Sunday, November 13, 2011

Snow Moon: Connecting with Our Food

Full Sorting Moon

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The moon a month before the winter solstice in Jessica Prentice's book, Full Moon Feast, is called the Snow Moon. In a pre modern society, this is the time of the year when the larders are full and people are beginning to live off their stored food rather than fresh food. It is fascinating for us, modern people with modern conveniences, to ponder life without refrigeration or electric freezers. What exactly does it take to make sure your household has enough food stored in a way that it will keep until fresh food becomes available again? And what does it mean to us and our connection with our food, with our food producers and with our larger community of spiritual beings that we don't have to think about where our food comes from?

Like most Americans, I get most of my food from grocery stores. On any day of the year I can easily get to a store and bring home almost any kind of fruit or vegetable, hygienic foods preserved in cans, bottles or frozen and even any number of prepared foods for a rather reasonable price. It is a rare week when I have to think about what I am going to eat further in advance than a couple of hours or maybe a day or two. Jessica Prentice points out that Americans tend to act like big babies when it comes to their food. We expect it to be available to us at any time with very little thought or effort on our own part. She notes that we are aghast when people claim they don't know how to drive but hardly bat an eye when people say they don't know how to cook.

Our ancestors, and many people all over the world, put infinitely more care into their food than we generally need to. Many people need to spend hours of the day for months of their year to collect, prepare and preserve enough food to meet their needs. These people are intimately in touch with their food from the exact part of the garden or field that it came from or which individual animal provided the food, through to what it looks and feels like in the kitchen through how it acts when it is prepared and preserved. They have an deep, visceral connection with their food.

Over the past few years I have been making small, spiraling movements towards this kind of connection with my food. I grow a garden each year and revel in my own small harvests of snow peas, snap beans, cherry tomatoes and radishes. My garlic crop is my pride and joy and I relish the yearly rhythm of planting it right around Halloween, watching it come up in the February, monitoring it through the spring and deciding exactly when, in late June or early July, to dig up the whole patch. Then there is the process of tying the bunches to dry and checking on them every few days until they are ready to be trimmed, brushed of dirt and sorted into seed garlic and eating garlic. Luckily, garlic is good to eat at every stage from sprout to cured, so there is no wasted garlic out of my garden.

I also have taught myself to make a number of foods that are traditional ways to preserve foods for the winter. I recently made a big batch of yogurt and have made sour cream and kefir, another fermented dairy product, in the past. I occasionally make sourdough breads and really enjoy making fermented vegetable pickles. Sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables are, as Jessica Prentice points out, excellent ways to ensure a supply of enzyme and vitamin rich vegetables through a long, dark, cold winter. The fermenting actually increases some vitamin levels and also provides lactic acid, a digestive aid that no doubt helped our ancestors deal with an otherwise plain and coarse winter diet of dried or salted meat, beans and grains. Even today this tradition continues to serve fermented vegetables with heavy foods like sauerkraut with sausages and cornichons with pate. In Korea, kim chi could provide up to half the food intake for a family during the winter and is especially full of healthful food compounds thanks to the garlic, onions, ginger and chilies that usually spice the potent cabbage dish.

This autumn I finally gave in to the giant "sauerkraut cabbages" for sale at my favorite pumpkin patch farm. For less than 4 dollars I was able to take home 18 pounds of cabbage to turn into as much lacto fermented goodies as I could fit in my fridge. I used some of it to make a giant batch of coleslaw and another goodly pile of it became a braised cabbage dish but the rest became three kinds of sauerkraut, a fusion kim chi and three jars of cortido. My fermented cortido is based on the Latin American cabbage salad with pineapple, onion, garlic, chiles and oregano spicing the cabbage. It took me over a week to process the entire head of cabbage but now I have enough kraut to last at least through the winter.

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2011 Fusion Kim Chi

Check out my other blog for some more detailed instructions for making fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, pickled vegetables or kim chi.

Shred a pile of green cabbage and put it in a large mixing bowl. Fill it up about half way.

When you get sick of shredding cabbage, wash out a couple jars with lids, maybe two quart jars, or four pint jars, or whatever old spaghetti sauce jars you have. Slice 2 carrots into thin coins, planks or match sticks and toss them in with the cabbage.

Slice half an onion into longitudinal planks and toss that in two. Add in two handfuls of pineapple chunks, if you happen to have some sitting around like I did. You could add firm apples, pears or jicama instead, or leave that out all together.

Sprinkle about a tablespoon of salt over the cabbage and toss it. Peel a big ole knob of ginger and about 10 cloves of garlic. Chop them all up together into a fine mince, or slice them into planks. Toss that in with the vegetables. Doesn't it smell delicious?

Add a big shake of ground red chiles. (I usually use New Mexico chiles because I like the warmth and flavor but this time I used Aleppo pepper, a middle eastern variety. You can buy ground pepper for kim chi at an asian store, but every brand I've found has added MSG or other flavorings.) Add a little pepper flakes if you want more heat, or even some cayenne or fresh peppers if you like your kim chi fiery.

Look at it now. It should be glistening and moist, and bright red. Mix it up -
with your hands, of course.

Taste a piece of cabbage and add some more salt if you need to. When it is good and salty, good and red, good and tasty start packing it into jars. Press the vegetables down until the brine comes up over top of the veggies. Pack the jars full but not over the threads of the jar. Close them up,
let them ferment and then move to the fridge. Enjoy with macaroni and cheese, rice or anything else you serve at your winter table.

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Our spiritual connection with food is a huge topic that I intend to explore more fully this year but even this vast topic starts with the daily actions of eating and preparing food. We are adult beings who are able to take responsibility for feeding ourselves and do not need to abdicate that to restaurants or food manufacturers. Taking back our connection to our food starts with making dinner, with an pot of herbs on the windowsill, with an experiment in making jam or pickles or yogurt. I certainly don't claim any special knowledge on what is the most healthful or most ecologically sound diet, I just know it is important to care about what goes into our mouths. That food becomes us, it is our vital, physical, chemical, energetic link with the rest of creation. That shouldn't come out of a box.

What foods or dishes are you most connected with? Have you ever done any food preserving or growing food in a garden? Does what food you serve change as the seasons change or do you continue to take full advantage of our modern food distribution system (or both, like in my house)? What food means winter to you?

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Full Sorting Moon 2009: Full Sorting Moon

Full Sorting Moon 2010: The Rains Have Come

A number of posts from my first year of blogging here contain recipes. At the Harvest Moon 2010 I shared a recipe for another of my favorite preserves, plum ketchup.

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