A Thumbs Up Book Review
By Sandor Ellix Katz
Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2003
Review by Sally Fallon
Those who enjoy making lacto-fermented foods will love Wild Fermentation. Careful and detailed instructions for vegetable, legume, dairy, grain and beverage ferments, plus wonderful authentic recipes to use them in, make this book a must-have for all students of traditional foods. You’ll learn how to make milkweed/nasturtium seedpod “capers,” Japanese nuka bran pickles, fermented coconut chutney, Cherokee sour corn drink, Tibetan buckwheat pancakes, plus more familiar items like sauerkraut, miso, soft cheeses, sourdough breads, polenta and kombucha.
You’ll enjoy making the many lacto-fermented beverages featured in this book, such as sweet potato fly and kvass, as well as authentic beers and wines from around the world including Ethiopian honey wine in various flavors, persimmon cider mead, and beer from South America, Egypt and Nepal. Simple vinegar-based recipes from colonial America include shrub (made with fresh berries, vinegar and sugar or honey) and switchel (made with vinegar, sugar, molasses and gingerroot).
With Katz’ help, you’ll learn to be a magician in the kitchen, for working in partnership with the microscopic world is nothing short of alchemy. We’ve been at war with microbes for too long; the time has come to recognize them as our friends.
But Wild Fermentation is more than just a collection of interesting recipes. Katz recognizes the “insidious processes of globalization, commodification and cultural homogenization,” citing the example of French sheep farmer José Bové, who ended up in jail for his bold actions against McDonald’s in France. “If you tried an action like Bové’s in the United States these days,” observes Katz, “it would probably be branded as terrorism and land you in a clandestine military tribunal.”
Katz wisely observes: “We cannot resist the homogenization of culture by overpowering it. Yet we must not resign ourselves to it. . . . . Resistance takes place on many planes. Occasionally it can be dramatic and public, but most of the decisions we are faced with are mundane and private. What to eat is a choice that we make several times a day, if we are lucky. The cumulative choices we make about food have profound implications.”
Earlier in this issue we proposed a novel formula for defeating the forces of industrialization in agriculture and food production: drink raw milk. To this we add: eat fermented foods! Authentic fermented condiments and beverages will not only return beneficial microorganisms to your digestive tract, they will also help return our wealth to small farms and local communities. Instead of “trickle down,” how about “bubble up,” where real wealth produced by farmers and artisans leavens the whole mass.
Fermented foods are good for our interior ecology and they can help restore our exterior ecology as well, by increasing the demand for organic foods (only nutrient-dense and pesticide-free foods ferment successfully) and weakening the grip of the food processing industry.
When Edward eats the witch’s food in the children’s classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, he becomes her slave. So too, when we eat processed foods, we become slaves to the commodity economy. But foods made by magicians working with the mysterious ferments of the microscopic world–these foods make us healthy and free. Wild Fermentation will serve as a training manual for thousands of culinary Harry Potters, working their magic in the tranquil atmosphere of sacred kitchens.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2003.