This post is made by one of our students as part of their PDC Completion Home Correspondence Course.
David Holmgren’s second principle of permaculture is “Catch and store energy” (Holmgren, Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, Holmgren Design Services, 2002), often described with the proverb, “Make hay while the sun shines.” The idea of this principle is that we should be alert for and take advantage of opportunities to capture energy and slow down its flow through the landscape around us, thus ensuring a steady flow of energy through the system rather than an ebb and flow. One illustration of this principle is the pattern of any water drainage – for example, when the mountains above a river remain forested, the river flows at a more constant and predictable level year-round. But when the forests are clear-cut, the river floods extensively during the rainy season and can run dry during the dry season or a drought – both situations devastating for human settlements and for the local ecology. The saga of the Loess Plateau in China (denuded and desertified after centuries of overgrazing and deforestation) illustrates this phenomenon well, with the upshot being that the people living in some parts of the Loess Plateau are now working to reforest their high places, improving the vegetation, soil and water in the entire watershed in a domino effect begun simply by capturing and storing water (energy) higher on the landscape and slowing down its movement.
Chokecherries as harvested from the bush:
Humans depend on a more or less constant supply of energy in nutrient-dense food. However, in temperate climates outside the tropics, nature generally does not make available a constant yield of food like a modern grocery store – rather the pattern is a seasonal ebb and flow of scarcity/nonproduction and abundance. In a post-peak oil, energy-descent society, we will do well to re-learn the traditional skills of food preservation, which is another example of “Catch and store energy” in action. We can capture the nutrition and embodied sunlight energy in foods at their peak of freshness and abundance (e.g. summer) and store them to be used in times when the energy (food) available in our locality is scarce or nonexistent (e.g. winter).
One of the most ancient methods of food preservation is fermentation. Archaeologists have discovered that humans have been making wine (a fermented beverage) for at least 8,000 years (StonePages.com). The fermentation process utilizes yeasts or bacteria to break down sugars in the food and convert them to alcohol or acids, which preserve the food. Fermentation not only extends shelf life – it can also change and enhance the flavors of foods, improve digestibility, and make nutrients in the food more easily absorbable by the human body (bioavailable).
Recognizing an abundance of fruit on my in-laws’ chokecherry bush which was all becoming ripe simultaneously, we collectively decided to capture some of it to our advantage. The whole chokecherry fruits are very small and rather impractical to eat fresh in satisfying quantities because they have large pits, so it made more sense to mash large quantities of them to try to extract a food product – like chokecherry wine, for example. We harvested five pounds of fruit to make wine with, leaving the rest of the abundance for the birds (who were quickly decimating it before we got to it!) If all goes well, our wine will be fully aged and ready to drink in three to six months. We are capturing the flavor (and energy) of summer chokecherries, allowing us to ring in the New Year in winter with a chokecherry wine toast!
We are using this old-fashioned recipe for chokecherry wine, since we cannot invest in modern winemaking equipment at this time. Here is a short photo essay showing how we’ve begun the winemaking process. At the time of this writing, our wine is at the stage of fermenting for three weeks before bottling. Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the soundness or safety of this recipe since it does not use modern winemaking equipment, and since we have not yet successfully made wine with it. Use this recipe at your own risk.
Five pounds of chokecherries removed from their stems, ready to be mashed:
After having been mashed and fermented for three days (the mash definitely smelled fermented, but not unpleasant):
After adding the sugar, water and red wine yeast:
The pot is covered with cheesecloth to keep any curious insects out, and left to ferment for three weeks (you can hear it fermenting, as the yeast feed on the sugars and produce CO2 bubbles!):
- “8,000-year-old wine unearthed in Georgia.” Reprinted on StonePages.com from The Independent, December 28, 2003.
- Cultural Rehabilitation: The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods. Excerpt from Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition and Craft of Live-Culture Foods, Chelsea Green, 2004.
- “Fermentation (food).” Wikipedia, 2012.
- WildFermentation.com (website of fermentation expert Sandor Katz).
Sarah Spotten currently lives in Colorado, and was enrolled in our PDC Completion Home Correspondence Course. As part of her course requirements she posted occasionally on topics related to her curriculum.