the name Kellogg appears nowhere on Bear Naked® packaging or its website. This section sheds light on corporate identities of popular organic and “natural” brands, ranging from small family businesses to multinational corporations.
Section VI explores price differences between organic and “natural” breakfast cereal and granola products. Although “natural” products are conventional (both in crop production and processing methods), they often are priced at a premium, closer to organic prices. In some cases, conventional, “natural” products are priced higher than their organic counterparts. It appears that companies are engaged in clever “natural” marketing, profiting tremendously from consumer confusion about the difference between “natural” and organic and their willingness to pay a premium for pure, wholesome foods.“Natural” marketing hurts certified organic farmers, organic competitors, and consumers who believe they are buying a truly natural product.
Section VII discusses the effects of “natural” claims on the organic manufacturers whose certified organic products are forced to compete with empty “natural” claims. Companies marketing “natural” products merely pay lip service to sustainability and eco-friendliness, while undercutting the truly committed companies that walk the walk by buying from farms that are managed organically, without synthetics, genetically engineered crops or toxic pesticides. Many times “natural” companies invest in solar or wind energy to prove how “green” they are, rather than investing in organic, the safest and most environmentally friendly form of agriculture.
Section VIII discusses the effects of “natural” marketing on organic farmers. When food manufacturers shift their product ingredients from organic to “natural,” it means they buy conventional ingredients from chemical-intensive farms instead of buying from organic farms. Organic farmers have received lower prices for their grains in recent years as cereal companies drop their demand for organic ingredients when they switch to “natural” labeling and conventional ingredients.
Section IX covers differences in environmental impacts of certified organic farming and conventional farming that produces ingredients for “natural” products. As shown by poll data, many consumers believe that “natural” means the food is free of “unnatural” inputs, such as genetically engineered seed and pesticides.
Section X explores various impacts on consumers of misleading “natural” labeling and consuming conventional ingredients. Section X also provides test results showing that many “natural” cereal products, including Kashi, Mother’s and Barbara’s Bakery, are produced with genetically engineered organisms. Section X also uses pesticide residue data from the United States Department of Agriculture to show that many conventional ingredients in “natural” breakfast cereal and granola products often contain pesticide residues. Aside from chemical residues emanating from crop production on the farm, “natural” ingredients are also not protected from toxic fumigants used on crops in storage, and toxic solvents used during processing. These inputs are strictly prohibited in organic production and processing.
Consumers should be aware that “natural” products contain conventional ingredients that were produced no differently from the ingredients in other typical processed foods. Only certified organic ingredients were verified as grown and processed without the use of genetically engineered organisms, toxic pesticides, fumigants and solvents.
This report is accompanied by an online scorecard listing 50 cereal and granola brands, available on the Cornucopia website (www.cornucopia.org/cereal-scorecard).