Cool Goole No 2

As I was standing balancing myself on a brick wall taking the coal hoist's picture, I noticed these apparitions in the distance. I motored around Goole trying to get a vantage point, driving down dead-end streets, doing three point turns and frightening mothers with pushchairs. My quarry remained elusive, tantalisingly just over a fence with the sun in the wrong place, or access denied by security fencing. When I finally left the town to head for the M62 I spotted this view over the rooftops of an industrial estate.

They are, of course, both water towers. But what an Odd Couple, known locally as the Salt and Pepper Pots. The Victorian red brick tower supports an iron sphere that looks like a cannon ball stuffed into the breech, or an immense sinister ball-cock. It proved inadequate for the expanding Goole population, so the simply gargantuan ferro-concrete tower was built next to it in 1926. At the time this was, unsurprisingly, the largest ever built. But it's the juxtaposition of the two towers (one could never say 'twin' of these two) that amazes. It's as if Goole said "This is where we put water towers. Always have, always will".

Cool Goole No 1

Driving up through the Isle of Axholme in pouring rain yesterday, I decided to cut my losses and make for where I thought the sun was. This turned out to be Goole in East Yorkshire, and it was raining here also. I knew nothing about this east coast port except that Auberon Waugh came here once with a BBC crew and talked to the women who drove freshly-imported Renaults from the docks to, presumably, a large car park. But on entering the town in the afternoon my eyes came out onto my cheeks like those comic ones on springs when I saw this structure towering over the docks. I stared at it for ten minutes, hoping for at least a ray of sunshine to illuminate it for its portrait. I was rewarded by a single patch of blue approaching from the west, and here it is. So. It's a coal hoist, built some time between 1880-1910, and once bodily lifted 'Tom Pudding' compartment boats into the air so that the contents could be deposited into freighters. It was one of five, but, wait for it, this one was able to be floated to wherever it was wanted. It's screwed down now, Grade II Listed and a roost for at least two hundred pigeons. The little iron lighthouse was the control room. Thankyou to the Yorkshire Waterways Museum who were so patient and kind to an excitable man first thing this morning. Oh, and one more thing. When I put Goole Port into Google, it very quickly gave up and gave me 'Google' and 'port' instead.

More Liver

It's time to celebrate your liver. It's a hard-working organ and it deserves some credit.

One of the liver's most important overall functions is maintaining nutrient homeostasis. It controls the blood level of a number of macro- and micronutrients, and attempts to keep them all at optimal levels.

Here's a list of some of the liver's functions I'm aware of:
  • Buffers blood glucose by taking it up or releasing it when needed
  • A major storage site for glycogen (a glucose polymer)
  • Clears insulin from the blood
  • Synthesizes triglycerides
  • Secretes and absorbs lipoprotein particles ("cholesterol")
  • Stores important vitamins: B12, folate, A, D, E, K (that's why it's so nutritious to eat!)
  • Stores minerals: copper and iron
  • Detoxifies the blood
  • Produces ketone bodies when glucose is running low
  • Secretes blood proteins
  • Secretes bile
  • Converts thyroid hormones
  • Converts vitamin D (D3 --> 25(OH)D3)
The liver is an all-purpose metabolic powerhouse and storage depot. In the next post, I'll give you a recipe for it...

The Liver: Your Metabolic Gatekeeper

As I've been learning more about the different blood markers of metabolic dysfunction, something suddenly occurred to me. Most of them reflect liver function! Elevated fasting glucose, low HDL cholesterol, high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides and high fasting insulin all reflect (at least in part) liver function. The liver is the "Grand Central Station" of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism, to quote Philip A. Wood from How Fat Works. It's also critical for insulin and glucose control, as I'll explain shortly. When we look at our blood lipid profile, fasting glucose, or insulin, what we're seeing is largely a snapshot of our liver function. Does no one talk about this or am I just late to the party here?!

I read a paper today from the lab of C. Ronald Kahn that really drove home the point. They created a liver-specific insulin receptor knockout (LIRKO) mouse, which is a model of severe insulin resistance in the liver. The mouse ends up developing severe whole-body insulin resistance, dramatically elevated post-meal insulin levels (20-fold!), impaired glucose tolerance, and elevated post-meal and fasting glucose. Keep in mind that this all resulted from nothing more than an insulin resistant liver.

LIRKO mice had elevated post-meal blood glucose due to the liver's unresponsiveness to insulin's command to take up sugar. Apparently the liver can dispose of one third of the glucose from a meal, turning it into glycogen and triglycerides. The elevated fasting glucose was caused by insulin not suppressing gluconeogenesis (glucose synthesis) by the liver. In other words, the liver has no way to know that there's already enough glucose in the blood so it keeps on pumping it out. This is highly relevant to diabetics because fasting hyperglycemia comes mostly from increased glucose output by the liver. This can be due to liver insulin resistance or insufficient insulin production by the pancreas.

One of the interesting things about LIRKO mice is their dramatically elevated insulin level. Their pancreases are enlarged and swollen with insulin. It's as if the pancreas is screaming at the body to pick up the slack and take up the post-meal glucose the liver isn't disposing of. The elevated insulin isn't just due to increased output by the pancreas, however. It's also due to decreased disposal by the liver. According to the paper, the liver is responsible for 75% of insulin clearance from the blood in mice. The hyperinsulinemia they observed was both due to increased secretion and decreased clearance. Interestingly, they noted no decline in beta cell (the cells that secrete insulin) function even under such a high load.

Something that's interesting to note about these mice is they have very low blood triglyceride. It makes sense since insulin is what tells the liver to produce it. Could this have something to do with their lack of beta cell dysfunction?

The really strange thing about LIRKO mice is that their blood glucose becomes more normal with age. Strange until you see the reason: their livers are degenerating so they can't keep up glucose production!

LIRKO mice reproduce many of the characteristics of type II diabetes, without degenerating completely into beta cell death. So insulin resistance in the liver appears to reproduce some elements of diabetes and the metabolic syndrome, but the full-blown disorders require other tissues as well. As a side note, this group also has a skeletal muscle-specific insulin receptor knockout which is basically normal. Interesting considering muscle tissue seems to be one of the first tissues to become insulin resistant during diabetes onset.

So if you want to end up like your good pal LIRKO, remember to drink high-fructose corn syrup with every meal! You'll have fatty liver and insulin resistance in no time!

I have a lot more to say about the liver, but I'll continue it in another post.

Book Review: Blood Sugar 101

I just finished reading "Blood Sugar 101" by Jenny Ruhl. It's a quick read, and very informative. Ruhl is a diabetic who has taken treatment into her own hands, using the scientific literature and her blood glucose monitor to understand blood sugar control and its relationship to health. The book challenges some commonly held ideas about diabetes, such as the notion that diabetics always deteriorate.

She begins by explaining in detail how blood glucose is controlled by the body. The pancreas releases basal amounts of insulin to make glucose available to tissues between meals. It also releases insulin in response to carbohydrate intake (primarily) in two bursts, phase I and phase II. Phase I is a rapid response that causes tissues to absorb most of the glucose from a meal, and is released in proportion to the amount of carbohydrate in preceding meals. Phase II cleans up what's left.

In a person with a healthy pancreas, insulin secretion will keep blood glucose under about 130 mg/dL even under a heavy carbohydrate load. The implications of this are really interesting. Namely, that blood glucose levels will not be very different between a person who eats little carbohydrate, and one who eats a lot, as long as the latter has a burly pancreas and insulin-sensitive tissues.

Most Americans don't have such good control however, hence the usefulness of low-carbohydrate diets. This begs the question of why we lose blood sugar control. Insulin resistance seems like a good candidate, maybe preceded by
leptin resistance. As you may have noticed, I'm starting to think the carbohydrate per se is not the primary insult. It's probably something else about the diet or lifestyle that causes carbohydrate insensitivity. Grain lectins are a good candidate in my opinion, as well as inactivity.

Diabetics can have blood glucose up to 500 mg/dL, that remains elevated long after it would have returned to baseline in a healthy person. Ruhl asserts that elevated blood sugar is toxic, and causes not only diabetic complications but perhaps also cancer and heart disease.

Heart attack incidence is strongly associated with A1C level, which is a rough measure of average blood sugar over the past couple of months. It makes sense, although most of the data she cites is correlative. They might have seen the same relationship if they had compared heart attack risk to fasting insulin level or insulin resistance. It's difficult to nail down blood sugar as the causative agent. More information from animal studies would have been helpful.

Probably the most important thing I took from the book is that the first thing to deteriorate is glucose tolerance, or the ability to pack post-meal glucose into the tissues. It's often a result of insulin resistance, although autoimmune processes seem to be a factor for some people.
Doctors often use fasting glucose to diagnose diabetes and pre-diabetes, but typically you are far gone by the time your fasting glucose is elevated!

I like that she advocates a low-carbohydrate diet for diabetics, and lambasts the ADA for its continued support of high-carbohydrate diets.

Overall, a good book. I recommend it!

Influenza's 'round-the-world trip begins in Asia, study finds

For scientists, finding the birthplace of influenza has been like playing a long game of hide-and-go-seek. But the search seems to now be over, as a team of international researchers has shed new light on where flu originates.

A study in Science Magazine looked at influenza A H3N2 viruses, finding that since 2002, the viruses have migrated out of what the authors call the "east and southeast Asian circulation network" before making a one-way trip around the world and eventually dying off in South America. The study shows that the strains come from Asia and then arrive in Europe and North America six to nine months later. Researchers collected 13,000 samples of influenza A H3N2 virus across six continents.

So why Asia? The researchers concluded that different regions in eastern and southeastern Asia experience different rainy seasons throughout the year, which is when flu outbreaks crop up.

"There can be cities that are only 700 miles away from each other, such as Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, which have epidemics six months apart," said Derek Smith of the University of Cambridge, the corresponding author of the study. "There is a lot of variability like this in East and Southeast Asia, so lots of opportunity for an epidemic in one country to seed an epidemic to another nearby country, like a baton passed by runners in a relay race."

Tourists and trade visitors to Asia help spread the flu throughout the world. If the trend continues, eastern and southeastern Asia may become the new focus of surveillance — which could provide improvements to future vaccines and potentially help predict changes in flu viruses.

With hide-and-go-seek now over, what we've learned can help prevent the flu's spread. Anyone for a game of tag, you're it?


Rust Never Sleeps

Now. Between you, me and the lichen-covered gatepost, I have been busily putting together a portfolio of pictures that demonstrate John Piper's maxim 'Pleasing Decay'. I keep showing them to my publisher who just stares at me and then out of the window. He won't read this (he thinks blog is the name of a spaniel) so if any other bookmakers fancy a punt I'll slip an example under the door in a plain brown envelope under the pseudonym Maurice Mildew. The idea is to record things (derelict corrugated iron barns, rusty signs, discarded farm machinery) that are simply disappearing, not through any overtly planned destruction, but rather by a gentle and innocent neglect that gives them an uncertain beauty. So no to burnt-out hatchbacks, yes to abandoned horse boxes with trees growing out the roofs. Which brings me to Church Lane. Leicester cares for its cast-iron street signs (I've seen blokes up ladders painting them) and it won't be long before this example gets the once-over. It's on a wall in Knighton next to the eyecatching Queen Anne-style gate lodge to the hall. But on closer inspection I noticed that the rust on the sign is an exact match for the colour of the brickwork. How does this happen? Is it that I saw it at the precise moment in time that the deepening rust matched, and next month it won't? There's got to be an obvious answer that I can't see. And it isn't that the wall and sign have all been painted from the same tin. The brick is brick. Oh, pass me a beaker of WD40.

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Village of Mystery

I think there's another world going on locally that I know nothing about. It started with my friend Philip (he of the English Buildings blog) spotting the 'Road Closed' sign in my neighbouring village of Hallaton on his recent visit. It's been positioned at the top of a very green footpath that descends from a narrow alleyway between houses to the Easter Monday Bottle-Kicking stream (which perhaps explains its presence). Funnily enough, the footpath also connects my cottage with my nearest pub. And then I drove through the same village yesterday and saw this yellow sign in a farmyard. What's going on? Cosi fan hutte? It reminded me of other delightful AA signs giving directions to unlikely venues- 'Wuthering Heights' by a dense wood in a particularly flat part of East Suffolk, 'The Host of Angels' propped up against a signpost pointing to Apethorpe in Northamptonshire. The opera sign is opposite a yard where a man used to maintain mobile banks, the sort trundled out at agricultural shows, so I've been used to seeing the Lloyd's black horse peering over the wall. It's all so apparently casual and accidental, and of course very English. Happy St.George's Day.

Celebrate National Infant Immunization Week

Thanks to lifesaving vaccines, dreaded childhood diseases such as polio, whooping cough, mumps and measles are a distant memory for most people in the United States. But the viruses and bacteria that cause these diseases are still around and can be passed to people who have not been vaccinated.

April 19-26 marks National Infant Immunization Week, a yearly observance that emphasizes the importance of protecting the littlest members of our families from vaccine-preventable diseases. The week gives everyone a chance to celebrate all of the successes of immunization programs and works to ensure that all infants are fully immunized against 14 vaccine-preventable diseases.

This year, hundreds of communities across the United States will also join with nearly 60 other countries in the Western Hemisphere and Europe to celebrate Vaccination Week in the Americas and European Immunization Week. Every community, no matter how large or small, can help reduce and prevent vaccine-preventable diseases and celebrate National Infant Immunization Week!

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resources for planning National Infant Immunization Week events, including English and Spanish-language materials, sample op-ed articles and facts. Help make more childhood infectious diseases a thing of the past!

Spring is Sprung

A few minutes ago I went out onto the lawns of Ashley Towers with the intention of dragging the lawnmower out for the first cut of the season. Finding that I had syphoned all the unleaded petrol out of its tank for either a Molotov Cocktail or, perhaps more likely, to ensure that the car didn't splutter embarrassingly to a halt twenty yards from my door, I then spotted this little patch of daisies amongst the long blades of grass. Richard Mabey, in his wonderful Flora Britannica, reminds us 'that there is a saying that spring has not arrived until you can cover three, or nine, or a dozen daisy flowers with your foot'. On this reckoning spring has certainly arrived here, although you wouldn't have thought so yesterday with a day as raw as November. The name apparently comes from 'Day's Eye' after it's habit of closing up at night, as Chaucer had it 'Well by reason men it call maie / The Daisie, or else the Eye of the Daie'. After all that I think I might run the mower round them. Or sit out there making a Daisy Chain, but I think after my photography session I've had enough suspicious glances from my neighbours seeing me yet again prostrate on my lawn.

Green Credentials

"You might like to look at these", said my Neighbour Who Knows What I Like, holding out a heavy carrier bag. "But you're not to start another collection and when you've finished with them you can get them down to the charity shop". I closed the door, took one look inside and starting building another set of shelves in the Library Wing. I already had a small collection of 1950's editions, with plain over-sized green covers and illustrations by countrymen like John Nash. I love them as much for the ads for Atco Autoscythes and Cremona Assorted Toffees as for the editorial content on everything from redstarts on window-sills to the vegetation on British Railways' embankments. They were once as at home in a rural kitchen as a Rayburn and a gingham table cloth.

Founded in 1927 by J.W.Robertson Scott in the manor at Idbury in the Cotswolds (telephone Shipton-under-Wychwood 226), it was an immediate success, and although the offices have now moved from the comfortable-sounding Sheep Street in Burford to Skipton in Yorkshire, it sells 80,000 copies every month to countrymen all over the world. I think it's sad that the cover design is now a full-bleed colour photograph just like everyone else on the magazine rack, and that it was deemed necessary to lose the trademark green panels, but we now need The Countryman putting his feet up in our kitchens more than ever. Oh, I've just spotted an advertisement for Pick Knitwear with a drawing by Edward Ardizzone. Whatever else happens, this one's not going to Age Concern.

Are you protected from measles?

With spring comes the Jewish holiday of Passover, when many Americans travel to Israel. This year, however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is giving some advice to travelers: Make sure you have a measles shot so you don’t get sick!

Since September 2007, more than 900 cases of measles have been reported in Israel, with nearly 700 cases in the cities of Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh. CDC is recommending that travelers planning to go to Israel this month check their immunization status and consult with their doctor to make sure that they are vaccinated against the disease. Any travelers who become ill with a fever or other measles-like symptoms should visit a medical professional before they return to the United States. It is also good to limit any contact with other people as much as possible, because measles is very contagious and can be spread easily through coughing and sneezing.

While measles is no longer common in the United States, outbreaks still occur. Just this year, Arizona experienced nine cases of the disease, while San Diego reported 11 cases. Both outbreaks were traced to travelers who had recently spent time in Switzerland, where there was a large outbreak of measles. The travelers carried the illness back with them to the United States, leading to the rise in cases.

Don't forget to stay up to date on all of your vaccinations — not just measles — especially if you are traveling to different parts of the world where other infectious diseases are common. You never know when the next germ will sneak up on you if you're unprepared!

Photo courtesy CDC Public Health Image Library. This health marketing material was used to promote U.S. measles vaccinations during the 1960s. Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, there were approximately 3 million to 4 million cases, and an average of 450 deaths a year in the United States, according to CDC. More than half the population had measles by the time they were 6 years old, and 90 percent had the disease by the time they were 15.

Olive Oil Buyer's Guide

Olive oil is one of the few good vegetable oils. It is about 10% omega-6 (n-6) fatty acids, compared to 50% for soybean oil, 52% for cottonseed oil and 54% for corn oil. Omega-6 fatty acids made up a smaller proportion of calories before modern times, due to their scarcity in animal fats. Beef suet is 2% n-6, butter is 3% and lard is 10%. Many people believe that excess n-6 fat is a contributing factor to chronic disease, due to its effect on inflammatory prostaglandins. I'm reserving my opinion on n-6 fats until I see more data, but I do think it's worth noting the association of increased vegetable oil consumption with declining health in the US.

Olive oil is also one of the few oils that require no harsh processing to extract. As a matter of fact, all you have to do is squeeze the olives and collect the oil. Other oils that can be extracted with minimal processing are red palm oil (9% n-6), hazelnut oil (10% n-6) and coconut oil (2% n-6). These are also the oils I consider to be healthy. Due to the mild processing these oils undergo, they retain their natural vitamin and antioxidant content.

You've eaten corn, so you know it's not an oily seed. Same with soybeans. So how to they get the oil out of them? They use a combination of heat and petroleum solvents. Then, they chemically bleach and deodorize the oil, and sometimes partially hydrogenate it to make it more shelf-stable. Hungry yet? This is true of all the common colorless oils, and anything labeled "vegetable oil".

Olive oil is great, but don't run out and buy it just yet! There are different grades, and it's important to know the difference between them.
The highest grade is extra-virgin olive oil, and it's the only one I recommend. It's the only grade that's not heated or chemically refined in any way. Virgin olive oil, "light" olive oil (refers to the flavor, not calories), "pure" olive oil, or simply olive oil all involve different degrees of chemical extraction and/or processing. This applies primarily to Europe. Unfortunately, the US is not part of the International Olive Oil Council (IOOC), which regulates oil quality and labeling.

The olive oil market is plagued by corruption. Much of the oil exported from Italy is
cut with cheaper oils such as colza. Most "Italian olive oil" is actually produced in North Africa and bottled in Italy, and may be of inferior quality. The USDA has refused to regulate the market so they get away with it. If you find a deal on olive oil that looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Only buy from reputable sources. Look for the IOOC seal, which guarantees purity, provenance and freshness. IOOC olive oil must contain less than 0.8% acidity. Acidity refers to the percentage of free fatty acids (as opposed to those bound in triglycerides), a measure of damage to the oil.
Fortunately, the US has a private equivalent to the IOOC, the California Olive Oil Council (COOC). The COOC seal ensures provenance, purity and freshness just like the IOOC seal. It has outdone the IOOC in requiring less than 0.5% acidity. COOC-certified oils are more expensive, but you know exactly what you're getting.

Thanks to funadium for the CC photo

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Bates Blog

I can't believe I've done all this blogging and not gone on about H.E.Bates. Many will know of him through the adaptations his son filmed of the Larkin novels (as pictured here) starring David Jason, and indeed it is on these books that his fame mostly rests. But Bates is much, much more than this, and is well worth tracking down. I continually go back to his writing, particularly the short stories and novellas, and as a start I would thoroughly recommend The Lighthouse (from Colonel Julian 1951) and The Grass God (from The Nature of Love 1953). H.E.Bates was born in Rushden in 1905 and many of his early stories are set around this Northamptonshire boot and shoe town, and in the neighbouring Ouse Valley. As his work sold he moved to Kent, and it is here that his English war and post-war stories are mainly located. His economic style is perfectly suited to his bucolic story-telling of Hardyesque figures in the landscape, although I think the sun shines more in Bates' Kent than in Hardy's Wessex. I first came across him when many of the stories were televised in the early 70s in a series called Country Matters, but I must confess my interest heightened greatly when my uncle (who knew Bates in his newspaper days) complained to me that the novelist seemed inappropriately obsessed with girls' breasts. I think I ran all the way to the bookshop.

Beating the Winter Blues

Does this season's chilly weather give you the urge to hibernate? If so, we've got everything you'll need to create the coziest of nests, without ever having to leave home! The great selection of snuggly items in our Bedding Department will have you toasty and warm during those cold, winter nights.To create a comfy cocoon, start with a featherbed. Featherbeds provide a luxurious layer of comfort between you and your mattress by cushioning and cradling your body with a soft cloud of feather and down. Their unique construction ensures that you'll have long lasting softness and support while you sleep. Next, cover your mattress with a set of flannel sheets ; the cozy feel of brushed cotton is great on cool nights. Top it all off with a fluffy down comforter. The superior comfort of this natural fiber is unmatched. Taken from clusters found under the feathers of geese and ducks, down provides a layer of insulation that keeps warmth in and cold out. For mildly cool climates, a summer or lightweight comforter is suitable. In colder weather, choose a winter, or heavyweight comforter. The high fill power in these comforters provides great insulation and heat retention. Our plush blankets are great as an extra layer of warmth or for catching a quick nap on a blustery afternoon. Add a touch of color to your bed or sofa with a soft throw in cozy fabrics such as chenille and cotton.Beat the winter blues with help from iHome. Create a haven for rest with our selection of bedding that will keep you and your family comfortable and warm throughout the season.

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Turn your bed into a comfy haven

Have you ever slept in a quaint Bed and Breakfast or a luxury hotel and wondered why you got such a great night's sleep?
We seem to all want a good night's rest, but how many of us have actually examined our bed and asked, "Is this bed giving me the best sleep possible?" Since most of us can't escape to luxury hotels whenever we need some extra slumber, here are some ideas to turn your own bed into a comfy haven.

Good Mattress Support

If your mattress is a little worn, bring it back to life with one of the new "mattress toppers." Thicker than a mattress pad, they provide additional cushioning and comfort. A quality mattress pad also protects your mattress and supports the sleeper. Choose a mattress pad that suits your needs. For extra insulation, try a foam or wool mattress pad.

A cloud-like Featherbed

Europeans have been sleeping on featherbeds for years, but most Americans have not caught on to this sleeping secret. My husband and I slept on a featherbed our first night home from our honeymoon and we got the best night's sleep ever! When I discovered that I was allergic to the feathers and told my husband we'd have to give it up, he told me that I could sleep in the guestroom! Luckily, there are now many hypoallergenic alternatives.

Quality Sheets

The higher the thread count, the softer the sheet and the more durable it will be. Look for all-cotton sheets, since they "breathe." Layers of Comfort - A sheet with a single heavy comforter is just not as comfortable as a layered bed. A cotton blanket may be adequate for a slightly cool night, but you'll want a heavier blanket or a down comforter to put on top for snuggling on chillier evenings.

A good Sleeping Pillow

Read our Buyer's Guide on Sleeping Pillows to choose the pillow and firmness that is right for you. Down pillows, which are adjustable, are often considered the most luxurious. Let us help you create a cozy nest in your bedroom, but don't hold us responsible if you never want to get out of bed!

Doing Porridge

Looking at this iconic piece of branding smiling away in my 'pantry' this morning, I was reminded of a bizarre manifestation of the Quaker man that took place in the 1970s. But first I have to justify the appearance of an American brand on these pages. And I can't, other than to say that his friendly face has stared out at me over English breakfast tables for some time. He is, of course, nothing to do with Quakers. In fact those who gather in Friends' Meeting Houses are known to still suffer in silence over the use of the image. Although it is often attempted to give Quaker Oats (what a straightforward name for a cereal. So much better than 'Oh So Oatsy' or 'Golden Grahams') a Pennsylvanian heritage, the truth is that the name was chosen simply for its connotations of 'integrity, honesty and purity'. The painting of the Quaker was executed by Haddon Sundblom in 1957, and thankfully has not yet been superceded by the stylised corporate Quaker designed by movie title designer Saul Bass in 1971. Or, indeed, had to suffer the indignity he endured for an on-pack promotion thirty or so years ago. The offer was for a discounted anorak (seriously) and somebody thought it a wizard wheeze to dress the Quaker up in it and put a speech bubble from him saying "Two quid less than thou'dst pay in a shop". It must have been enough to make a Quaker tap-dance noisily across the parquet floor of a Meeting House.

Real Food V: Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is part of a tradition of fermented foods that reaches far into human prehistory. Fermentation is a means of preserving food while also increasing its nutritional value. It increases digestibility and provides us with beneficial bacteria, especially those that produce lactic acid. Raw sauerkraut is a potent digestive aid, probably the reason it's traditionally eaten with heavy food.

Sauerkraut is produced by a process called ‘anaerobic’ fermentation, meaning ‘without oxy
gen’. It’s very simple to achieve in practice. You simply submerge the cabbage in a brine of its own juices and allow the naturally present bacteria to break down the sugars it contains. The process of ‘lacto-fermentation’ converts the sugars to lactic acid, making it tart. The combination of salt, anaerobic conditions, and acidity makes it very difficult for anything to survive besides the beneficial bacteria, so contamination is rare. If it does become contaminated, your nose will tell you as soon as you taste it.

Store-bought sauerkraut is far inferior to homemade. It's soggy and sterile. Ask
a German: unpasteurized kraut is light, crunchy and tart!

My method is inexpensive and requires no special equipment. I've tested it many times and have never been disappointed.

  • Wide-mouth quart canning jars (cheap at your local grocery store)
  • Beer bottles with the labels removed, or small jars that fit inside the canning jars
  • Three tablespoons of sea salt (NOT iodized table salt-- it's fatal to our bacteria)
  • Five pounds of green cabbage
  1. Chop cabbage thinly. Ideally the slices should be 2 mm or so wide, but it doesn’t matter very much. You can use a food processor, mandolin or knife.
  2. Put all the cabbage together in a large bowl and add the salt. If the salt is not very dense (sometimes finely ground sea salt can be fluffy), you can add up to 5 tablespoons total. Mix it around with your hands. Taste some. It should be good and salty.
  3. Let the salted cabbage sit in the bowl for 30 minutes or so. It should be starting to get juicy.
  4. Pack the cabbage tightly into the canning jars. Leave 2-3 inches at the top of the jar. When you push on the cabbage in the jar, you should be able to get the brine to rise above the cabbage. Try to get rid of air bubbles.
  5. Put water into the beer bottles and place them into the canning jars. The weight of the bottles will keep the cabbage under the brine. It’s okay that some of the brine is exposed to the air; the cabbage itself is protected.
  6. Let it sit for 2 weeks at room temperature! As the fermentation proceeds, bubbles will form and this will raise the level of the brine. This is normal. You might get some scum on top of the liquid; just check for this and scrape it off every few days. It won’t affect the final product. If the brine drops to the level of the cabbage, add salt water (1 tsp/cup, non-chlorinated water) to bring it back up.
  7. Taste it! It should be tart and slightly crunchy, with a fresh lactic acid flavor. If fully fermented, it will keep in the fridge for a long time.
Here are some photos from making sauerruben, which is like sauerkraut but made with turnips: