Winter is coming. In Europe, those words were a serious warning. Winter, with the freezing cold it brought, the snow and occasional blizzards, was the time when many people died. In fact, often a person’s age and health were measured by how many winters they had survived. The Native Americans of the Great Plains also used this measurement.
Whether one survived the winter, before central heating and supermarkets, was largely dependent on having shelter, fuel, and, most importantly, the food that ensured survival. Our ancestors learned much about what to eat during this dangerous time, and passed this knowledge down through the generations.
While most people in the U.S. and Europe do not see winter as a threat, more people do get sick in winter and more people die. Many people expect to have colds and flus during winter, and many do. Most people have no idea of what their ancestors ate to survive the winter, and depend on doctors and prescription drugs, or over-the-counter drugs, to get them through it. Unfortunately, doctors know nothing about curing colds and flus, and the drugs are of limited effectiveness and all have negative effects. Some take flu shots, and get sick anyway.
We can still use the wisdom of our ancestors to stay healthy during the winter, by eating the foods that make our immune systems strong and able to fight off colds and illness.
Traditional Winter Foods
Our ancestors used a number of foods in winter, foods that they knew would help them stay healthy. Here are a few of the favorites in Europe and the United States.
This is the number one winter survival food in the entire world. Made from the bones of grassfed animals and pastured poultry, or wild game, these broths were the best mineral supplement ever invented. The long simmering process, usually at least twelve hours, extracted the nutrients, minerals, and gelatin from the bones and meat, and put it into the broth, where it could be easily absorbed. The gelatin from the bones and cartilage was also invaluable, improving the digestion, nourishing the gut, providing a protective coating to membranes and the stomach, and enabling the body to keep digesting and absorbing the nutrients from food. The broths were always cooked with plenty of unrefined salt, which also nourished and protected the body. The broths were always drunk hot, not scalding, but hot. The hot, nourishing liquid warmed the body from the inside as it was slowly sipped, helping to ward off the cold . Those who had it would drink broth every day of the winter, plenty of it.
A traditional European stew contained grassfed meat, onions, garlic, and a number of other winter vegetables. Often broth was added. These ingredients were slowly simmered together for hours, which caused the vegetables to disintegrate into the gravy. The meat also broke down, and merged its nutrients with those of the vegetables. When the stew was ready, it would be very tender, and thick. The tender meat and vegetables were easy to digest, and the nutrients extracted from the ingredients form the long cooking process were easy to digest and absorb. These stews were also rich in minerals and gelatin. They were always served hot, and there are few things as warming and satisfying as a forkful of hot, traditional stew. Eating a stew like this after coming in from the cold is one of the most satisfying things you can do, as your taste buds and body welcome the badly needed nutrients.
Winter Fruits and Vegetables
It was hard to get fresh vegetables in the cold of winter, yet our ancestors had their ways. Onions, carrots, and cabbage would keep for a long time in a root cellar, and were full of nutrients. Just about every stew, broth, and pot roast was made with onions, and carrots were also often available. Turnips would also keep in a root cellar, and were widely used. Later on, turnips were largely replaced by potatoes. These traditional vegetables were often added to broths and stews, and greatly increased the nutritional value of these warming dishes. Cabbage was not only cooked into stews and broths, but fermented into sauerkraut. Fruit was often dried during the fall and eaten during the winter, often cooked into stews, and added vital nutrients. Dried apples were a favorite in Europe.
Traditional fermented foods were a crucial part of the winter diet, all over Europe and the cold parts of Asia. The fermenting process not only preserved the food, but actually increased its vitamin content. The most famous and crucial fermented food was sauerkraut, which was eaten every day in small quantities, providing crucial vitamins such as Vitamin C, and friendly bacteria that helped the immune system and the digestive system. Many other vegetables were also fermented. The fermentation process used was lacto fermentation, which used salt and natural bacteria to do the job. This type of fermentation is the only way to get the nutrients from these foods that our ancestors did.
These traditional dishes consisted of cooking a large piece of pastured meat, always one of the cheaper cuts, in a covered pot with spices, herbs, and winter vegetables, with some liquid added, often broth. These delicious concoctions were cooked slowly until very tender, and until much of the vegetables had dissolved into the heavenly gravy. Very tender, and full of nutrients like a stew, these roasts were also served hot, and would warm the body and soul on a cold day, while giving valuable nutrition. And the smell as the meat slowly simmers away is so good.
The more tender cuts of meat, containing much fat, both in the meat and covering the meat, were expensive, and beyond the means of most people. But the nobles and those who could afford them would make great use of them in winter. Grassfed meat, roasted in its own fat, often served rare or medium, is loaded with vital nutrients, and the smell of roasting meat and fat is one of the best on earth. These roasts were served hot, with plenty of their own fat, which was eaten along with the meat. The pastured fat was full of vital nutrients, and helped the body resist the cold, while nourishing the brain. Even people of more modest means would enjoy roasts at feasts and holidays, with beef, lamb, pork, geese, ducks, and fat chickens being the favorites. The fat skin of geese and ducks was particularly prized as a winter food, as was the crisp fat that covered beef, pork and lamb roasts. Eaten hot, these were absolutely delicious. These roasts were often served with rich sauces and gravies made from their own fat and drippings, often with butter and cream, or added broth. These sauces added even more fat to the dish, in a most delicious and warming way.
Salted Meats and Fish
Much of the meat used in earlier times was dried, or salted, or fermented, so it would be available when needed in the winter. Ham, sausage, bacon, salt pork, pastrami, corned beef, and salted beef are examples of these foods. Fish were often salted or dried, also for the winter. These heavily salted meats were also eaten hot, and the fat they often contained helped the body resist the cold. Bacon in particular was a popular winter food, as were hundreds of kinds of sausages. The heavy fat content in these products not only made them delicious, but helped people resist the cold.
There are many other winter foods, but these are some of the main ones. We always eat plenty of broth, stews, pot roasts, and roasts during the winter. There are recipes for many of these traditional foods in Tender Grassfed Meat. I can often feel the strength and health flow into me as we eat these traditional foods. Good food can do more to keep us healthy, in my opinion, than anything else. And it tastes so good.
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