Fermenting fomenter

A bonus for me as an intern last year was a copy of Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and over the summer it was my little bible for fermenting just about anything I could get my hands on. Katz delves into the historic significance of fermentation, something that is practised by most cultures around the globe, as well as briefly examining the science of live cultures. He also looks at the health benefits of live cultured foods and why ferments have gone out of fashion as our food system increasingly relies on mass production and standardization.

All the fermented foods we find commonly are listed, with recipes for sauerkraut, sourdough, beer and wine featured, but there’s also a host of lesser known cultures such as amazak√© (sweet Japanese rice drink), injera (spongy Ethiopian flat bread) and kombucha (sweetened tea fermented with a SCOBY – symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast) covered as well. A basic list of resources is included for obtaining cultures that won’t just happen to be hanging around like the koji mould, Aspergillus oryzae, needed to make miso. Experimentation is strongly encouraged and fermenting can be a pretty exciting process; flavours develop over time, you can taste as you go and if you’re like me and don’t really follow recipes that strictly, every jar tastes different.

Over the course of the season I mostly used lacto-fermentation, one of the simplest fermentation methods (vegetables + brine + time) that can be ready in less than two weeks, for a few batches of kimchi and innumerable jars of mixed vegetables. Just before I left Quebec we put a batch of elderberry wine on using elderberries found on an urban forage – thanks to the Gatineau council for planting elderberry in public spaces we were able to harvest just enough for the recipe – but there are many recipes I plan to try in the future.

I found fermenting to be an easy process with tasty results and I’d encourage anyone whose ever thought about it to give it a try; it can be as simple as filling a jar and letting nature go!

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