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As well as supporting 24 small sustainable farmers and growers, Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market also acts as a sort of incubator for new sustainable food businesses – helping local producers get started and bringing interesting and delicious new local foods to Hackney. Kerry Rankine, the market organiser, has been out and about visiting some of our new ultra-local producers.
There’s a bubbling noise coming from the giant blue barrels deep in a Hackney basement… little pops and flurries. Patka lifts the lid of a white bucket next to them and an amazing smell of garlic fills the small room. "It’s an experiment in fermenting wild garlic leaves!” she says. The blue barrels with their glass and rubber bungs are full of gently fermenting raw organic sauerkraut made by Patka and her partner Martin (PAMA) and sold at their Stoke Newington Farmers’ Market stall every week.
PAMA source local cabbage, beetroot and other vegetables for their handmade sauerkraut, pickles and raw sauerkraut crackers from the organic farmers at the market. Patka has adapted recipes from her Polish roots – and Martin’s German ones – and combined them with ideas taken from the fermentation and raw food movement they investigated on trips to California. They make traditional sauerkraut flavoured with caraway seeds, juniper berries and bay but also a beautiful deep purple beetroot and ginger sauerkraut and a bright zinging yellow turmeric and cumin version – as well as one flavoured with seaweed.
Patka and Martin are fervent about raw sauerkraut’s health benefits, which come from both its high nutrient levels and the beneficial lactobacillus bacteria it contains. Sauerkraut is made from shredded cabbage and salt using a process called lacto-fermentation, which is a traditional way of preserving vegetables – another example is kimchi from Korea. The salt preserves the cabbage for a few days while the probiotic bacteria begin to grow. These bacteria are highly beneficial to human digestion as they increase the healthy flora in the intestinal tract. This can help the immune system fight infection and aid digestion.
Sauerkraut contains high levels of vitamin C, B and K and iron; the fermentation process actually increases the bioavailability of these nutrients. Sauerkraut also contains isothiocyanate compounds such as sulforaphane, which naturally occur in cabbage and are believed to have cancer-fighting properties. All in all, sauerkraut is pretty much a new – or rather old – superfood. Patka and Martin recommend eating a little sauerkraut every day for good gut health!
Back in the basement kitchen, I’m listening to Patka talk about her Polish family’s tradition of pickling as she spreads out the mixture of sauerkraut, water and seeds that are going into the dehydrator to become raw sauerkraut crackers. Truthfully, a raw sauerkraut cracker made from dehydrated sauerkraut, sprouted sunflower seeds and spices sounds to me – not a raw food acolyte – as about as appetising as a dog biscuit… But after tasting PAMA’s crackers, I’ve totally changed my mind. The crackers are completely delicious – tangy, piquant and crisp, but without any discernible taste of sauerkraut. Patka recommends them with dips, avocado – or her own favourite – a bit of fresh sauerkraut on the top.
Patka and Martin are looking to create more fermented products from the seasonal vegetables at the farmers' market, starting with a seasonal UK version of kimchi. They plan to adapt the traditional Korean recipe to use locally grown organic pak choi, white turnips and radishes. One of our farmers has promised to grow Chinese cabbage for them, which will give it a more authentic texture. They’re also working to convert more local restaurants and cafes to the sauerkraut way. Personally, I’m volunteering to be the first to try the fermented wild garlic...