Mother Earth News Blogs >

Real Food
Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

Two Orange Marmalade Recipes: Coarse-Cut and Irish Whiskey

Visits to markets with upscale produce departments have yielded some fantastic citrus fruits. Here are recipes for two kinds of orange marmalade to stock for breakfasts all year as well as welcome gifts. Unlike the commercial pectin recipes that call for a ratio of 3 cups fruit to 5 cups of sugar, these are low sugar with a ratio of just 1:1 or less.

Coarse-Cut Orange Marmalade Recipe

Yield  8 half pints


• 4 pounds Valencia or “juice” oranges
• about 8 cups sugar
• may need additional fresh orange juice, not from concentrate


Unless the oranges are organic, give them a quick scrub.

1. Score each orange lengthwise in eight strips. Peel off the rind, then take each piece of rind and use a small, sharp knife to scrape about half the white pith off (this is easier than it sounds). You want the rind to be less than ¼-inch thick with some, but not all, of the white pith. Put the scraps of pith aside in a small bowl.

2. With scissors, cut all the zest into 1/8-inch slivers. This takes time, maybe 3 hours, so put on some music or a book on disk and relax. Wrap a Band-Aid or some tape around the base of your thumb to protect from the friction of the scissors. You should have a generous 4 cups of zest strips.

3. Squeeze the oranges to extract the juice. The easiest way I found is to cut the oranges into quarters and squeeze them in a lemon squeezer. If you have a juicer, that would be better. Put all the seeds aside in the bowl with the saved pith and discard the empty membrane. You should have 4 cups of juice. Add “bought” juice if necessary.

4. Tie the seeds and pith into a cheesecloth bundle. Take a piece of cheesecloth about 18 by 36 inches, fold in half, put the seeds and scraps in the center and either tie with string or do a “hobo” knot to firmly enclose the bundle.

5. Combine the zest strips and the juice in your jam pot, nestle the wrapped bundle down into the center. Bring to a low boil and then simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside overnight.

(The reason you bundle the seeds and pith and simmer is to first, tenderize the zest strips and second, to extract the natural pectin in the seeds and excess pith.)

6. The next day, remove the bundle of seeds and pith and squeeze and wring to get out all possible juice. Discard the bundle.

7. Now add the sugar, stir well, and bring to a low boil, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Continue to cook at a low boil for about 30 minutes. Clip on a thermometer for accuracy and bring the marmalade up to 220 degrees, the jelling point.

8. While your marmalade is cooking, set up your water bath canner and have jars, ladle and funnel at the ready. When the water comes to a boil, dip all the jars, two-piece lids, the ladle, and funnel to sterilize them. Arrange them on a clean towel to drain.

9. When the marmalade has reached the jelling point, remove from heat and stir a minute until any foam on the surface has disappeared. Ladle the marmalade into the jars and apply the lids. Process in the boiling water bath for 7 minutes, and then remove to a clean towel. Space the jars on the towel about an inch apart so they cool quickly. Listen for the “ping” of a good seal. Store your jars of marmalade in a cool, dark cupboard.

Irish Whiskey Orange Marmalade Recipe

Recently, I made this grown-up marmalade. It’s dark and rich and I added a slug of good Irish whiskey. The marmalade doesn’t really taste like whiskey — it’s strongly orange with just that lingering hint of Irish. Delicious. The basic recipe is the same as above except for the sugar and whiskey. Be sure to use Irish.

Yield 7 half pints


• 4 pounds Valencia or “juice” oranges
• about 7 cups organic turbinado sugar
• may need additional fresh orange juice
• ½ cup best Irish whiskey


Follow the directions above right to the jelling point. Off the heat, stir a minute or two until the marmalade subsides, and then stir in the Irish whiskey.

Process and store as above.

Be sure to label all your marmalades and preserves throughout the year. Include the date on your label and note down the recipe in your canning journal.

Coming next: Two kinds of lemon marmalade!

 Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

What You Really Need to Know About Rendering Lard

8 pounds of unrendered leaf lard_rsz

Rendering lard is easy and way more cost effective than buying rendered lard online or from a reliable butcher, but there are important aspects of rendering that never seem to be shared in magazine articles and blog posts.  So I'll start with the most important thing: clean-up.

You do not want to wash your lard-covered pots and utensils so that melted lard goes down your drain.  Trust me.  It will solidify and coat your pipes wherever the lard happens to be when it cools down, joining with rust particles, food particles, hair, whatever, into a drain-clogging, plumber-requiring mess. So:

Tip 1: Line your counter with newspapers before you start.

Tip 2: Have a plate or other container in which or on which you can rest your utensils to avoid drips.  You will capture perfectly clean lard, which you can add to your jars.

Tip 3: Plan to wash everything in a dishpan with very hot soapy water and dump the dirty water outside when you are finished.  Do not run it down the drain; do not use your dishwasher.

Tip 4: Rendering your own lard is ridiculously more economical than buying it.

Where do you find leaf lard to render?  Any butcher shop that sells pasture-raised meats will be able to sell you leaf lard, though you may have to special order it.  You can also buy rendered pasture-raised lard online.  Here's how the economics work out.

rendered lard_rsz

I recently rendered about 8 pounds of leaf lard at the cost of $1.99 per pound (about $16 total).  It made 10 cups leaf lard (good for baking), 11/2 cups rather porky lard (good for stovetop cooking), and 3 cups cracklings (good for putting in cornbread, topping salads). When you buy lard online, you pay by weight, about $1.50 per ounce, plus shipping, for pasture-raised lard.  My batch of 8 pounds of lard made about 100 ounces, not counting the cracklings, so my cost per ounce was about $00.16.  Quite a difference, no?

Tip 5: You can save trim from other parts of the pig to render into lard.  This lard is fine to cook with, but it will not be suitable for pastry because it will have a porky taste.  Render it separately from the leaf lard.

When you are ready to render your lard, chop the lard into small pieces. 

lard beginning to render_rsz

Tip 6.  A frozen piece of fat is no harder to chop than an unfrozen piece, but it will be less slippery and easier to handle.

Tip 7. When all the fat is chopped and in the pot, add a little water to coat the bottom of the pot and prevent the fat from scorching (it will boil off). Stir on occasion.

Tip 8: Stick around. 

best remove lard as it renders_rsz

I hear there are people who render fat in the oven and walk away from the kitchen, but it is my opinion that the longer the fat rests on the cracklings, the more porky it will taste.  So as the fat melts, I like to remove it from the pot. I know the last batch I remove will be darker and porky tasting, but the early batches will be white and neutral in flavor. Filter the fat through a paper coffee filter as you take it out of the pot.

Tip 9: Canning jars do break on occasion and you don't want it to happen when you are rendering fat.

I used to store my chicken, duck, goose, and pork fat in canning jars.  Then one day, when I lifted up a jar of still warm goose fat I had just rendered, the bottom of my canning jar separated from the sides.  My canning jars are old.  Some have gone into the freezer.  Some have had multiple canning baths.  Having spent hours clean up that mess—and it was a big mess—I now play it safe and store my fats in quart-size plastic containers, which seem to multiply in the drawer so I always have plenty. I leave one quart container of fat in the fridge and store the rest in the freezer.

Tip 10: If you can, render the pork outside in a slow-cooker or run the fan in your stove hood.  Otherwise your house will indeed smell somewhat porky.

Pastries are flakier; cookies rise higher; vegetables brown better in sautés, stir fries, and oven roasts; and all fries are less greasy made with lard.  It is absolutely worth your time.chocolate chips with tallow or lard 2_rsz

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Making Liquers and Infusions

Blackberry vodka 

Wouldn’t it be nice to present your guests with a glass of home-made schnapps to round off a home-grown and home-cooked meal ?

Well yes, maybe, but legally almost impossible. Even in France, where I spend a lot of time and the attitudes to alcohol are a lot more relaxed than in the Anglo-Saxon world, making schnapps only becomes worthwhile if you have a great deal of your own fruit, and are extremely creative when you report to the authorities how much you made. Otherwise the tax you have to pay (yes, I know. tax on what you have produced yourself) becomes prohibitive.

Burning schnapps is not actually that difficult, practically, but it can be dangerous if you don’t know what you are doing, which is one of the reasons why it is so restricted. John Seymour talks about how Indians living in the foothills of the Himalayas used to burn their illegal hooch in such a way as to evade detection by the British authorities, who predictably took a pretty dim view of such self-reliance. I’m not recommending anyone try this at home!

You take a large vessel, filled with wine or whatever other weak alcohol is to be distilled. This you put over the fire. You invert another vessel, this one slightly smaller, over it, to form a large, domed lid. Floating on the surface of the wine, like a small boat, is a third vessel, this one much smaller. The idea is that the alcohol, which has a lower evaporation temperature than water, will turn to vapour, condense on the domed lid, and drip into the smaller vessel.

Now, if anyone from the authorities should come passing, you have no still, just a large bowl of wine, which is perfectly legal, a large empty bowl, maybe for doing your dishes in, and a smaller bowl, upside down on the floor in a corner somewhere. I don’t know what was in it. The cat knocked it over. Again, I mention this because it is interesting, that’s all.

Alright, so you like the idea, but the risks, legal and health-wise, put you off. Well, maybe instead of producing something totally from scratch, you could improve something terrible and mass-produced. I like this way, because it allows me to drink alcohol of a much higher quality that I could afford to buy, is a lot simpler than distilling, and a lot more appetizing than moonshine. Or maybe it could just be your first step to distilling, depending on where you live.

Making liqueurs and infusions couldn’t be simpler. In fact, this is one of the cases where a recipe might actually cloud the meaning of what I am trying to say. I include one simple recipe to get you started, but after that, you can go off on your own, applying the principles to whatever flavouring takes your fancy.

The base alcohol can be as cheap as you like, but with as little taste as possible. The kind of vodkas you might find left over after a less classy sort of house party will do nicely. The sort with names like  “Molotov” and “Kalashnikov”. I made the blackberry vodka after my sister and I made the punch for my wedding. We planned to make one load with booze, and one without, for the kids. Unfortunately, there was a miscommunication, and at the end of the party we had some surprisingly sober guests and a few leftover bottles of vodka.

For the flavourings, I have used berries, but you can experiment with any type of fruit you like. There is a bar owned by friends of mine where they sell mushroom and chilli vodka. Well, I say they sell, they offer it, I don’t know how much actually gets bought.

Here in Austria, Zirbenschnaps is very popular. This is made by infusing cheap fruit schnapps with unripe swiss pine cones, and sweetening to taste with honey or sugar. It is very good, and supposed to strengthen your immune system, although you do have to be quite fit to make it in the first place. A friend of mine is a climber, and she climbs to the tops of the tallest trees in the mountains to get the very best pinecones to make the schnapps, which are then halved and soaked in schnapps for about three months.

The same friend has an aunt who makes lavender schnapps. Again, the base is a cheap fruit schnapps, and it is flavoured with lavender and sweetened with honey. It tastes as innocent as your grandmother’s pie, but it is not. A couple of shots of it are very drunk-making.  Friends of mine use a foraged herb, sweet woodruff, known as Waldmeister, to make a bitter digestif.

Time is a great mellower. The roughest of alcohol, and the sourest of fruit become quite palatable after a few months in the bottle together with some sugar. Leave them a year, if you can, and the result is delicious, mellow and complex. I’ve heard things get better still as time goes on, but I’ve never had the patience to find out.

Now don’t for one minute think that an infused vodka, gin or schnapps will taste like those awful Absolut flavoured vodkas favoured by underage drinkers. These taste rich and powerful, some of the best ones are almost like a port. The fruit is the whole point of it, totally overwhelming any residual notes of Kalashnikov.

You can get really creative, knowing that nothing can go wrong. There can be no spoilage, as the alcohol preserves anything, and quantities are very flexible. I’ve seen a recipe for a quince liqueur, which I would like to try if I could get my hand on some quinces, and my next plan is to infuse alcohol with apples, spices, and raisins to make a “Brantapfelschnapps” – baked apple schnapps.

Blackberry Vodka Recipe


1 bottle vodka (I used a 75 cl bottle, just scale up accordingly for more)
3 cups blackberries
1 cup of sugar


1. Mix the above ingredients in a large open-necked vessel.

2. Shake until the sugar is dissolved, and then leave for at least three months before draining out the solids.

3. I strained a second time through a coffee filter, which took a long time and was very sticky but was worth it to make the resultant crystal clear, jewel coloured liqueur.

Now go crazy! I’d love to hear what other flavourings people have come up with. What about coffee, or citrus flavours? Almost any fruit would work well, such blackcurrants to make the famous crème de cassis, originally from Dijon, the aforementioned quince, or lemon peel to make the Italian limoncello.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Making the Decision to Purchase a Grain Mill


This Christmas, my husband surprised me with a grain mill attachment for our Kitchen Aid mixer.  Avid bread makers and do-it-yourselfers, we had talked about making this purchase for a while but hadn’t yet because it seemed like a big investment and we wanted to be sure it made sense.  I tend to overthink things (as you’ll perhaps guess from this review) so luckily my husband did some research and used the holiday as an excuse to bite the bullet. 

So, am I happy with the purchase?  Definitely.  Below I explore our (his) choice in grain mill as well as a number of considerations that have lead me to believe that this purchase was a good move.

Health Benefits of Grinding Your Own Flour

One of the reasons we wanted to purchase our own grain mill was an attraction to making as much of our own food at home as we possibly can.  Yes, we still have to buy the wheat berries, but we believed that starting with the berry instead of the already processed flour would provide us with a fresher and more nutritionally-valuable ingredient.  Our instinct is backed by scientific research that demonstrates that flour can lose a variety of nutritional components in less than two weeks after being ground.  This is because the protective coating of the berry has been removed and the grain and can be less stable, especially when exposed to heat or humidity (hence why some freeze flour for longer term storage); nutrients break down and the flour can become rancid.

Return on Investment

we typically purchase King Arthur Flour in bulk (because we are lucky enough to live relatively close to the King Arthur Flour factory store in Norwich, VT) and store what we aren’t using quickly in the freezer.  We keep both All Purpose flour and White Whole Wheat on hand for our regular baking, and we buy smaller amounts of things like rye and regular whole wheat for special recipes.  Though we often prefer to purchase organic products, we do not always buy organic flour because of the price differential.  However, my husband purchased both a 5lb bag of organic white whole wheat berries and a 2lb bag of organic “Emmer” wheat berries when he purchased our mill (  Initial test runs showed us that ounce for ounce, grinding our own organic flour came in at about the same price as purchasing a regular 5lb bag of non-organic (but good quality) flour from the grocery store.  Buying a 25 or 50lb bag of conventional flour was still going to be cheaper overall, but the ability to lean toward using more organic sources is a plus.  Lucky for us, King Arthur Flour and our local health food stores both sell wheat berries of various types so we are able to source these locally without having to order online.  That said, we highly suggest checking out some of the more unusual varieties and flavors available through companies like Breadtopia.  Not having to store our flour in the freezer may also lead to energy savings.  Of course, the cost of grain and storage is only one part of the equation – you also have to decide how much you’re willing to spend on your mill.

The Right Mill in Our Price Range

There are a variety of mills on the market and they range in price.  The first way we narrowed it down was by looking at mills that were made for in-home use and not for the scale of use that would be required by a business.  Among the options available are some truly high quality mills that look beautiful on your counter top and grind flour to a very fine texture much like what you would buy in the store; these models can handle higher frequency and quantity of use.  However, these models can range from $400 – 800.00 and that price point was not within reasonable consideration for us.  Mid-range models were more appropriate for our ability to invest and the frequency with which we assumed we would use the mill (once or twice a week or a few cups at a time). 

The next consideration was space.  We seem to have a lot of kitchen gadgets and tools and not that much counter space.  We wanted to be able to use the mill frequently without having to take up valuable real estate on the counter top or having to store it in the hall closet where we might be less likely to reach for it.  My husband made a great choice (in my opinion!) in the Mockmill Kitchen Aid Grain Mill Attachment.  This smaller mill separates into two parts (the mill and the feeder) and attaches right onto the kitchen aid mixer that we already keep on our counter.  It is easy to take on and off and stores easily in the same place as our wheat berries.  The Mockmill has coarseness options for grinding; even on its finest setting, it does not grind flour as finely as what you would purchase from the store.  But if, like us, you actually like a little bit of bite in your bread that’s not such a bad thing.  Both pancakes and bread made with our home ground flour had a  “toothsome” texture which we enjoyed.  The only downside is that we probably won’t use this flour for more delicate products like cakes, but since bread and other hearty pastries are made much more regularly in our kitchen this made sense too.

While we won't use our grain mill on an everyday basis, we are likely to use it about once a week.  For us, this was reason enough to make the investment, which will hopefully last us for many years to come!

Carrie Williams Howe is the Executive Director of an educational nonprofit by day, and parent and aspiring homesteader by night and on weekends. She lives in Williston, Vermont, with her husband, two young children, and a rambunctious border collie. Carrie has a PhD in educational leadership and is passionate about being an authentic, participatory leader in various settings. She is a contributing editor at Parent Co Magazine. Connect with Carrie on The Happy Hive Facebook page. Read all of Carrie’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Save the Bees, Drink Mead!

Leave it to a small meadery along the southern coast of California to tell the story of the plight of the honeybees, and help bring about their return. As the oldest alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of honey, mead is as natural as they come: sunshine, flowers, honeybees in a healthy ecosystem, honey, fermentation and finally, a refreshing “nectar of the Gods.”

At Golden Coast Mead in Oceanside, California, cofounder, CEO, and Head Mead Maker, Frank Golbeck, believes with all his heart that drinking mead can help save the honeybees. We caught up with Golbeck after first meeting him at the San Diego Fermentation Fest (read about the festival in a previous post) and couldn’t resist stopping by his tasting room and production facility in Oceanside to sample a “flight” of his unique meads made with a 1-to-4 ratio of California Honey to Palomar Mountain spring water and an ale yeast.

Perhaps a disclaimer is needed here: We love mead. But the surprisingly flavorful and unique styles of mead crafted by Golden Coast Mead go unparalleled in our travels. And we have sampled some amazing meads from other parts of the country. But every kind of mead at Golden Coast had its own story, usually based on the source of the honey and the pairings with other ingredients, like coffee or Serrano peppers — and the flavor profiles change throughout the year.  We tried a mead flight of Orange Vanilla, Savage Bois, Coffee, and Pucker Punch.

“My vision is to craft a regenerative beverage that supports a healthy ecosystem,” says Golbeck, as we grab a seat in his tasting room and took a sip of our first glass of Orange Vanilla Mead.  “Just like Patagonia shifted the buying power of the cotton market, I want to make mead scalable to the point where we can do that for bees and honey.”

“We’re doing very different things,” Golbeck continues, on what sets his operation apart from others. “We call it San Diego-style mead. Ours is defined by using an ale yeast. We use some sour cultures to give them a bit of a complex edge. No one else is really doing ale-based meads on a commercial scale. No one else is really doing sours on a commercial scale."


We started our flight with Orange Vanilla Mead. We could taste and smell both the orange blossom and vanilla.

“We want to frame this as an ‘adventuring mead,’” explains Golbeck, on what he termed a short mead for their Orange Vanilla. “It’s only 6 percent alcohol, unlike our 12-percent meads where you might drink a bottle and that’s the end of the night.” He laughs.

“On our flight today, only one of them we have in our bottles,” adds Sam Schiebold, Marketing Director, who also joined our guided tasting. “Most of the stuff we have on tap are experiments or what we’re playing around with.”

“It’s magic is the way I like to think of it,” smiles Golbeck. “It’s terroir taken to the next incredible level of quality.” By the end of our testing, we agreed. We seemed to have traveled the coast without ever leaving the tasting room. If you like the taste of the mead, you’ll likely enjoy the place where the honey is from and the time of year it’s harvested.

The Ecology of Mead proclamation on Golden Coast Mead reads: “Beekeepers who make amazing honey on organic pasture using no chemicals in their hives will get premium prices for honey that will make premium meads. People will get to enjoy it knowing they're supporting a craft that regenerates soil, incentivizes biodiversity, creates good jobs, and builds the world they want to adventure in and enjoy.”

So, drink up, we say. Savor what is good for the Earth, and do your part to help preserve the honeybees that must be allowed to thrive in healthy ecosystems. No monoculture crops of grapes or barley. No chemicals. Just great taste.

And if you want to learn how to make mead like the pros, take one of Golden Coast Mead’s workshops.

If Gandalf traveled in these parts of California, he’d definitely include this place on his wanderings. And yes, Golden Coast Mead ships.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural RenaissanceHomemade for Salethe award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographerIvanko contributes to MOTHER EARTH NEWS, most recently, 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient LivingThey live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine. Read all of John's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Make Healthy and Delicious French Fries at Home

Just about everybody loves French fries. What's not to love? Crispy potatoes fried in fat and seasoned with salt are a delightful addition to many meals. Yet, many French fries sold in restaurants are cooked in canola oil. It's cheap and easy to come by. But is it good for us?

90% of canola oil comes from genetically modified plants. When heated, most vegetable oils become rancid and trans fats are introduced. Many believe that trans fats increase the risks of developing chronic diseases. To date, there have been no long term studies on canola oil's safety.

Perhaps it would be best to stick with known, traditional fats. Our ancestors used lard, coconut oil, tallow, duck fat and goose fat to cook. The problem here is that these fats often hold deposits of toxins. So it's important to make sure that you know the source for them. Duck fat and goose fat make the very best French fries.

French Fry Recipe


• 4 medium to large potatoes
• 8 ounces of goose or duck fat
• sea salt or Himalayan pink


Cut the potatoes into strips and dry with paper towels.


Put the fat into a small pan and heat until warm. Add ½ the potatoes.


Cook, stirring periodically, for twenty to thirty minutes depending on the temperature of the oil. Don't let the oil smoke; this means that the heat is too high.


Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and place on a double layer of paper towels. Salt immediately.


Repeat the process with the rest of the potatoes. Once they have all cooled a bit, serve with aoili or ketchup. Yum!


My favorites page on my web site has a link to top quality fats. Click on the link at

Celeste Longacre and her husband, Bob, have lived sustainably for more than 35 years. They grow almost all of their vegetables for the year and preserve them by freezing, canning, drying and using a home -built root cellar. Celeste ferments much of the couple’s produce and makes her own sauerkraut, kimchee, and fruit and beet kvass. She is the author of Celeste’s Garden Delights and writes a gardening blog for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. For more information, visit Celeste’s website, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Introduction to Traditionally Fermented Bread

sourdough bread

My first sourdough loaf

Many people, even kitchen enthusiasts, shy away from making bread as they consider the preparation of bread dough time-consuming, labor-intensive and unpredictable - many times more so when talking of sourdough bread, which is made using wild yeast rather than the more reliable commercial yeast. 

In truth, bread-making is not so much time- and labor-intensive as simply requiring some patience, planning ahead, and tenacity (which, I admit, are challenging aspects in our instant gratification world). Mixing the sourdough starter and/or bread dough isn't a lot of work, even if you do everything by hand, which is the method I prefer. You get it going, and then you take your mind off it and do other things - and once in a while you check on it and do a quick knead or mix again. 

Nothing equals the aroma of freshly baked bread, but unfortunately, far from being the staff of life, modern quick-rise bread made from white flour offers little nutritional value. The proper way to make bread is to use whole-grain flour (wheat, rye or spelt) that had been allowed a long fermentation process (such as in sourdough).

Fermentation, Gluten, and Traditional Breads

Fermentation makes bread, and any grain products more digestible — often, people mistakenly think they are gluten-sensitive when, in fact, what they can't tolerate is unfermented grain, and don't experience any adverse effects when consuming traditionally prepared sourdough bread. The experiment of switching to properly fermented sourdough is certainly worthwhile before making the step of excluding gluten from the diet altogether.

Unfortunately, people who had been used to the soft sponge-like texture of quick-rise white bread will often find whole grain loaves dense and unpalatable. It is entirely a matter of habit, I believe, but nevertheless this can be an obstacle when trying to switch to a healthier diet.

Even if your family absolutely refuses anything but white bread, you can still up its nutritional value by baking with free-range eggs and healthy oils, and adding nuts, seeds or raisins. You may still have the satisfaction of knowing you have created a product far superior to almost anything you can buy at the store, in taste, health and usually price.

What about whole-grain bread not made through a traditional fermentation process? Is it still better than using white flour because it has more fiber and minerals, or is it inadvisable because it’s more difficult to digest? It’s a tough one, but overall I believe whole grain still wins, unless you really experience adverse effects after consuming it.

The World of Sourdough Bread

Recently I got into the exciting world of sourdough bread, using simple instructions for sourdough starter that called for nothing but flour and water, and was a little skeptical at first, leaping with joy when I saw the first foamy bubbles – hurray! It’s working! I’ve captured myself some real wild yeast.

By day five, my starter acquired a prominent yeasty smell and I decided it’s time to dive into baking. I used whole rye flour, opting for sticky dough that is stirred rather than kneaded. After proofing the bread for about 8 hours in a warm kitchen, I eased it into English cake tins and let it stand a couple hours more before popping it into the oven.

Unfortunately, I left rather too much room for rising, forgetting that rye bread, especially sourdough bread, does not rise that much. As a result I got flat and, let’s face it, sorry-looking loaves, but the taste was very satisfying – full, complex, a little sour, with a very pleasant chewy texture. It was delicious warm, covered with melting butter, and was definitely worth the effort and waiting.

I saved a bit of the dough for next time’s starter and froze it, because bread-making happens somewhat sporadically around here. I hope next time I get a loaf that is good-looking as well as great-tasting.

A friend of mine, who makes delicious sourdough bread in the way of a little kitchen business, tells me that her secret to great-tasting bread is in the flour: she buys whole rye and spelt in bulk, soaks and sprouts the grains, then oven-dries the grains and only then grinds them into flour which she uses for bread-making. For practical reasons (my oven is tiny) I can’t do the same, but I still think I did pretty well for a first-timer. 

The content of this post was based on extracts from Nurturing Hands: The Holistic Health Pocketbook

Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.