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Book Review: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, andCraft of Live-Cultured Foods

  • Subject: [cg] Book Review: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, andCraft of Live-Cultured Foods
  • From: Alliums garlicgrower@earthlink.net
  • Date: Thu, 20 Nov 2003 17:19:44 -0500

Hi, Folks!

Now that the garlic is planted, I have time to review books again.  I retain copywrite and if you use the review in another publication, you must send me a copy of the publication it appears in, but otherwise, enjoy!

No one gets rich in either agriculture or book reviewing, but hey, at least it keeps me busy! ;-D


Wild Fermentation:  The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Cultured Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003.  ISBN:  1-931498-23-7, $25.00.
One spring, not too long ago, I stepped into the cooler at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills and was blocked by a wall of green.  The entire cooler, floor to ceiling, was jammed with flawless heads of Bok Choi.   “I see you have a little bok choi problem,” I mentioned to the lead CSA grower in the main office.  He shrugged.  ‘We grow it, the CSA members don’t take it, the food bank doesn’t know what to do with it, it becomes compost.”
Most small growers have a bok choi problem – and a turnip, radish, beet, cabbage, kale, and insect-bitten fruit problem!  We grow it, the nutritionists encourage everyone to consume it, but on market day or during CSA pick-ups, somehow the brassicas remain alone, their stacks nearly untouched while everyone scrambles for the last tomato or watermelon.
We feel guilty – these hardy plants flourish in uncertain weather and nourished our ancestors in both New World and Old. We page through brining recipes in old Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks, but the details are too sketchy to reproduce.  We read the “Pickles” section of preservation guides from Rodale and Farm Journal, but the “contraindications” lists scare us from even trying lactofermentation.
“Humans,” says Katz, “have been fermenting longer than we’ve been writing words or cultivating the soil.  Anyone can do it, anywhere, with the most basic tools.” And so Katz takes us gently by the hand and guides us through the world of fermentation: vegetable krauts and kimchis, sourdough breads and pancakes, miso and tempeh, yogurt and cheeses, and beers, wines, and meads. 
The strength of this book is not in “completeness” (there are more comprehensive books on yogurt/cheese and beer/wine/mead) but in showing those of us who love food that we can transform our excess into storable, tasty and nutritious dishes to feed ourselves rather than our compost.  Katz deals upfront with our fears about food poisoning and “mistakes,” then explains each technique with humor, insight and the experience of a decade fermenting foods, then feeding them to his compatriots at Short Mountain Sanctuary in Tennessee.
Like compost making, fermentation is both art and science. One can buy starters (yeast for wine and bacteria for compost) to produce a “standard” product, but Katz, in his quest for unique flavors and ease of preparation, advocates going “wild” – creating the conditions for beneficial microorganisms to colonize, then grow in a desired medium.  His bright, informative essays on the importance of microbial biodiversity in our diet mirror what we have learned about compost. The difference (and the joy!) of fermentation is that this time, we’re using microbes to nourish us, rather than our plants and soil.
Katz’s desire to help others learn the craft of fermentation shines throughout this book.  While the techniques are straightforward and the equipment basic, he provides an appendix listing sources for starter cultures and equipment, endnote citations for each chapter, a bibliography for further reading and a website, http://www.wildfermentation.com/ which answers fermentation questions and provides links to other fermentation sites and discussion lists on the Web.
Cultivate community, both microbial and human, by taking this book, a few food-grade plastic buckets, some sharp knives, salt, cabbage and your CSA’s membership to make sauerkraut.  Earn the eternal goodwill of your local farmer by buying up all of their turnips at the end of market day to make sauerruben.  Boldly make “country wine” from the plums the curculio found before you did. Fermentation is transformation; from perishable abundance to storable foodstuff that nourishes human and microorganism when they learn to work together.
Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460

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