The Art of Fermentation…

[Just arrived at Mulligan Books & Seeds… -DS]


Fermentation: To Infinity and Beyond!

I get a lot of books for review, and for the most part, they are wonderful surprises. Because I receive and read so many books, I rarely sit around saying “Hey, where’s my review copy of…X?” Generally I’ve got a giant pile of books that I need to get to anyway, so I’m much more likely to say “Oh, I didn’t realize X was out.” So let us first note that I was so anxious for my review copy of Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation that I actually sent emails to beg for a copy – only to find that UPS had stuffed this book and another in a really weird place and it had been waiting for me for weeks.

Katz’s Wild Fermentation has had pride of place on my (ridiculously extensive, remember i wrote a book about food preservation) shelves of books on food preservation and storage. Not only does it sit there, but I pull it out ALL the TIME (which honestly cannot be said about most of my cookbooks) and after years of looking at it, still find new ideas. So to say I was excited to receive The Art of Fermentation, three times the size, hardcover and unbelievably comprehensive was an understatement.

It does not disappoint. If you are totally new to fermentation, I’d really recommend (unless you like to dive deep to start) that you start with Wild Fermentation which is much more accessible, but if you’ve made your pickles and sauerkraut and want to know what’s next, this will tell you ALL your options. It is astonishingly comprehensive and fascinating. It includes some revisions of the recipes in Wild Fermentation (I’m particularly excited about the revised suggestions for Nuka Japanese pickles, which I’ve never quite gotten right), as well as many, many, many new ones from cultures all over the world. It includes a lot of detailed information about what microbes you are seeking to attract and unbelievable amounts of knowledge from Katz and many other’s direct experience.

Fermented foods are a huge part of food preservation, a bigger part that most of us know. I think sometimes we underestimate fermenting as a means of keeping things alive because it doesn’t hold foods entirely in seeming stasis as canning or freezing do (yes, canned and frozen foods degrade too), which is what many of us really want. But what fermented foods do really well is work with the seasons to keep food cyclically – they are the ultimate preservers gift for people who want to be regularly engaged with their dinner.

I love Katz’s sense of balance as well – HIV positive, he explicitly repudiates overblown claims about fermented foods and their health benefits – while generally arguing that living foods are good for you. The distinction between “good for you” and “cures cancer’ is not that small, but it often seems to escape people in a culture that lives for hyperbole.

Katz asks you to try this stuff because it is cool, because it offers us access to our food past, because it tastes wonderful, because we co-evolved with these micro-organisms, because if you don’t do it yourself, this is food money literally can’t buy. He does not make excessive claims, but balanced and graceful ones. He will tell you if he thinks something tastes bad too, or doesn’t recommend something, but he won’t say “don’t try it yourself” – in fact, that’s what Katz wants to do – put the power to experiment with herds of microorganisms in everyone’s hands.

You will learn something (unless you are already incredibly knowledgeable about this) on just about every single page. I’ve been teaching fermentation for years, and I still had “aha!” moments over and over again in the book. I’ve rarely read a book that was as genuinely enlightening, inspiring and fascinating as this one. I can’t wait to make Acaraje, try some new Dosa recipes, make a new kind of fermented soy sauce, or try sourdough chocolate devastation cake.

Katz is impressively comprehensive, which probably means that there will be at least one thing that makes you go “Ugh” in the book – but would you want it any other way? One woman’s ‘ugh” is another man’s food of the gods, which, of course, is kind of the point.

Besides the incredible history, recipes, cool pics of the microorganisms you are playing with, ideas for experimentation and socio-culture of food (and there’s a chapter on non-food uses of fermentation from ethanol to inks as well), there is Katz’s basic manifesto – we are not better off, safer, healthier or happier when we hand off the tools of food production and preservation to others. In Independence Days I argued that one of the reasons to keep on preserving food is that that’s what humans do and have done for all of human history – there has never been a moment when did not have to, want to devote ourselves to that work, and thus, it is part of us. Katz takes that argument even further, making the connection between culture in the biological sense and culture in the human sense fully explicit, and issuing a defense of cultures that most of us may not have even realized we needed. The erasure of things rendered invisible by industrial society is something that most of us don’t even know to miss, until we look up and wonder why our indefinable sense of loss is so vast. Katz takes the invisible world of cultures in every sense, and invites us to claim them and bring them home.

I don’t recommend my readers buy a lot of $40 hardcover books, and I recognize some won’t be able to – hie thee to a library with all deliberate speed!. If you can buy this book, however, you probably won’t be sorry you did. It is many things, all of them essential to owning your food and preparing for a new future. We face a coming era of scarcity and loss – Katz offers us that chance to rebuild something, to own a part of our history that can be kept whole, if only we care to do it. It is well worth every penny, and I highly recommend it.

The Art of Fermentation

An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from Around the World

by Sandor Ellix Katz
Foreword by Michael Pollan

With practical information on fermenting vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, beans, meats, and more…

The Art of Fermentation is the most comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself home fermentation ever published. Sandor Katz presents the concepts and processes behind fermentation in ways that are simple enough to guide a reader through their first experience making sauerkraut or yogurt, and in-depth enough to provide greater understanding and insight for experienced practitioners.

While Katz expertly contextualizes fermentation in terms of biological and cultural evolution, health and nutrition, and even economics, this is primarily a compendium of practical information—how the processes work; parameters for safety; techniques for effective preservation; troubleshooting; and more.

With full-color illustrations and extended resources, this book provides essential wisdom for cooks, homesteaders, farmers, gleaners, foragers, and food lovers of any kind who want to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for arguably the oldest form of food preservation, and part of the roots of culture itself. Readers will find detailed information on fermenting vegetables; sugars into alcohol (meads, wines, and ciders); sour tonic beverages; milk; grains and starchy tubers; beers (and other grain-based alcoholic beverages); beans; seeds; nuts; fish; meat; and eggs, as well as growing mold cultures, using fermentation in agriculture, art, and energy production, and considerations for commercial enterprises. Sandor Katz has introduced what will undoubtedly remain a classic in food literature, and is the first—and only—of its kind.

“Astonishingly comprehensive and fascinating…You will learn something on just about every single page… I’ve rarely read a book that was as genuinely enlightening, inspiring and fascinating as this one.” –Sharon Astyk, Casaubon’s Book

The Art of Fermentationis much more than a cookbook… Sure, it tells you how to do it, but much more important, it tells you what it means, and why an act as quotidian and practical as making your own sauerkraut represents nothing less than a way of engaging with the world. Or rather, with several different worlds, each nested inside the other: the invisible world of fungi and bacteria; the community in which you live; and the industrial food system that is undermining the health of our bodies and the land. This might seem like a large claim for a crock of sauerkraut, but Sandor Katz’s signal achievement in this book is to convince you of its truth. To ferment your own food is to lodge an eloquent protest—of the senses—against the homogenization of flavors and food experiences now rolling like a great, undifferentiated lawn across the globe. It is also a declaration of independence from an economy that would much prefer we were all passive consumers of its commodities, rather than creators of unique products expressive of ourselves and the places where we live.” – Michael Pollan, from the Foreword.

“Sandor Katz has already awakened more people to the diversity and deliciousness of fermented foods than any other single person has over the last century. Once you look at the world through the fresh eyes of such a genius, there is no going back to the tasteless world you had previously occupied. The Art of Fermentation is a wonder–so rich in its knowledge and so practical in its application. This book will be a classic for the next millennium.” – Gary Paul Nabhan, author of Renewing America’s Food Traditions and Desert Terroir

“Sandor Katz has proven himself to be the king of fermentation with this new book, an exhaustive yet very readable compendium of fermentation wisdom and techniques from around the world. A must-have in the libraries of anyone interested in food and nutrition.” – Sally Fallon Morell, President, The Weston A. Price Foundation

“This is, quite simply, the finest book on fermentation available. It is comprehensive, erudite, and surprisingly profound. Sandor Katz is the guru of a large and growing tribe of fermentation enthusiasts and this book will awaken you to the thrilling world of benign bacteria all around us. Not only do they provide us with pickles, cheese, bread, alcohol – but our existence depends on bacteria and they deserve our reverence and respect.” – Ken Albala, Food Historian and Coauthor of The Lost Arts of Hearth and Home: The Luddite’s Guide to Domestic Self-Sufficiency

The Art of Fermentationis an extraordinary book, and an impressive work of passion and scholarship. It lays the foundation for fermenting all kinds of foods, and whoever reads it will be able to negotiate any recipe for ferments (and conquer any lingering nervousness about fermentation) with impunity. I am so impressed — and ready to begin! Thank you, Sandor Katz.” – Deborah Madison, author of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and Local Flavors

“Sandor Katz has captured the essence of fermentation in this new book, which bubbles over with scientific, historical, and practical information about humankind’s first biotechnology and earth’s first energy source. The mystery and sensory allure of naturally fermented products ranging from fruit, honey, milk, all manner of starchy grain, tuber and stalk–even fish and meat–are laid bare and enthusiastically and lucidly brought to life for both epicure and the do-at-homer.” – Patrick E. McGovern, Scientific Director, Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania Museum, and author of Ancient Wine and Uncorking the Past

The Art of Fermentationis a remarkable testimony to the astonishing passion that Sandor Katz has for all matters fermentative. History, science, and simple how-to wisdom are woven together in this extensive journey through the amazing diversity of foods and beverages that are founded upon fermentation.” – Dr. Charlie Bamforth, Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis and author of Food, Fermentation and Microorganisms

The Art of Fermentation appeals to our personal and fundamental well being, with a thoroughly engaging account of wild, tamed, and unaccounted-for microorganisms. Based on theory, science, and practical observations, Sandor Katz casts thousands of dots onto the pages for us to connect with our own experiences and interests. There are things he writes in this book that are relevant to everyone. Whether we are at war or peace with the tiny creatures we call microorganisms, we can’t help but conclude that they are the building blocks of the communities we observe as organisms. His obsession with ferment is contagious. With the flip of a page it’s easy to find oneself discovering our own personal journey embedded in this thoroughly engaging book.” – Charlie Papazian, author of The Complete Joy of Homebrewing and many other books on beer.