Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods
by Sandor Ellix Katz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Here's a book that I wasn't expecting to affect me in any way except to inspire me to make yogurt--and WOW was I surprised to find so much more! Nostalgia ran strong as I read about making sauerkraut and yogurt--two of the fermented foods I grew up watching my grandma make. Along with many other foods I'm familiar with (beer, wine, cheese), Sandor Ellix Katz also shares a wealth of knowledge about fermented foods that are unfamiliar to me--such as tempeh and kefir. I have at least heard of those particular examples, and they have become big in the Western vegetarian diet...but what about kvass (made from stale bread, refermented), or kombucha (a dark tea cultured with a 'mother' or 'tea beast')? Reading about a 'tea beast', which is a gelatinous glob of bacteria and yeasts, had my curiosity piqued! I found myself wanting to experience some of these timeless fermented foods. He describes the health benefits of eating live cultured foods, and as a longtime AIDS survivor, he makes a good case for the benefits of his recipes. These recipes, in many cases, have existed for thousands of years. Fermented food plays a huge role in the history of humankind, predating agriculture.
Beyond the fascinating histories and the techniques of using 'free-range' microbes and bacteria to preserve and enhance food, Katz also takes some time to contemplate life itself. It seems appropriate, given that fermentation relies on living creatures, though tiny, who are a part of the life cycle we also experience. I'm always a sucker for how-to books that get into some deep contemplation of existence. He delves into some thoughts on death, a concept that he's had to face head-on since his HIV diagnosis. His zest for life and its cyclical nature, despite his illness, is truly inspiring. Katz finishes his fermented-foods manifesto with some thoughts on social change. He compares revolution to fire--the 'moment of upheaval; romantic and longed for, or dreaded and guarded against'-- and slow social change to fermentation. "As microorganisms work their transformative magic and you witness the miracles of fermentation, envision yourself as an agent for change, creating agitation, releasing bubbles of transformation into the social order. Use your fermented goodies to nourish your family and friends and allies. The life-affirming power of these basic foods contrasts sharply with the lifeless, industrially processed foods that fill supermarket shelves. Draw inspiration from the action of bacteria and yeast, and make your life a transformative process."
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