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