Surviving on sauerkraut and kimchee: Eating local in winter

Fall (or autumn) is really a wonderful time for local produce in temperate climates. The grapes in our garden are crying out to be picked every day, we still have a couple of late zucchini, and the markets are overflowing with winter squash, heirloom apples, pears, and more. In a couple of months though most of that will be gone, and we’ll be very limited in what we can eat that’s grown locally. Unless it comes from greenhouses of course, and, while there may be exceptions commercial greenhouses aren’t usually that energy efficient.

I am a moderate in most things, including eating, so am not a dedicated locavore. If I were though, and I did not live in a four-season growing area like most of California, my winter choices would be severely limited.

If we truly ate like our ancestors, who were limited to locally grown foodstuffs, we’d be eating a lot of preserved foods in the winter months. A lot of those foods have disappeared from modern pantries, but a few do survive: jams, pickles, preserves; dried or salted meats like sausages and hams and corned beef; salt cod. (In Japan there are lots of salt-cured and dried foodstuffs ranging from fish to seaweed to vegetables.) Two of the best examples are both cabbage based: sauerkraut, and kimchee. The lactic-acid fermented cabbage retains quite a lot of its nutrition, and probably kept legions of people from dying of malnutrition.

I’d really like to see those dedicated, evangelical locavores to try living on a diet based on these traditional preserved foods in the winter months, because that would show a true dedication to the cause. No cheating on tropical imported fruits. I’m thinking of trying it out on a short term basis (like a week) myself, just to see if it’s possible.

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Some of the members in the

Some of the members in the group food blog that I’m participating in (see namelink) are doing just that. They are doing a lot of canning and drying vegetables right now so that they have stores in the winter.

However, I’m not one of them. I’ve been resisting it— just a gut reaction on my part. I seem to be rather moderate in my views on locavorism myself. (see http://farmtophilly.com/index.php/site/comments/cucumbersaladandaboutmy_heritage/) There is much to recommend it, economically and quality-wise, but I tend to shy away from anything too devout. I should write more about my own position on this someday.

yoko | 4 October, 2007 - 17:04

I agree

I don’t think many people have thought this through, and I find the self-righteousness of those who live in mild climates to be, let us say, extremely short-sighted.

There’s a reason our ancestors spent the entire summer growing, harvesting, and preserving food - there would be none to be found during the winter. Except for meat, of course, which could be hunted.

“Localism” is nothing new. It’s the way we’ve always eaten, by necessity. What’s new is the availability of all types of produce year-round - even when I was a girl we didn’t have the variety of fresh produce now available in our supermarket, let alone have it year round.

But in many regions, doing this does require some planning, some preserving, and quite a bit of eating things that store well - onions, potatoes, winter squash, and the like. Quite a bit more commitment than it takes in, say, the Bay Area.

Our CSA is further inland from us, where winters are cold and summers are hot - but we get salad mix in the winter, along with our squash and apples and broccoli and collards. It’s like eating from a winter garden in the South, I guess.

But in the Northern (non-coastal) half of the country? Nothing grows in the winter.

Rebecca Blood | 4 October, 2007 - 18:10

Living like a true locavore

Living like a true locavore in winter would be extremely difficult nowadays I think and I’m not even sure it’s very healthy. I mean the choice of foods would be severely limited to a few things that preserve well, leading to a very one-sided diet. Sauerkraut is one of the healthier examples but things like sausage, pickled vegetables etc. contain a load of salt and if consumed regularly they are most likely bad for the health. Heck, a “true” locavore wouldn’t even be allowed to drink a glass of orange juice during winter months, right?

No thanks :p

About sauerkraut:
Making sauerkraut yourself is actually quite easy if you have a balcony or a garden where you can store a barrel. It’s so easy and healthy at the same time that I wonder why no one does it anymore. The taste is quite different from store bought/canned sauerkraut as well and if you preserve whole cabbages you’ll have whole leaves instead of pre-shredded sauerkraut. Those leaves can then be used differently for cooking. An example for a dish that uses whole sauerkraut leaves would be Sarma”, which is cooked in many southeastern european countries. The dish itself might sound overpowering but when you preserve sauerkraut yourself you can also control the degree of acidity you want it to have.
All that to say: people who always buy canned sauerkraut are missing out on something!

Yakumo | 11 October, 2007 - 02:09

Preserving whole cabbages

I was just wondering whether anyone would know how to preserve whole cabbages to make dishes such as Sarma? A couple of people have roughly described the process, although I wonder whether this is completely healthy? I worry about the mold that can occur on top of the water, as descriped in some of the sauerkraut recipes, and whether scooping it off is safe!!

Alexandra | 29 November, 2007 - 12:56

Re: Preserving whole cabbages

If you are scared about that, than shred some cabbage and fill te space between the whole cabbages up with it.

It is more like traditional sauerkraut and you can use the traditional bareels or clay pots which will keep the food safe.

When you made more than you can use up in some weeks time(while skimming the surface to prevent molding), then freeze what you can not use immediately.

cyrell | 29 January, 2010 - 14:35

does it have to be clay

Want to try it out and buying a pot seems a waste if I won't continue the whole
Process,would a plastic barrel or steel pot work...

sumo | 5 February, 2010 - 18:14

arizona gardening

I'm planting right now and am looking for advice about what to plant and storing my produce, especially things like winter squash, potatos, onions, etc, since it is too hot here to have a food celler. I could put things under the house in coolers, but not sure that would work.

leila | 14 June, 2010 - 17:44

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