By Nancy Webster
We were good Southerners. During my growing-up years my family ate lots of vegetables-boiled or fried near to death-and fruits and berries mostly in the form of pie or cobbler. But as a teenager, I was fascinated by Mrs. Brewer’s very different approach to food.
Long-time family friends, Mrs. Brewer and her husband lived on a small Tennessee farm just outside of Nashville, and every year, Mrs. Brewer grew a magnificent organic garden. She also read Prevention magazine, and-appropriately-took daily brewer’s yeast supplements. Inspired by her fine foods and the many nutritional tips she shared with me, I finally began my own quest for purer eating by asking my parents to take me to a health food store. Shelves of mysterious bottles and austere boxes overwhelmed us, and we emerged with nothing but a package of soy crackers.
Those crackers were the start of a 30-year food journey from college dining hall food and vending machine junk to meatless, soy substitutes, to proper-protein-combining, to fresh-ground, whole wheat bread, to all raw vegetarian fare. Each represented an extreme of sorts, leaving me hungry (so to speak) for a more whole way of eating. If you’re just now at the early stages of a quest for a healthier diet, please allow me to save you years of rabbit trails.
A History of Good Eating
Although it’s easy to let the busy-ness of life push you back to frozen pizza and fish sticks, it’s vital for your health and your family’s to keep taking baby steps towards the healthier way. Every little success makes it easier the next time.
I first recommend bookmarking and reading the articles on the Weston A. Price Foundation website (www.westonaprice.org). Dr. Price, a dentist, toured the world in the 1930’s, visiting people groups which had not yet been introduced to processed foods. They still prepared meals by the techniques of their ancestors. Dr. Price found these people with excellent teeth, and he also noted that they were resistant to illnesses such as tuberculosis, prevalent in that time period. He also took note of other people groups who-in just one generation of eating processed, sugary foods-had developed decayed, crooked teeth and newly succumbed to many diseases. His travels laid the groundwork for the outstanding nutritional research carried on by the foundation that bears his name.
The next thing you need to do is buy Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon. This in-depth volume contains factual information about the value-added benefits of proper food preparation as well as many, many meals’ worth of delectable recipes. Even though the book has more than 600 pages, it’s like the Bible in that you can read a bit here and there and get a lot out of it.
Sally Fallon explains the value of fermenting vegetables instead of pickling them-it’s even better than just eating them raw! Fermenting boosts the enzyme content of vegetables and fills your digestive tract with beneficial bacteria to help your intestines get the most nutrition out of your food. Nourishing Traditions also details how to culture dairy products, a process that predigests lactose (milk sugar, to which many people are allergic) and casein (milk protein, often an allergen). The remarkable healing properties of simple bone broth are highlighted. And, politically incorrect as it may seem, you’ll discover why animal fats are good for you and can even help you lose weight!
The Fantastic Four
To jump-start your venture in traditional cooking, I’ve outlined below a few tips for four of the many important food preparation processes taught in Nourishing Traditions.
(1) Fermented vegetables. You can ferment most vegetables, but start simple, with plain sauerkraut. A spoonful of sauerkraut with your meal helps your body digest food, especially meat and beans, and eating fermented vegetables regularly will lessen sugar cravings. Try this sauerkraut for starters.
1 tablespoon sea salt (cheap, regular salt does not contain trace minerals and is chemically processed, so using sea salt is important).
4 tablespoons whey (whey is the liquid you find at the top of an unstirred carton of plain yogurt. You can collect it by draining the yogurt through cheesecloth or a cotton dishtowel. Keep the whey for your recipes, and use the yogurt in place of cream cheese.)
Chop finely a head of cabbage, organic if possible (a food processor is a big help.)
Mix ingredients in a large bowl and pound them for about 10 minutes to get the juices out of the cabbage. (This is a fun task for small children. My six-year old son loves banging the soup ladle we use for the job.)
Toss in a tablespoon of caraway seeds if you like.
Dump the mixture into a clean 1-quart mason jar, packing it tightly and leaving a 1-inch space at the top.
Tighten the lid, and set it on the counter for three days to ferment. After that, it’s ready to eat, and you can store the leftovers in the fridge for up to two months.
(2) Kefir and cultured dairy products. Kefir is yogurt’s stronger cousin, replete with probiotic good bacteria necessary for optimal health. It’s a cinch to make-much easier than yogurt! The hardest part is finding milk kefir grains to get you started. They’re sold online (google “kefir grains”), or you may even find them free from a local Weston Price Foundation chapter (find one near you at http://www.westonaprice.org). Kefir grains look like little pieces of cauliflower but are living, lactose-loving bacteria.
To make kefir:
Dump the grains into a 1-quart jar, three-fourths full of milk.
Rubber band a paper towel or cotton handkerchief over the top, so it can get air but stay clean.
Place the jar in a kitchen cabinet for 24 to 48 hours.
Once it’s all done, use a stainless steel strainer (not aluminum!) to separate the grains from the liquid. (Dump them into another jar of milk to start your next batch.)
Store the finished product in the refrigerator.
Kefir is sour, like buttermilk, but you can sweeten it with fruit, honey, or stevia. Try it in a smoothie for a fast breakfast or snack!
(3) Bone Broth. Homemade bone broth is the real stuff you’ll want to use in place of those MSG-laden cans of soup broth and bouillon cubes sold at the grocery store. Ask your butcher or a local meat processor to save bones for you. Nourishing Traditions includes several recipes for making broth from different types of bones, and if you follow the recommended steps, you’ll have incredible broth. A great way to get started, though, is simply to cover a bunch of bones with water and simmer them for several hours. Then strain off any gunk that rises to the top. You can freeze the broth in small containers, and use it in place of water in soup or to cook rice and other grains. And with a pinch of sea salt, warm broth makes a soothing, mineral-rich drink alone or with a meal.
(4) Animal fats. You won’t hear this from popular diet articles and books, but it’s true that animal fats (and other cold-pressed, omega-rich plant oils like flax seed, olive, coconut, and palm) can help you lose weight-if you need to. It’s important to replace fake fats like margarine, hydrogenated shortening and vegetable/canola oils with these real fats. Our brains are mostly fat and require it to function optimally. And bodies need healthy fats in order to manufacture hormones which keep us balanced. Belly fat, which tends to accumulate on middle-aged women even when they watch what they eat, is often a sign of hormone imbalance. The book Eat Fat Lose Fat by Mary Enig and Sally Fallon explains this in detail and might help you overcome the brainwashing we’ve all been subjected to regarding low-fat diets.
Once you’re off and running in this new, old way of preparing foods, you’ll build your momentum and keep on learning. It gets to be a lot of fun. I only wish Mrs. Brewer was still around-now I’d have a few tips for her!
Nancy Webster is a freelance writer, homeschool mother of eight, and an avid researcher on health and nutrition. She lives with her family on their “partially working” farm in Tennessee.
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