Fashions come and go but fermentation is forever

In spite of today’s hustle, my soul yearns for slow food traditions and the return of time-honoured classics. I value and wish to learn some of the skills mastered by our ancestors. I am not alone in my hunger of more back-to-basics food preservation and sourcing, as similar feelings echo back to me almost daily.

In recent years, food trends suggest a move toward reconnection to our food and those who supply it. Eating primarily organically, seasonally, and locally, instead of the processed and sugary foods of my childhood, has become mainstream. Dare I say that it’s trendy to put a well-thought-out, nutritious, and sustainable meal on the table?

It helps to utilize a few old-school methods to preserve our Island harvests for long, cold winters. Fermentation is an easy method of food preservation and is making a comeback as a modern-day mega food trend. It is one of the world’s oldest methods of food preservation and is steadily regaining popularity in North America. Indeed, everything old is new again and for many good reasons.

Most Islanders have eaten fermented foods, perhaps without realizing it. Some of us are fortunate enough to remember a barrel of sauerkraut in the cellar and may have carried on the tradition. We enjoy cultured dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, or crème fraiche, and the tang of sourdough bread. Many also enjoy the flavour of miso, unpasteurized vinegar, and fermented beverages like kvass.

Open-faced Rueben Sandwich with Lacto Fermented Spicy Mustard & Sauerkraut Photo credit: Melissa Sobey

The satisfying crunch of a fermented pickle, the spicy umami of kimchi, and the fizzy refreshment of kombucha are hard to forget. Fermentation brings exciting textures and flavours to our table, rounding out meals with that bit of sourness and acidity that we crave, without being sharp and vinegary. At the end of the day, it is the taste of fermented food that keeps us coming back for more, but there are many other reasons why it’s rising in popularity.

I think we can all agree that food is healthiest in its most natural form. Many recent super-food trends, including fermented foods, are natural and have the impressive health benefits that we seek. Eating fermented food puts beneficial probiotics back into our guts that have been depleted for reasons such as antibiotic use, stress, and lack of proper rest or nutrition. These superhero probiotics make our guts unwelcoming hosts of the harmful bacteria and yeasts that can be problematic.

The connection between gut health and overall health is getting a lot of attention lately. Studies have contributed poor gut health to the eventual development of many autoimmune diseases. A healthy gut improves digestion. The valuable flora and enzymes available in ferments may help our bodies absorb more nutrients, calcium, and minerals from our food.

PEI Potato and Roasted Tomato Salad with Spruce Tip Vinaigrette Photo credit: Melissa Sobey

Eating fermented foods may help build a stronger immune system, maintain a healthy weight, improve mental health and sleep, ease skin conditions, and reduce inflammation. Restoring the balance of good bacteria in our guts by eating raw fermented food may be an easy way to improve our overall health. Each salty, sour, and delightful bite is not only delicious but also packed with wholesome nutrition and superhero bacteria.

Years ago, we didn’t rely on global shipments of possibly chemical-laden and nutrient-deficient vegetables. Increasingly, people are reluctant to accept the “food-like” products advertised by huge companies as the best value. Common sense whispers to us that more sustainable, nutritious, and better-tasting artisanal food is available close to home. Most Islanders wish to support the local economy and care about the taxing effect of shipping food across the globe. Fermentation can satisfy our cultured palates with each changing season. It uses produce that Grandma would recognize, grown by our neighbours, and not altered by factory-made flavours and preservatives.

Why are many people choosing fermentation over other methods of food preservation? Personally, I use many methods for different reasons. I like fermentation because it creates modern flavours and is flexible to experiment with. Ferments are raw and therefore a welcome break in any food preserver’s steamy kitchen. They require little actual hands-on time. Fermentation is fairly easy to learn and doesn’t need a lot of equipment, which makes it a great choice for those just beginning to preserve food.

Spicy Fermented Curtido Photo credit: Melissa Sobey

Fermentation is a time-tested, easy, and worthwhile skill to learn. It has survived through the ages for an abundance of reasons. It creates highly nutritious and delicious food. Fermenting organic local produce is better for the environment, affordable and easy to obtain. If not interested in “putting up” our own, we can take pride in purchasing ferments that are handcrafted by our neighbours. It’s an old-timey skill I’ve been totally geeking out on, adorning Grandma’s apron instead of a plaid hipster shirt. It feels good.

About Melissa Sobey

Melissa is a passionate home cook who geeks out about cooking, food preservation, foraging, gardening, and old fashioned skill sets. She obsesses over hobbies and is always up for a grueling DIY project. She serves up recipes and ramblings at www.homespunobsessions.com. To bring home the locally sourced bacon, Melissa operates a small business with her husband, Brian. Together, they like to camp in their vintage Airstream.

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