Eat Your Pickles

Like most everyone, I have been following the statistics for the coronavirus over the last few weeks. I’ve been following them on a website created by a high school student in Washington State ever since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified here, and the thing that has caught my eye again and again is how low the deaths rates are in Germany and South Korea given their contamination rates.
And I haven’t been able to stop myself from wondering why. You’ve got to remember, I write mysteries, so anything that contains a puzzle intrigues me. Maybe both these countries have excellent health care systems, I told myself (in which case we need to pay attention to their models), or maybe, as a friend who is a scientist pointed out, it has to do with their reporting rates. That could be, I thought, but given their reporting of their contamination rates, I didn’t quite buy that they might be reporting their death rates differently. So I kept working the puzzle in my mind, wondering what these two countries have in common that is different than other countries? Then it came to me: they both like to eat fermented food.  Sauerkraut in Germany and kimchi in South Korea.

Now maybe there’s nothing to that but I’m going to be honest here: I’ll do whatever it takes to try to protect myself from this virus. So a couple of weeks back, when I first came to this conclusion, I decided to get out the pickles I have in my pantry and add some to my daily diet. That and about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a tablespoon of honey in warm water.  “Just warm enough to drink it right down,” my mum would say. She used to make me that concoction when I was a little girl plagued with hay fever—and it worked. I still make it for myself now and again, usually when the cottonwood bud burst stirs up my allergies. Given my personal theory about the kinds of foods that might build my immune system in these precarious times, I thought I’d also add that beverage to my daily diet. And encourage my husband to do the same. Our children, too. And my mother, of course, who is in the very high-risk category given her age. And okay, all right, some of our family and friends—the ones I thought might take the recommendation without rolling their eyes too much.


Now admittedly, this is all just supposition on my part. The musings of an unscientific mind staring at the statistics on the screen, muttering, “Hmmm, I wonder why . . . ?” Musings that then join me out on my daily walk with the dogs in the State Park where, when I least expect it, I get an answer which seems to fit as easily as the right piece in a jigsaw puzzle. And then I see this on Facebook

and think, “Ah Ha! Proof!”

Of course, it was on Facebook so I have no idea if the words written on the image have any basis in fact. This is the platform, after all, where famous actors are quoted on “memed” photos of themselves when they never actually said those words ever. So yes, I considered the source. But nevertheless it did make me a little chuffed that I’d thought to increase my vinegar intake.

And it led me to take the next step: researching how to make my own sauerkraut or kimchi. And you know what I found? That fermented foods and pickles are not the same thing.  Who knew!  Well apparently there is an overlap in that some pickles are made by being soaked in brine and fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi, which are also soaked in brine so that the good bacteria—the lactobacilli—can convert the starches and sugars into lactic acid. Which makes sauerkraut and kimchi pickles too—fermented pickles—but I don’t think it works the other way around. Although isn’t vinegar just a fermented beverage, like wine or apple cider, that’s gone off?

I was heartened to learn that the sourdough bread I’m fond of making is considered a fermented food.
And yoghurt. And beer (another thing the German and South Korea cultures have in common). The trouble is the more I learned, the more I doubted my gut instinct (sorry for the pun) about the sauerkraut and the kimchi. But then I look at the statistics again and see that Germany’s death rate is holding steady at 0.47% and South Korea’s at 1.37%, which, compared to Italy’s 9.85% and China’s 4.03%, makes me think they’re doing something right. Fortunately my digestive tract has been pleased with the increased acidity in my diet so I’ve decided I’m going to stick with the pickles until I learn how to make other fermented foods. And be very grateful to my friends, Louise, Amanda and Nancy, for providing me with such tasty and beneficial treats.

Since some of you are probably not going out much right now because of the coronavirus, I thought I’d end this blog post by bringing the outside in to you. Here are a few photos taken on my daily walk and some of the first signs of spring around here.

Stay healthy, my friends. And, at least in the short term, eat your pickles.

Rockport State Park
Fern Creek
Skunk cabbage
Sunset over the tulips


17 thoughts on “Eat Your Pickles

  1. Makes sense to me, although sourdogh bread is a stretch. Always love your musings…. Big hug and Stay Well!!! Chara

    • I thought so too, Chara, but the Mother Earth article lists it among the fermented foods. Plus it’s delicious. 🙂 Big hugs to you and yours. And you stay well, too.

  2. I’d say eat your probiotics which Kim chi, sauerkraut & sourdough bread all have in common! I’m not a big Kim chi fan, but don’t miss on my probiotics & sourdough bread. Sauerkraut works best with meats in my mouth’s memory, but I’m mostly vegetarian now so that doesn’t work.

    Thanks for the great tree/forest pics!! Love Rockport state park!!! Lots of big old wise beings in there huh😃❤️💕🙏🏼 On Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 5:37 PM Musings from the Mountain wrote:

    > saukwriter posted: “Like most everyone, I have been following the > statistics for the coronavirus over the last few weeks. I’ve been following > them on a website created by a high school student in Washington State ever > since the first cases of COVID-19 were identified here, a” >

  3. Well said! Sauerkraut is also chock full of Vitamin C–I’m trying to like it. Kombucha too, is a beneficial fermented option. Last summer, Mike at Blue Heron showed us his fermenting experiments. Thanks for the good words, Nicola! And the lovely pics from your corner of the PNW! XO

  4. So fun! I tried making sauerkraut years ago, you have to have the perfect temp and climate– a root cellar is that! Thank you for the story and the pictures!

  5. What came to mind when I read your post were a few things –

    First how scarily fluid this pandemic is. When you go to the Coronavirus Dashboard developed by the high school student today (Sunday, March 29) the United states is now at the top of the world-wide list with 124,123 confirmed cases. South Korea doesn’t even show in the top ten countries for confirmed cases.

    Second I initially wondered if keeping confirmed cases low has something to do with the inherent culture of certain countries. That theory seemed to fit with my experiences of being in Germany many years ago (I’ve never traveled to South Korea so I can’t speak about their culture) where people didn’t even jay-walk and always stopped at every red light. It seemed possible that countries who had a tendency to follow rules might be better at self-quarantining or following a stay at home directive. However the glimpse at today’s numbers show Germany now has the 5th most confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide so that theory seems to be nothing more than cultural stereotyping on my part.

    What sauerkraut will do though is help our bodies during times of stress. I was attending an exercise class via Zoom and our wonderful instructor Kate (who is a licensed physical therapist) reminded all of us that in difficult times our bodies tend to seize up so it is even more important to keep moving. I’d agree 100% we need to move – both inside and out. And sauerkraut seems to assist with the inside part beautifully.

    So your suggestion to eat more fermented foods, along with taking wonderful walks in the woods seem to be just what the doctor ordered. Neither may be able to prevent Covid-19, but with social distancing, constant hand washing, and maintaining a healthy body, hopefully our chances of catching the virus are lessened.

    To Betsy I’d suggest trying my morning toast as a non-meat way to eat sauerkraut. I load up my slice of toast with a glug of extra virgin olive oil, slices of avocado, a healthy sprinkle of nutritional yeast, some balsamic vinegar glaze, and these days two heaping forkfuls of sauerkraut to top it all off. It is a delicious way to start the day!

  6. And I don’t know about you, Cynthia, but I’ve been “constant hand washing” ever since I brought my infant son home from the hospital, where the doctors and nurses said it was the best way to protect them from infection. Once I started I never really changed that habit because it became second nature. Nice tip on the breakfast toast with sauerkraut. I’m going to try that. Thanks for reading.

    • In general I’d say I am a handwasher, though pre-Covid-19 I also would typically quote my Grammy who always told us, “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.”

      So for now loads of handwashing and heaps of sauerkraut!

  7. Thank you for some common sense advice as to the importance of keeping your immune system strong. In the three weeks since this “thing” started yours is the first I have seen about dietary changes we can all make to support out immune systems. “Wash hands, wear mask, avoid people, stay at home.” What about some public information re the benefits of Vitamin C, fermented foods and other probiotics, mushrooms (medicinal and alimentary) and great products such as Source Naturals Wellness Formula, among others? Plus walking in the woods, of course. Thank you so much for those pics, Nicola, and for making me very hungry for a slice of your great bread. Yum!
    My sauerkraut-making German grandma knew a lot about healthy food and she made great sour bread too. Grandma’s of the world unite!
    As an aside, I have been wondering why the incidences are so high in Italy and Spain. The hardest hit area, by far, in Italy is north toward to Swiss border which has it’s own high incidence. Dietary? Genetic? Part of the mystery…

    • I listened to an Italian doctor on the radio today, Juliana, and he attributed the high death rate to the percentage of older people living in that area. I don’t know if Spain would be the same way. Somebody else suggested that a lot of Italians still smoke and it hits smokers harder that non-smokers. I doubt we’ll know until we’re past the outbreak and some scientists can spend time studying the differences. In the meantime, I’m still going to eat my pickles. Love to you and the critters.

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