“Sandor Katz has proven himself to be the king of fermentation.”
– Sally Fallon Morrell, author of Nourishing Traditions
Everyone seems to be talking about fermentation these days. Erstwhile exotic names like kimchi, kombucha and kefir are suddenly part of casual conversation. Scientific labels like biodiversity and microbiome are in everyday use. I wouldn’t have even asked what any of it meant until a couple of years back. Now I realise how fundamental bacteria are to health, I’m hooked.
Apparently my handicap is that I have very clear ideas on food hygiene, and hygiene in general for that matter. Over the years I’ve developed dangerous addictions to anti-bacterial soap. Certainly anything showing signs of mould must be cast out in whole. I’ve a lot to learn in this area, and perhaps yet more to unlearn.
Enter Sandor Ellix Katz – a self-proclaimed fermentation revivalist, and pretty much the godfather of home fermentation. You couldn’t wish for a more encouraging or disarming guide through this arcane realm. His book Wild Fermentation turned my world of preconception on its head. The message is simple: you can’t go far wrong; just make a start with whatever you can get your hands on, and learn as you go along.
Fermenting may be a mysterious process, but it turns out our role in it is not difficult. Nature knows what to do, we just have to give it the right conditions and get out of the way. Did you know you can make sourdough bread from a single ingredient – buckwheat? Maybe you do, but I was gobsmacked to see it happening in our very own kitchen, just using patience in place of a starter culture.
We’ve been dabbling in sauerkraut and the like for a while now, but Sandor (a.k.a. Sandorkraut) had me jumping out of my seat with a hunger for more adventure… also an urge to buy more glass jars, which is perhaps a less dangerous addiction of mine. We’ll be sharing our own experiences at a later date. If there’s a line between cleanliness-control and aliveness-adaptability, I’m set on finding it. I suspect there’s an element of self-discovery in all this, which – like fermentation – can be a messy process 🙂
Meanwhile, whether you’re curious, daunted, or raring to go, Wild Fermentation is the perfect place to start. It was first published in 2003, and re-released in 2016 – now a very colourful volume, with glossy photos alongside alchemic recipes from around the world.
Want more? Try The Art of Fermentation. If Wild Fermentation is the weekend workshop, this is the full-time diploma. It’s a satisfying hardback volume, like an old encyclopaedia. What you can’t find out about fermentation in this book is probably not worth knowing. Again, while it’s packed full of practical methods and scientific facts, it remains friendly and welcoming.
So, go forth and multiply bacteria! Leave us a comment below and let us know how you get on…