Traditional Foods: The Beginner’s Basics in a Nutshell


traditional foods

…according to me. :) Me, who is not the world’s foremost authority on traditional foods.

This post is just an effort to share with you what we have learned thus far ~ while I grew up drinking raw milk, I entered my adulthood knowing nothing of kombucha, so husbie and I are still learning.

When I first heard about such things as lacto fermentation out and about in the blogosphere, it was just assumed that because I was reading, I knew what they were.

I didn’t.  And I was afraid to ask.

So, if you are a full fledged traditional foodie with something currently fermenting on your kitchen counter, this will probably seem overly simple to you, maybe even a bit ridiculous.

But this is what I wish I had known, what I wish someone had explained to me early on in very simple terms.

First off let me define traditional foods

Traditional in the sense of food does not necessarily define family recipes.  It refers instead to the traditional, age old approach to food preparation that has been passed down from generation to generation, from before the beginning of the food industry.  Think of the pioneers churning their  butter at home, rendering their own lard, and baking sourdough bread.

And let me define a few more terms

This isn’t really meant to be a technical post but here are a few terms that will come up and that you may not be familiar with:

CLA ~ Conjugated Linoleic Acid, a fatty acid found in the fat of pasture fed cows.  It has strong anticancer properties, encourages the building of muscle while preventing weight gain.

Lactic Acid ~ A natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria.

Lacto Fermentation ~ A fermentation, or pickling process, whereby the nutrients of the food are preserved while also providing the intestinal tract with healthy bacteria.

The Basics:

The list that follows are in my opinion the five things that you will hear about the most when the topic of traditional foods come up.   The things where, if you learn them, you could probably hold your own in a conversation at a Traditional Foodie Cocktail Party.  But then traditional foodies probably don’t hold cocktail parties, more like Raw Cream Parties, but I digress…

This is not an exhaustive list, and it is just enough to give you a very general understanding in a nutshell: just the tiny tip of a very large iceberg.   There is much, much more that could be said.

If you are interested in pursuing some of these techniques in your kitchen you will want to search out more info so be sure to check out the resources I’ve listed at the end of this post.

1. Raw milk, raw milk products, and cultured dairy

What is it?


Butter “churned” in our food processor from raw cream

Raw milk, obviously is milk – milk that hasn’t been pasteurized, and preferably comes from grass fed cows making it rich in cancer fighting CLA and a lovely supply of vitamins and minerals.

Cultured dairy refers to those milk products such as yoghurt, cheese, or dairy kefir that are produced when the milk is heated (gently) and cultures are added.

For example when a small amount of buttermilk (culture) is added to raw cream and allowed to sit at room temperature for a few days, friendly bacteria break down the proteins and sugars in the cream, producing lactic acid in the process: a natural preservative.  The result is creme fraiche, a lovely addition to soups and sauces; and one that, stored properly, should keep for a time.

Why should I eat it?

For many reasons: regular consumption of cultured dairy products lowers cholesterol, helps prevent bone loss, and guard against illness.  However, the biggest reason, in my opinion is that they provide beneficial bacteria to your digestive tract, helping along digestion.

2. Fermented foods

This category embraces a wide variety of  products from sauerkraut preserved through

Kombucha and Scobies

Kombucha and Scobies

lacto fermentation; to kombucha made through the use of a wickedly scary looking “mushroom” called a scoby.

Probably a better title  would be “fermentation” as it essentially refers to the process of preservation (vegetables, fruits, beverages) more than it does the finished product.

What are they?

Pickled foods,  condiments, and as mentioned, some beverages: kombucha, kefir (both water and dairy), kvass to name a few.

Like cultured dairy, beneficial bacteria are introduced to vegetables or liquid. The bacteria eat away at the natural sugars, the sugars are converted to lactic acid.  The result can then be preserved for months.

Why should I eat it?

Nutrition value is not lost as it would be through the high heat of the conventional canning process, and again, the happy bacteria benefit the digestive tract.

3. Free Range, Grass Fed Meat

What is it?

This refers to what it says: meat that has been fed on grass;  although I know of some cows that are finished on non GMO grains, and fowl obviously eat some grain besides grass.

Pigs, from what I understand (having never raised a pig) do not eat grass exclusively and can be fed grains and kitchen scraps as well.  However, there are those that feel that while the pig fat (lard) is a beneficial food, the pig meat is not.  In our kitchen, pork is served about once a week.  If I know where it came from and what it ate, I’m comfortable serving it.

The main thing that should be remembered here is that the animal should be raised in as natural an environment as possible, eating a diet that is as natural as possible: free from pesticide ridden grass and grains and free from GMOs.

It should also be noted that nearly all parts of the animal are utilized: chicken skin (no boneless skinless parts here), rendered fat,  the bones for bone broth, and the nutrient rich organs besides just the meat.

Why should I eat it?

Grass fed beef is high in the cancer fighting CLA and has a healthy balance of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids; as well as zinc and magnesium.  Red meats are also a good source of Vitamin B12 and provide carnitine for a healthy heart.

The organ meats, as noted, are rich in essential acids and Vitamins A and D.  In our home we’re particularly fond of  beef heart and tongue.  Chicken livers? Not so much.

4. Soaked and sprouted grains

What are they?

Having grown up in a from scratch, healthy eating, raw milk drinking household this was a new one for me.  My mother baked all of our bread from fresh milled whole wheat flour but I had no idea that flour was better digested when it had first been soaked or sprouted.

Soaking is the process of combining the flour in a recipe with the liquid and a small amount of acid (buttermilk, apple cider vinegar, whey, etc.) up to 24 hours before baking.   Grains such as oats, rice, and quinoa can also be soaked 24 hours prior to cooking in water and a small amount of acid.

Sprouting is when the wheat berries are soaked and sprouted, and then (after the moisture has dried) milled into flour.  Sprouting comes in handy in recipes such as cookies when there is little or no liquid for the soaking process.  Sprouting isn’t just for grains, it is a process that can be applied to nuts and seeds as well.

Why should I do it?

The purpose of soaking is to activate an enzyme, “phytase” that breaks down the phytic acid present in the grain or grain flour. 

Phytic acid is a problem because it combines with needed iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc in the intestinal tract blocking their absorption.  Soaking makes baked goods more nutritious and easier to digest.

Sprouting accomplishes basically the same thing: through the sprouting process the grain is predigested, breaking down the phytic acid.

5. Fat

While fat is a by-product of meat that has already been mentioned; I felt it deserved a category all its own because the shameless consumption of fats is, in my opinion, what makes the traditional foods approach a controversial one, and I believe, is one of the key elements that sets the traditional methods apart.

What kind of fat?

Animal Fat

Animal Fat

Butter, lard (yep), tallow (yep), all produced and rendered from grass fed free range animals.  Also tropical fats such as coconut oil and palm oil.  Olive oil is also acceptable.

Fats that are not acceptable would include canola oil, vegetable oils and shortening, margarine, or the bucket of lard found in the conventional grocery store.

Why should I eat that?

Mutton and beef tallow are rich in CLA, and both offer protection from viruses and other pathogens.

Fats such as butter, also contain CLA, as well as Vitamins A, D, K, and E.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil is rich in antioxidants, while the tropical oils such as coconut have strong antifungal and antimicrobial properties.

When cooking with fat, it is important to keep it from smoking.  This creates the conditions for it to go rancid and that is when you’ve entered The Danger Zone.

Also remember to always use fat from animals that have been fed primarily on pesticide free grass.  This diet is what gives fat the proper balance of Omega3 and Omega6 fatty acids.

While some resources state that the more healthy fat the better, I still cook with it in moderation.  Husbie and I do however, get quite happy with our homemade butter.

What does this have to do with homesteading?

Traditional foods seems to come up a lot within homesteading circles because it is, in a sense, returning to our roots as far as food is concerned.  It also fully embraces “real food” which is the reason that many homesteaders including ourselves, homestead.

What to take away from this:

In my opinion, the primary benefit of traditional preparation is twofold:  it either adds beneficial bacteria to your digestive tract, and/or it begins the process of breaking down,  making food easier to digest, and allowing you to assimilate more needed nutrients.

Some helpful resources:

Nourishing Traditions is the go to manual/cookbook for traditional preparation.  It includes vital information (from which the info for this post was taken) as well as traditional recipes for everything from appetizers and beverages, to entrees and desserts.  If you are not sure about all this, I recommend checking it out from the library before investing in a copy of your own.

Some websites I personally enjoy  that feature traditional recipes and techniques are:

GNOWFGLINS ~ which offers a blog as well as affordable classes and online menu plans that are beginner friendly.  I am not an affiliate, I’m just honored to be a contributor to this website.  :)

Farmhouse Kitchen ~ a beautiful blog with wonderful traditional food recipes.

Bint Rhoda’s Kitchen ~ another blog with gorgeous photographs that feature traditional recipes.


Anything I’ve forgotten?  Let me know what you think in the comments!

Anything you see differently?  I’d really like to know!

Anything you feel I didn’t quite get right?  Please share!

This is part three in a series on Simple, Natural Living.  Part One: Keeping it Simple can be read here, and Part Two on Essential Oils can be read here.

This post was featured at:

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You can find this post and others like it linked to: The Homestead Barn Hop, Homemade Mondays, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Tutorials Tips and Tidbits, The HomeAcre Hop, From the Farm Fridays, Rural Wisdom and Know How

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Traditional Foods: The Beginner’s Basics in a Nutshell — 28 Comments

  1. Jenny, very interesting article today. I too grew up drinking raw milk, eating fresh eggs, and home grown meats. The house I grew up in did not have electricity and we kept the milk, butter, and anything that needed to be kept cool, like pies, mayonnaise, anything made with eggs in a box that was lowered into the well. The box was about 10-12 inches wide, a little longer than it was wide and probably about 6-8 inches deep. Food was placed in glass jars with a tight seal and arranged in the box. There was a smaller box just for watermelons. The melons were picked early in the morning and put in the well. By late afternoon they were so cold! The water kept everything ice cold. Back in those days when a family dug a well, they made sure the opening was large enough to allow a man to go down in the event it needed to be cleaned out, and to make sure it was large enough for a couple of boxes. Chickens and quails were butchered as needed and the deer, beef and pork were canned. The meat was prepared, placed in jars, then carried outside to the cast iron wash pot. It was boiled at a full rolling boil for three hours. As a rule neighbors were there to help and us kids had the responsibility of watching the pot. We were not allowed to do anything but call an adult if the fire needed more wood or the pot needed water. Rabbits and squirrels were used mostly in the winter months. All the animals that were raised at home were grass fed, and I had never heard of pesticides until I was grown. Dad planted a cover crop of rye and back then the cows were let out every morning after milking to browse and came back to the barn in early evening to be milked again. Occasional, ole Bossie would eat a bitter weed and the milk was too bitter to drink. But, it didn’t go to waste, it went to the chickens and the pig. They loved it. Early November was hog killing weather. Every one set a different day for killing so neighbors could help each other. The fat meat was cooked slowly until there was nothing left of it but the cracklings. Within the next week or so the lard was placed in jars and put in the well. It would keep for at least for six months. You may wonder how we could have so many boxes in the well and still be able to draw water. Things that were to be stored for longer periods were placed in the well first at a deeper depth. Every box was marked with a different colored ribbon so dad would know what he was drawing up.
    Sorry, I got carried away again. I loved my childhood. I look back on with very fond memories. I wish I could have given my son the same slow style of life that I had, instead of the fast hustle bustle he grew up in. Have a great day!!!

  2. I grew-up similar to Joyce except we had electricity. We lived next to my grandparents on a farm. My parents worked, so my grandparents were there to care for us. I, too, have wonderful memories of churning butter, gardening, chickens, pigs, and fresh raw milk. I would love to homestead, but hubby is not quite there yet. We have a small 9 acre farm with chickens, ducks, and lots of barn cats. Until this year, we had a garden and I canned lots of our produce. We bought a business 1 1/2 hours away and sadly, do not have time to garden. My dream is to someday just homestead. Thank you, Jenny, for your primer on traditional foods. I have owned the Nourishing Traditions book for a couple of years and love it.

    • Surretha, that is a beautiful name that I have not heard in many years. When I was a little girl we had some neighbors whose names were Dewitt and Surretha. He could make her so mad. When he wanted to get under her skin he called her Sury. They were known all over as D & Sury.

    • Surretha thanks for sharing your sweet memories. I hope that someday you will be able to return to your life of homesteading. :)

  3. This is an incredible intro to traditional foods. You did a lot of research and I learned a lot. We made butter and sour kraut but that was about it. Thank you so much for sharing on Rural Wisdom and Know How. I hope to hear from you again next week.

  4. What a wonderful primer, Jenny, something that I would have really benefited from when I was first figuring all of this out. It so helpful to have it all in one place – a short little introduction, clear and easy to understand. Thank you for sharing my blog with your readers! I am thrilled to be a part of the conversation. One of the things that attracted me to the traditional food movement was that it returned me back to the way my mother and grandmother ate and prepared foods – traditional Palestinian foods – so most of these things were not new to me. We cooked with olive oil and butter, she cooked with lots of bone broth, we soaked our grains and legumes, we ate yogurt with almost every meal, and my mother grew up drinking kefir – both water and milk! So for me, this is very much about going back to the way my culture has eaten for most of its history.

    • Jessica I’ve really enjoyed looking through your recipes and hearing about your family. My husband and I both love your site and looking through your gorgeous photos and food. :) Have a great week!

  5. Excellent post! I knew most of the material, but you presented it very well! The information on health benefits of sprouts was new to me, so that was great. Well done.

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  7. Thanks for sharing at *Mostly* Homemade Mondays. I eat a lot of traditional foods, but still have things to learn and tackle. I finally got around to my first sauerkraut last week…it is delish! This is a great post for those who want to learn more about traditional/WAP-type foods.

    I am featuring this post tomorrow morning. Hope you’ll stop by and share again (and feel free to grab a button, if you’d like).


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  9. Wonderful post! Where was this a year ago when I *really* needed it? Wait, I still need it. Now I can simply direct my unbelieving friends and relations over here when they say things like “sprouted WHAT?” and “um… didn’t you know butter is bad for you?”

  10. I know very little about traditional foods and find most of this overwhelming. We’re trying to become more self-sustaining, but then there’s also the food to consider…right now, I’m just trying to go with less processed foods. Then look into more organic, non-GMO, and then traditional would be next. This makes my head spin just thinking of all the possibilities. I like the idea of soaking grains, and I’ve read a bit about that. I should probably check out that book you recommended and start there. I can’t wait to read more about this from you!

    • Mary I totally understand the overwhelmed feeling. There are so many different aspects to healthy eating and so many different opinions about how to go about it. Everyone has to do what works best for them and what they feel most comfortable with. I would recommend reading the book ~ but I suggest you check it out at the library, read a bit and see what you think before purchasing a copy.

  11. Awesome post for beginners! This is definitely one I’ll share with friends and family who are new to traditional foods. One clarification: while sometimes called a “mushroom”, the culture that ferments kombucha is actually not a mushroom at all, but a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast (hence the acronym “scoby”).

    Thanks again for the great primer!

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  14. Thank you for this article. The information on soaking helps make sense of why pasta doesn’t bother me as much as bread, as I am somewhat gluten intolerant.