Category Archives: Abundance Garden – Creations

Poem: We’ve Been Preparing

We’ve been preparing for this

Reaching deep roots down through deep earth

Finding lips that would kiss

From those that speak against self-worth

******

Did you think it was you?

Wrapped up in the details of future days

Did you think this is new?

You didn’t notice maybe through the haze

*****

Of never-ending appointments and fears

Myriad hooks to catch the mind

Grudging actions, repressed tears

Forgetting that you, only you can find

*****

The gifts you seek deep inside you

And while you were groping outside

You didn’t hear the other voices calling, true

Calling out truth from the place you hide

******

This isn’t the first apocalypse

We are ready, ready to dance

To hold the stillness within us

And move towards what could be our last chance

******

We’ve been preparing for this

Reaching deep roots to hidden springs

Listening to all silent voices

Overturning the old, to grow new things.

Story: ‘The Haunted Beach’

This is a tale of a vision received on a beach in India.

I look around at the rubbish scattered everywhere, the sand stretching away littered in every direction with empty bottles, plastic bags, broken glass, and other less identifiable items. At the rows of stall selling identical tourist trinkets. At the desperate-eyed men and women who wander the beach, asking for money in exchange for something – what, is unclear – at the horses and at the budgies kept close to them on tightly bound leashes.

The blasted landscape under the grey sky and reddening sun, the ancient crumbling temple on the shore surrounded by offerings of plastic and urine, the atomic powerplant looming ghostlily, a four-pillared mosque of destruction, on the horizon.

And Mother Ocean keeps dancing on.

“Shiva has already been here”, I say;

“This is a place of destruction and desolation.”

Shiva, smiling, hears me and appears, shaking his head.

“You humans did all this,” he assures me.

Then he looks thoughtful.

“Maybe it is time to shake things up a bit,” he muses, and opens his third eye.

There is a blast of blinding pink light.

When I look again, the beach is clean – uninterrupted sand running as far as I can see.

Other than this, the scene is the same as before.

“I put it all in the sea,” explains Shiva (whose third eye is closed again), with what seems like a mixture of mirth and pride.

He makes to turn away – I can see he is already getting into position to meditate – but I stop him, saying,

“Surely that is just creating more pollution in another place?”

And Mother Ocean accepts the gifts, with a sigh…

“And what about – all this?” I ask, gesturing at the stalls, the crowds, the horses; the sellers and the consumers, with their full hands and empty, empty eyes.

“Surely they will just create more rubbish, and within the next few hours it will look the same as it did before!”

Shiva looks around, smiling in quite a pleased way.

“Yes, it does look the same as it did before, doesn’t it?” he agrees.

“But, you see, I have replaced every single item in every one of those stalls. Every water bottle, every bangle, every ecosystem-destroying hand-crafted shell souvenir; down to the last tiny shell. They are all now illusions – little more than dust.”

I look around, not understanding.

“The sellers will continue to sell and the buyers will continue to buy,” Shiva continues,

“And probably no-one will notice, since they didn’t care what they were buying or selling anyway. They have trained their eyes to be blind. But from now on they deal only in illusions – and whatever waste they create is but a small amount of dust on the sand.”

He turns his formidable gaze to me, locks blowing slightly in the feeble sea breeze, and sees that I am still somewhat concerned.

“As for the rubbish in the sea,” he continues,

“It is even now collecting into a great island, which one day soon will hold half of all the things which you humans every throw into the Ocean, while the other half collects in another island further away. A few of your human years from now, these islands will reach a critical mass of chemical constituency which will begin a process wherein the rubbish starts to become bio-remediated by naturally-occurring organisms that are even now evolving within the islands themselves.

It will take some time, before enough organic matter has broken down to create enough soil to begin holding fresh water, and enough fresh water to begin supporting plants and trees. But when that time is passed, there will be two more islands on this planet – vast, green, luch, verdant lands, with pure water and clean air”.

I marvel at this, my head reeling.

“Of course, lots of people will try to claim them; to use for prisons or fancy hotels or whatever the latest trend is at the time,” Shiva goes on, musing,

“But somehow I don’t think they will be successful.”

He starts to go back into his meditation pose, but I have one more question.

“Wait! What about the horses? And the budgies? All the trapped animals…Can they go free?”

He opens his eyes, blinking, as if he has just come from very far away.

“What? Oh. Nothing I can do about them – it’s their karma. Maybe next life…”

And he is gone.

And Mother Ocean continues her dance…

Poem: A Dedication

Under the stones of the river flowing cold

Reverberations of all the words so old

Sound for the connected souls who care to hear

Undulating rhythms, yet somehow so clear

Let those who wish to receive them gather in

And offer love; respect; honour – with a grin

 

Knowing what we have lost, wise beautiful soul

 

Let’s remember the way back to being whole

Ever the words remain while we can hear them

Gaining inspiration, and holding dear them

Using our power, hopefully, within the

Internal equilibrium, weaving, we

Now rejoice in the words which help us be free.

 

In memory of a great word-weaver, who this year joined with the infinite

Photo by David Ashwanden

Summer and the Way of Art

It’s been almost a year since my last published article on here – the Wheel of the Seasons has turned around and here we are already at Beltane; a time of cleansing with fire, of coming back to life, of the balance of light and dark tipping ever more towards the light. A time of freshness, creativity and renewal. I thought it an appropriate time to write somewhat of a meta-post (don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of it) on the artistic or creative process and why it sometimes seems so very difficult.

My last article was ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ (1); well, I might have fallen down it and got lost for a while. These are my experiences, I hope they resonate with you and maybe even help you on your own artistic path.

Why make art?

Much of our society appears geared towards short-term material gain. In a world of intellectual property rights, deeds of entitlement, money as time and where creating art in order to sell a product can gain you instant financial success compared with the uncertain and often penniless path of creating things simply for the pleasure of creating, is it any wonder that sometimes we may ask Why am I making this art? What purpose does it have? Can I use it in a professional context and if not, should I really be wasting my time on it?

Such questions, though understandable, miss the fundamental aspect of art: that it is absolutely neccessary for our continued existence as humans. We are creative beings; simply by being alive we carry the ability to make and regenerate, as well as the ability to stagnate and destroy. The choice is always ours. The creative process is an aid to so many aspects of our lives. Indeed, John Paul Lederach, founder of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at the Eastern Mennonite University (2) writes about how, since making and maintaining peaceful societies is an ongoing process of creativity, one must be in tune with one’s creative drive in order to effectively achieve peace (3). In this sense, art and peace can be seen as inextricably linked; we cannot live in a world which is more or less free of conflict unless we honour and exercise the artist within us.

The Moral Imagination

Who can make art? The answer, of course, is ‘you’; and indeed everyone. Artistic actions are not necessarily measurable and so their effect can often be overlooked. Lederach gives a number of examples of artists responding to times of extreme violence or crisis, and the possible consequences; though these can never truly be known except in the hearts of those who experience them. For instance, the cellist who sat playing in the public square of his town while bombs fell all around him, following the murder of many of his fellow townsfolk who were trying only to buy bread.

As Lederach writes,

When his spontaneous playing was done, Smailovic discovered that people had gathered to listen near the square… ‘I understood then,’ he wrote, ‘That…music heals, and that this was no longer a personal issue.’ He decided to return to the Bread Massacre Square and play every day for twenty-two days in a row, one day for each person killed in the massacre. Shelling never ceased during those days, but neither did his music.

On one occasion, during a lull in the shelling, a TV news reporter approached the cellist seated in the square and asked, ‘Aren’t you crazy for playing music while they are shelling Sarajevo?’ Smailovic responded, ‘Playing music is not crazy. Why don’t you go ask those people if they are not crazy, shelling Sarajevo while I sit here playing my cello.’” (3)

For Lederach, this story and many other examples are portrayals not only of people using creativity, but of the embodiment of what he calls the “moral imagination”. This is made up of four things, creativity being one of them;

1- Holistic thinking (this could also be equated to ‘permaculture’); an ability to view the holistic web of relationships which make up our experience

2 – A “paradoxical curiosity” about what is possible

3 – Creativity; A “fundamental belief” in the power of art and the creative act

4 – Risk; the willingness to take risks. (3)

The art of falling into a hole

I go into more detail about the moral imagination in my article here (4) and if you are interested in the subject, I strongly recommend that you read Lederach’s book of the same name (3). Right now I want to look at the fourth strand of the moral imagination, that of risk. This can be seen as, in many ways, the most difficult practice of all of them. Artists are kind of risk-takers by nature, in that we journey beyond what has previously been deemed possible, find ways to receive the gifts of what we find there, and bring them back to our respective societies. We walk the “sharpened edge of the razor,” as Joseph Campbell puts it (5).

But sometimes it is easy to slip into the comfort of not taking risks. This comfort could be in the fact that you feel pretty good where you are and do not want to change it. However, it could also be the opposite; that the status quo, however violent, painful or full of suffering it may be, has been going on for so long that you have become used to it, and to change it would be to upset your feeling of security within it. Along with this might be the lure of many artists, the idea that perfection is unachievable and pain is inevitable, which, if taken to unhealthy extremes, could lead to the conception that there is no need to change anything because it is already how it is.

If you keep going with that train of thought, in my experience, it can lead past a balanced view of the holistic equilibrium of life, to a kind of inertia in the face of it, or even an irresistible attraction to that which can be seen as dark and ugly; since that is what we are already accustomed to. As Ursula K. LeGuin put it,

Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil and the terrible boredom of pain.” (6)

That's when we might fall into a hole.

So how can we step beyond this potential inertia or depression?

Lederach says,

Risk is mystery. It requires a journey. Risk means that we take a step toward and into the unknown.” (3)

The unknown can always be a scary place, but not to go into it willingly and creattively is to somewhat let go of our enthusiam for life.

Lederach writes mainly from his experience of working with people in situations of overt physical violence or conflict, from Sri Lanka to Serbia, Colombia to Northern Ireland, where after over thirty years of “Troubles”, one peace researcher is quoted as saying,

Violence, fear and division are known. Peace is the mystery! People are frightened of peace. It is simultaneously exciting and fearful. This is mystery. Peace asks a lot of you. It asks you to share memory…it asks you to share the future…It is walking into the unknown.” (3)

Heading into the unknown

I believe that even if you do not live in a society where violence and conflict are overt, Lederach’s work can still be immensely useful and powerful. All violence and conflict can be seen as beginning within each individual human consciousness, and we need to exercise the moral imagination within ourselves in order to then bring it to our communities.

crawling out

Feeling pain and experiencing violence is part of life. Pretty much every society in this world has some kind of overt or inherent violence to it, and to some extent it can be helpful to accept this since it is how it is. But allowing it to influence our actions just because it has been so for some time is to refuse the call of the artist, which is the call of our own inner voice.

crawling out

Our art probably can help us in many ways, help us to heal, help us to be happy, help us to gain the resources we need to live. But until we listen to the voice inside us we probably can’t know how; the path of the artist is not really something which can be planned.

Listen to it, follow it, even into mystery and the unknown.

You never know where it might take you.

out the hole

References

1. Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Down the Rabbit-Hole: Storytelling and its Healing Potential in Modern Society’. Abundance Garden, 20/6/17. https://abundancedancegarden.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/down-the-rabbit-hole/

2. Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, 2018. ‘About CJP’. https://emu.edu/cjp/about/

3. Lederach, J.P, 2005. The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK.

4. Ashwanden, C, 2017. ‘Permaculture and Community, part 1: Permaculture as a tool for peace’. Permaculture News, 2/11/17. https://permaculturenews.org/2017/11/02/permaculture-community-part-1-permaculture-tool-peace/

5. Campbell, J, 1959. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Griffin: New York City, USA.

6. LeGuin, UK, 1973. The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: A Story (A Wind’s Twelve Quarters Story). Harper Perennial: New York City, USA.

Garden Poem

Come Into the Garden

 

Come into the garden – come into the garden now

You can come, if you want to

It’s easy you don’t need to know how

All that you thought before was ok

The sugar-coated Disney lies

Why did you think that was the right way

To put veiled violence in bright animations before children’s eyes?

To fill them over and over again

With fears of silence and songs with no sense

With tales of bad boys and stifled exploration

It’s ok, you just thought there was no other way

It’s ok now, in the garden even you can play

 

We can give them new gifts of sweet excitation

When you run around in the garden you sometimes get dirty

When you leave your sterile house you sometimes feel the wind, free

It may seem unnerving but if you give in to the sensation

Behind all our strange cages of culture you can sense the ecstasy

And maybe you can find your own way

Maybe your way is the way of sugar-coated lies and lines between dreams and reality

In the garden you can see there are many ways

The children are choosing theirs every day

And you can choose for yourself nobody else

Nobody else but me can choose and I can choose for nobody but me

 

 

Poem

Here is a poem from an Abundance Garden contributor. Enjoy!

What can I tell you?
So come with me – yes, come on now – down the shaded path
We’ll have a look inside as we stumble through the trees
And some of it’s twisted but it might make you laugh
Well which would you rather – that I’m honest or I tease?

If I tell you I had to fight demons so grey
Their grotesque clouded wings would shade my eyes
So that I couldn’t see anything yet day after day
I engaged in a battle but could barely realise
Or comprehend the extent of their wily ways
Their hungry soulless faces sucking energy
That for years I contended with the same fearsome haze
And it took a lot of fighting before once more I could see

Will you nod, shake my hand, perhaps even smile
Tell me you’ve met them yourself and you guessed
How I felt because you’ve been there awhile
That you’ve faced that grey and dispiriting tempest?

Or will you raise your eyebrows in ironic disdain?
You know demons aren’t real and battles are for the army
Would you prefer if I told of my sleepless nights and my pain
My pain which was real but which no one could see?
The way that to the outside world I was just angry and sad
And my friends backed away so my life was boring, slow
Would you be able to understand me if I had
Just talked of how I kept eating and drinking but had nowhere to go?
That I’d been through heartbreak, suicide attempts, cocaine and alcohol addicton too
By the time I was nineteen and nothing really seemed fun
If I just pour out buzzwords will you think it’s more true
Than if I tell you about the time that I lost the whole sun?

The time I fell into a pit which felt so deep and so wide
So much that I wanted to just lie there in msiery
But the more that I wandered around it inside
The more it started dawning on me
That if I desired it I could just climb right back out
But when I did I found a world horrible and grey
‘There are no more monsters’, I decided to shout
– But nobody wanted to join me and play

I could see not far from their unsmiling eyes
The curtain was shaking on the stage of reality
And behind as I peeked I saw (not to my surprise)
That there’s more to this universe than we’ll ever see
– That there’s more to us than we can ever be
…But we may as well try
since we’re here
living free

And of course, the monsters were hiding there too
They were just waiting with the unicorns and fairies
They told me they live in our world with me and you
That it’s all just one world and it’s nice to care and please
It but if you don’t the hurt will come back to yourself
You don’t have to take my word for it but whenever you’re in pain
You can go and ask the nearest tree-dwelling elf
They’ll probably confirm what I’m sayin’

And if none of this means anything to you
Because it’s too fantastical; false; hyberbole
Just remember that the only things we can do with words is speak true
And if we use them otherwise we twist dimensions horribly
Wrench worlds asunder and watch them forever changed
We can try to pretend we live in a place where we’re of most esteem
But to do so is to walk around thoroughly deranged
And not understand the true beauty of life, it would seem.

– Miss Cherry

On Christmas Trees

Now once again the time to take down christmas decorations is upon us, as the Northern world spins inexorably towards the springtime. According to an old English tradition, it is bad luck to keep your decorations past the Twelfth Night of Christmas, or January 6th. Other traditions say otherwise; and from a practical viewpoint, the local council where I live has set the deadline for throwing away your Christmas trees as January 29th.

It is whilst walking past the council collection points, where dozens of bedraggled conifers are left, or seeing their even more forlorn companions in some skip or alleyway, that the actual tradition of christmas trees and their rather careless fate begins being called into question. There are older traditions from which Christmas Trees originate; ones which speak of fire and passion, and though we may be seen by some to live in more ‘civilised’ times nevertheless speak of a more honest and authentic connection to one’s surroundings.

All of this musing culminated in a vision one evening which I shall share with you below.

A Tale of Real Christmas

I.

The evergreen symbol of a renewing world

The needles resplendent in shiny green

In times gone by, a potent story told

And now, as frost takes hold again, what does it mean?

II.

We used to cut the trees (not many) down

And use one or maybe two per town

To sacrifice as burning offering of light

A recognition of winter’s dark grip of night

And how we overcome this with fire, merriment, and delight.

 III.

The burning Yule log – that’s the Christmas Tree

The burning of our old fears setting us free

Welcoming New Years and filling us with glee…

Now come and see the sad reality…

The trees cut down, as in the old tradition

But each house takes one, and for every taken, a dozen unsold

The decorations sparkle and the tree’s condition

Is celebrated, until it starts to get old

Then thousands, millions make their way out to the streets

To landfills, incinerators, far away from those who tossed

Them away with all the other Christmas treats

A culture writhing in a story lost?

 IV.

Last night I passed one such pathetic pine

Sitting forlornly, bedecked with ice and dust

Beside a church. Yet as I watched, it reared its needled top, still fine

Raised itself, and began to move inside the house of the divine

The congregation, sparse and few, turned their heads in surprise

Their faces frozen, as the tree began its cries:

 V.

“If you will cut me down like this, think on!

Why did you take me from my snowy homeland

To reject me now your ‘festival’ is gone?

You should be respecting the trees and lives of your own land

But since I am here now, finish what you have begun!”

 VI.

So saying, the bedraggled thing came up the central aisle

(The vicar rushing forward, attempting some kind of authority)

And, still moving all the while, shouted

“So you want the celebration? Then burn me!

Take me and consume me with the fire of joy

The flames of warm acceptance of the season’s cold!

Take me now and set the fires together!

Before your indifference stops all stories being told!”

VII.

                                     And the people, numb with shock, took the tree

And did as they were told, though they made it outside for safety

And something happened as the branches began to blaze,

The faces of the congregation subtly changing

Each meeting each other’s eye with clear and honest gaze

And with the earth and sky

Once more engaging.

How to Preserve Vegetables using Self-caught Cultures

All Photos by David Ashwanden

With the current global food system being the vast network of producers, suppliers and consumers that it is, sometimes ideas of preserving food may seem a little irrelevant. Before planes, lorries and fridges became so prevalent, if you wanted carrots any time other than carrot season then you either had to wait, or you had to somehow capture that carroty goodness in a way that meant that you could still eat it weeks or even months later.

Why would you wish to preserve it, though, when you can simply walk to your nearest supermarket for year-round carrot availability?

A Carroty Question

A Carroty Question

 

Reasons to be preservative

For me, the reasons for food preservation are numerous, and effect and are affected by not just the food but all that is going on around me in my life. For example, it is not just my own body that I am affecting when I buy food. As mentioned in my ‘The Simple Art of Lacto-Fermentation: An Introduction, when we buy food which is imported, we are engaging in a complex web of energy which we may never be fully able to calculate, but which we can pretty much guarantee has contributed to extra carbon emissions being added to our atmosphere. For example, the Food Climate Research Network estimates that in the UK alone, 19 million tonnes of carbon are released into the atmosphere from our food industry and transport; 40% of this comes from current agricultural methods (1).

                If you feel that we need to decrease the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere, the action you can take to facilitate this can be as simple as changing what you eat.

As someone keen to put into practical reality the transitions which are necessary to ensure a sustainable future of abundance, I decided to limit the amount of food I eat which is imported and instead preserve food when it is in season so that I can enjoy its freshness all year round.

Keeping food fresh

                A simple way to prolong your food’s shelf-life is to put it in the freezer; but this will mean it loses nutrients. You could also heat it up to a very high temperature and can it; again, nutrients are lost in this process, and both of these methods are quite energy-intensive. Luckily, people have been preserving food for much longer than freezers or sterilisation has existed, and there are many other low-impact methods. For more details, I can recommend Claude Aubert’s Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes (2).

Lacto-fermentation does not involve heating your produce to high temperatures, or indeed cooking it at all, and neither does it involve cooling techniques or sterilisation. All of these methods have been developed in order to kill bacteria, but the whole point with lacto-fermented foods is that you are getting the beneficial bacteria to work for you. In this way, lacto-fermentation very neatly turns the problem of bacteria which could make food unsafe to eat into the solution of utilising it to create a tasty and nutritious preserve. You may not have heard of lacto-fermentation before, but you have probably heard of sauerkraut and kimchi – both of these are lacto-fermentated foods.

Yes, not only does this method of preservation keep pretty much all of the nutrients from the vegetables you are preserving, but the very act of preserving actually adds nutrients. The presence of lactobacillus and other bacteria in the same family help aid digestion and are a significant source of vitamin C and protein (see for example 3, though if anyone can find a more exact nutritional analysis I’d be very interested to know it!).

Method

                So now you know some of the reasons why you might want to lacto-ferment, and some of the benefits it can give to not only you, but the entire planet. Presumably, your appetite has been whetted; so what comes next should be a recipe. However, I am reluctant to term my skill-sharing as such, as the word ‘recipe’ implies a set amount of ingredients, a strict method and a limited amount of things you can use. Yet the joy of lacto-fermentation is that (as far as I have found) the only limit is your imagination. What I am going to share with you, then, is more like a set of simple guidelines; starting points and advice from which you can make a springboard towards your own fermexperiments.

Some loose steps to follow

  1. Getting started

First, you need to choose what you are going to lacto-ferment. I have tried a vast number of fresh foods, the majority with a high degree of success. Vegetables are what I have the most experience with so I am going to share my vegetable method with you here. You can also lacto-ferment fruit, or even combine this method preservation with another low-impact, high nutrient saving one: that of drying. For more information on this, you could try visiting Annie Levy’s fantastically inspiring blog here(4).

As it is October in the UK there are still quite a lot of locally-grown carrots and beetroots available, so these are what I chose for my example ferment.

  1. Veg preparation

I washed all the veg I was going to use, which ended up being one and half carrots and half a beetroot for one medium-sized jar. Then I peeled the beetroot as it was a big one and the skin was quite thick. If you are using non-organically grown beetroot then you may prefer to do this, as the chemical residues are thickest in the skin (5), though the fermentation will still work even if you do not.

Peeling the Beetroot

Peeling the Beetroot

 

                Now you can choose how you are going to cut up your vegetable. There are many ways to do this – as many ways as you can think of to make things smaller, really. Some traditional recipes call for a particular way of cutting; for example, in most sauerkraut and kimchi recipes I have found they say to shred the cabbage before fermenting it (see for example 2). You can also chop your veg into cubes, strips or chunks, however; I have found that the choice is really down to your own personal preferences.

The key to deciding what to do with your veg is knowing what conditions it needs to be kept in. in order for the correct bacteria to colonise you need it to be moist, and in order that the wrong bacteria (that which could be detrimental to your health) does not inhabit your vegetables, you need to make sure they stay covered with both salt and water. In ensuring this, your chance of success will be greatly enhanced if you pack the vegetables tightly into your chosen container, in whichever form you choose to cut them into.

The reason for this is so that you can make sure that your food stays covered with the water and salt: if it gets exposed to the air, then it is no longer part of the preservation process and the normal process of air-exposed fresh food, i.e. rotting, will begin. You want your veg to stay nicely preserved so squeeze it in tightly!

With all of this in mind, I decided to make my example lacto-ferment using grating. After washing them and peeling the beetroot I used a grater to make them into very small pieces.

Grating the veg

Grating the veg

  1. Packing it in

I then picked up the grated carrot a handful at a time and, taking my clean (but not sterilised) glass jar, I covered the bottom of it in a layer.

Putting the carrot in

Putting the carrot in

 

                Now comes the important part: having placed the carrot into the jar, I pushed it down to make sure it squashes in really tightly. I have found that using fingers here is fine, as long as they are clean; the whole point of the lacto-ferment adventure is to create an environment where any bacteria except the ones you want will perish.

Squeeze

Squeeze

 

  1. Fill it up

As I had carrot and beetroot to ferment I decided to pack them into the jar in layers. This is more of an aesthetic thing than anything else, though it is good to be conscious of what order you will feel like eating things when you come to open your fermenting jar. If you are preserving two different vegetables, are you happy to only have access to one at a time? Or do you wish to mix them up in the jar so that when you open it you have an immediate variety of flavours?

To some extent whatever you put together in the jar will give its flavour to the whole mix anyway; this is especially true with very strong-flavoured foods. With this in mind I added a little bit of chopped garlic to the jar. Though only about one clove, it will end up imparting a delicious pickled-garlicky taste to the entire ferment.

Preparing the garlic

Preparing the garlic

Adding the garlic

Adding the garlic

                Then I made sure I packed the jar full with the rest of the carrot and beetroot.

                It is very important that you do not fill the jar to the brim. Firstly, you are going to add water, so there needs to be enough space for the water to come in. Secondly, during the fermentation process your mix will expand so it needs the volume to do this. Thirdly, if the mix ends up touching the lid of the jar it could become exposed to air and thus contaminated.

                This is about the right level.

Good level

  1. Just add water…

Now you can carefully pour in enough water to cover the veg mix. When I first learned about lacto-fermentation during my PDC with Tree-Yo at Permaship, Bulgaria, I was advised to use spring water with all ferments if at all possible. Indeed, many sources insist that if you use tap-water the fermentation may not work at all (see for example 6). For about a year I followed this strictly, which was not difficult as at the time I lived on a mountain-side and all of our water came from springs. However, when confronted once more with chlorinated tap water I decided to continue my experiments anyway, and have found no marked difference between texture, taste, or length of time for fermentation when using tap water.*

*The tap water I used came from mains water in the South of England. Many chemicals are added to this water to treat it but not as many as in other countries such as the USA and Australia, so readers from these countries may want to find alternative water sources.

  1. …And salt

This step is really what differentiates your lacto-ferment as a preserve rather than just some vegetables in a jar; that magical ingredient of salt. For a medium sized jar (the jar I am using in the pictures originally held 454g of honey) you do not need more than 1 teaspoon of salt. You probably need even less than a teaspoon but this is the measurement that I have found is safe and effective. Place the salt into the jar with the vegetables and water.

  1. Shaking with excitement

In order to mix the ingredients thoroughly and ensure that the salt and water is covering all parts of the vegetables, it is probably a good idea to close the lid of the jar tightly and shake it up.

Serious shaking

Serious shaking

 

  1. Get ready to catch some culture

The idea of lacto-fermentation is that even though all you have put in your jar so far is water, salt and vegetables, you will be using this bait to catch some bacteria culture which will preserve the veg for you. In order to do this you need to leave the bacteria a way to get in. However, you don’t want anything that isn’t a kind of lactobacilli colonising your beautiful preserve, so you need to make sure that the vegetables are packed in tight and completely covered with water.

I usually place the lid of the jar loosely on top of it without screwing it closed, and then leave the jar in an out-of-the-way place for two or three days in order to catch the bacteria.

It is also a good idea to put the jar on a plate, as once the fermentation process begins it can potentially become quite volatile and subsequently messy.

In warmer weather the colonisation will be quicker so if it is winter and you never turn the heating on in your kitchen, don’t worry if there is no sign of bacteria after a couple of days. Keep waiting; it will probably turn up.

  1. Recognising your new friend

You can tell when the culture has arrived in your jar in a number of ways. One is if you lift the lid of the jar to find that it is fizzing. No need to run away here – this is a perfect sign that you have successfully caught some bacteria. Another is to look into the jar to see if there is a milk-like residue. This is the culture itself inhabiting the new home you have made for them; again, a very good sign.

A New Culture is Here!

A New Culture is Here!

                Once you have captured your bacteria (giving a whole new meaning to the idea of reviving hunter-gatherer techniques), you can close the jar’s lid fully to seal it. This is not a necessary step as the lacto-ferment does not need to be airtight; however, as mentioned above in step 4, you do need to ensure that the veg are completely covered with water at all times and so if you are going to put the jar in storage, one of the easiest ways I have found is to simply screw the lid on and put it away; remembering to label it, of course.

                Before packing it into your cupboards, it may be a good idea to keep the jar out with the lid on for a few more days, just to check on the fermentation process and make sure that everything is fitting alright.

When I came back to mine four days later I found this:

ferment explosion

ferment explosion

                What had happened was that the fermentation was so vigorous that there wasn’t enough space for it in the jar. This does not always occur, and I have found it is more common with foods with a higher sugar content, such as carrot and beetroot. When lacto-fermenting less sugary foods such as celery and cucumber the ferments are generally much better behaved.

If this happens to your ferment, simply take out the excess vegetables, which will probably be tasty and good to eat, as long as they have not been exposed to the air for too long. Then re-pack what’s in the jar and re-fill it with water. You will probably also need to wash the lid of the jar before replacing it.

10. Using the cultures as Mothers

If you have already lacto-fermented something previously, you can skip step 8 because you already have the bacteria culture captured. All you need to do is take a teaspoon of the liquid from a previously opened lacto-ferment, and add it to your newest batch along with the water and salt. Then you can simply close the jar immediately, because you have colonised the jar using your own Mother Bacteria.

Adding the mother 1

Adding the Mother

Adding the Mother

 

  1. Fermenting Frenzy

Congratulations on your fermenting. Now that you have joined me on this preserving adventure, I’m sure you will be brimming with ideas for the next one. What will you ferment now? Whatever it is, remember to always use your sensitivity when preparing food in this way. For some people the taste, smell and volatile fizziness of a lacto-fermented food may seem so alien that it at first cannot be trusted as edible. But your body knows what’s good for it, as long as you listen to it. Anytime you are not sure about whether or not it is safe to eat some food which you’ve had a go at preserving, it’s probably best to leave it alone. At the same time, the more of a feel you gain for this kind of thing, the more your confidence will grow, so just keep trying.

 

References

  1. Climate Choices, 2014. ‘Food Miles and carbon Dioxide’. http://www.climatechoices.org.uk/pages/food3.htm – retrieved 17/10/14
  2. Aubert, C, 1999. Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes. Chelsea Green: London
  3. Livestrong, 2014. ‘What are the benefits of raw sauerkraut?’ http://www.livestrong.com/article/430458-what-are-the-benefits-of-raw-sauerkraut/ – – retrieved 17/10/14
  4. Kitchen Counter-Culture, 2014. http://kitchencounterculture121.wordpress.com/about/ retrieved 17/10/14
  5. Dellorto, D, 2014. ‘Dirty Dozen produce carries more pesticide residue, group says’. CNN, 2014. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/06/01/dirty.dozen.produce.pesticide/retrieved 17/10/14
  6. Meredith, L, 2014. ‘Lacto-fermented Carrot Recipe’. http://foodpreservation.about.com/od/Fermenting/r/Lacto-fermented-Carrot-Recipe.htm retrieved 17/10/14

The Simple Art of Lacto-Fermentation: An Introduction

The Simple Art of Lacto-Fermentation: An Introduction

Eating food: one of the simplest activities we do, yet one of such joyous importance to us that it can be seen as a celebration every time we do it. Why not? Wherever we are, we all understand the significance of eating together as a group: from the days-long Eid celebrations of the Muslim world (1) to the Thanksgiving feasts of the USA, originally a Native American tradition and now celebrated by people who descend from many different races across the planet (2).

There is something special about sharing food with others, especially when that food has a significance which can connect us in more ways than just physically. Most of us have memories of visiting family members when we were children and enjoying a particular kind of food whose meaning goes far beyond the simple nutritional value. One of my own examples is my grandfather’s home-made bread. Though I have gone through many dietary evolutions over the past few decades, from vegetarian and vegan to only raw food, and stranger combinations such as the GAPs diet (grain and starch-free) and have made many investigations into both literature on these subjects and the reactions of my own body, coming to the conclusion that for me, at least (though perhaps for many others as well), wheat can have quite a detrimental effect on my digestive system.

When I visit my grandparents, however, this conclusion goes out of the window. I have long maintained that my grandpa’s bread is the best in the world and even though my diet is pretty strictly gluten-free at any other time, I have to admit that his bread still remains the best now. The interesting thing is that when I eat it now (he still bakes, though over 90 years of age) it does not feel heavy and uncomfortable in my stomach like other gluten products. This seems to be an example of an experience where the cultural or personal significance of food can give it a greater meaning than the simple physical properties, and that our relationship to our food is probably just as important to the food’s effect on our bodies as choosing what it is that we eat.

The messages we send

That is not to say that the choosing itself is not important; and with the current global food system being the complex network of relationships that it is, this can sometimes get a little confusing. It may be the case that all we want is a simple particular vegetable – a carrot, say – but where that carrot comes from and the methods in which it was grown all affect things far beyond ourselves, though they also directly relate to how healthy the carrot will be for us as well. As Jules Pretty says in her book Agri-Culture (3), when we buy food,

“As consumers…the choices we make send strong signals about the systems of agricultural production that we prefer. We may not realise that we are sending these messages, but we are.” (Pretty, 2002)

Even when we are aware of these messages to some extent, we still may not be able to always obtain our ideal diet. One simple way I have found to send messages about food production systems which benefit the earth as well as people is to buy organic food; then at least you know that it has been produced without chemicals. Yet this is neither possible nor practical all of the time. It may be the case that my local shop here in Brighton has a choice of organic and non-organic apples; the organic ones flown in from New Zealand and the non-organic ones grown right here in the local area. If I buy the non-organic ones I am helping improve soil health in New Zealand, but causing more pollution to the air of the entire planet.

These issues are complex and highly intriguing to consider when rethinking our relationships to food and culture, and you can be sure I will touch upon them again in future posts here (you can also check out my article ‘The Importance of Eating Food’ here). One thing which I would like to concentrate on now is a particular way I have found of boosting my own nutrition level whilst encouraging a healthy and beneficial culture and relationship to our food. In a happy coincidence (coincidence?) the method used to make such food involves the creation of culture itself.

Cultural awakenings

There has been quite a lot of literature suggesting that in order to strengthen our relationship to each other and redress the balance of mutual beneficial actions on this planet, there is a need to create a whole new culture (see for example 3, 4, 5). That is not to say that we cannot use aspects of what we have now, but in order to grow healthy relationships with ourselves and the rest of the planet there can be seen a need to grow whole new ways of acting. For me, these new ways involve looking holistically at all aspects of life, utilising efficient methods and designs to benefit as many people/plants/things as possible, sharing in the joy and celebration of life with others through frequent communal meals, singing and dancing, and recognition of the true abundance of our beautiful world. This list is not exhaustive; merely a taster, if you will.

One way in which we can efficiently use the food which the abundance of nature gives us is by preserving it, and my favourite way to do this is the simple yet highly effective (and tasty) art of lacto-fermentation.

Lacto? So you’re preserving with milk?

Well…not exactly. In fact – vegans, you can come back! – there isn’t actually any milk involved in the process. It is way of storing vegetables so that they stay fresh for months or even years, retaining their nutritional value and even gaining in it (see for example 6, 7). In this way it is excellent to do with vegetables which have not been produced organically. Such vegetables may well be lacking in nutrients; but you can, as it were, re-nutritionalise them by fermenting them.

In order to do this you do not need to cook the vegetable – in fact, it won’t work if you do. You do not need fancy equipment – just a bowl or pan would suffice, though I prefer to use glass jars. And you do not need to sterilise any equipment – indeed, this will also stop the process from working.

Here in Brighton fermentation has become something of a ‘hot topic’, with many very eager to find out more about this intriguing and somewhat forgotten art. Of course, anything that you don’t know how to do can seem mysterious and difficult, but lacto-fermentation is so simple that you may well be surprised how quickly you can become, like me, a lacto-fiend.

Just a few examples from my collection.

Just a few examples from my collection

You see, what you need in order to lacto-ferment a vegetable is: the vegetable. Some water. And a tiny bit of salt.

That’s it.

Sound do-able? Read on…

The fermentation which happens is actually the process of a particular class of bacteria which colonises your chosen receptacle. These are ‘lacto bacillus’ and various friends (6, 7); which are the same bacteria used to turn yoghurt into milk, hence the milk connection.

The salt in the water acts as a barrier against any other cultures; hence how you can just leave the vegetables in water and instead of rotting they become deliciously pickled.

Lacto-fermentation has been used as a traditional way of preserving food for thousands of years, and is still very common in many cultures. You may be familiar with the term sauerkraut; this is lacto-fermented cabbage, a traditional German delicacy.

In Korea, lacto-fermentation is a key part of the culture through the highly popular kimchi. Apparently, a meal without this spicy pickled vegetable dish in unthinkable in Korea, as well as “lacking in style and grace” (8).

However, in spite of the fact that the knowledge for how to do these things has been around for many thousands of years, we in this time and place may be forgetting it. In spite of being such an important national dish that the entire country eats it on a daily basis, a lot of kimchi in Korea now is imported from China, and the actual art of making it yourself appears to be dying out (9). As an activity of great social and cultural import this is quite alarming; a few years ago kimchi-making itself was recognised as having world cultural heritage status by Unesco, a telling fact on the importance fermentation can have for ourselves and our communities (9).

Revive the ferment!

When bringing back this art it is very important to exercise caution and (of course) common sense when attempting your own lacto-ferments. The method which I am about to share with you involves catching the bacteria from the air to encourage it to colonise your jar. I have been using this method on a weekly basis for over three years now and have never got sick from eating the produce of my labour.

In spite of this, it is important to note that when you are catching bacteria from the air it is inevitable that every batch will be different and, unless you happen to have a biology lab in your kitchen, you will never be able to identify exactly every single bacteria and their ratios within your food. But can you do this anyway? Even if you have a label on your vegetables with their nutritional breakdown, it probably won’t include the amounts of chemical fertiliser, pesticide, soap or other random elements which will all be affecting your body probably far more intrusively than the simple fermenting bacteria. Even so, if you do not feel comfortable making your own experiments, I advise against you trying my lacto-ferment recipe.

If you do, check it out!

References

  1. Martin et al, 2003. Encyclopaedia of Islam and the Muslim World. Macmillan Reference USA: New York City
  2. Plimoth Plantation, 2014. ‘Thanksgiving History’. http://www.plimoth.org/learn/MRL/read/thanksgiving-history – retrieved 10/10/14
  3. Pretty, Jules, 2002. Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature. Earthscan: Oxford
  4. Campbell, J, 1949. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon: New York City
  5. Campbell, J, 1991. The Masks of God IV: Creative Mythology. Arkana: New York City
  6. Rameley, Dr. D, 2008. ‘Benefits of Fermentation’. Seattle Natural Health, 2008. http://www.seattlenaturalhealth.com/fermentation.html – retrieved 10/10/14
  7. Katz, S, 2012. The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World. Chelsea Green: London
  8. Homestay Korea, 2014. ‘Kimchi and Koreans’. http://www.homestaykorea.com/?document_srl=30429 – retrieved 10/10/14
  9. McCurry, J, 2014. ‘Crisis in Korea as younger generation abandons kimchi’. Guardian, 21/3/2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/21/crisis-in-korea-kimchi – retrieved 10/10/14