The Complete Idiot‘s Guide to Fermenting Foods
by Wardeh Harmon
Alpha Publishers, 2012
The Complete Idiots Guide To Fermenting Foods, by Wardeh Harmon, is a perfect accompaniment to The Art of Fermentation. Whereas Katz’s book is an in-depth consideration of ferments worldwide, Harmon’s book is a very practical how-to book for the home fermenter with an emphasis on ferments familiar to the western palate.
Harmon has become known for her webbased traditional food preparation courses at GNOWFGLINS (God’s natural, organic, whole foods, grown locally, in season) and she continues her clear and conversational style in writing. The Guide to Fermenting Foods offers over a hundred step-by-step recipes, which outline details of the processes in a simplified manner. This approach is particularly helpful to those who are new to a fermenting technique. The emphasis is on making home fermentation very doable and easy for the home fermenter, but one has the added sense of a skilled mentor walking you through the experience.
Both fermenting books discuss wild and inoculated starter cultures, but “The Art” tends to emphasize wild fermentation, while “The Guide” includes known starter cultures in a great number of recipes. (For instance, Katz recommends draining the naturally occurring separation of curds and whey in milk to make cream cheese, while Harmon calls for the use of a mesophilic cheese starter. Both work beautifully, but purchasing the culture will guarantee a more consistent flavor, and is important to use if one doesn’t have access to raw milk.) The book is also an exceptionally well-organized cookbook. Recipes have their own page (or two), with pictures and extra sections on tips, possible problems, definitions and relevant ferment info right by the recipes. This design is especially useful in the kitchen.
Like Katz, Harmon encourages us to culture everything, from guacamole and nut butter to pepperoni. Her recipe sections cover vegetables, fruits, condiments, beans, grains, dairy, cheese, meats, fish, and completes our diet with cultured beverages, with and without alcohol. The section devoted solely to fermented condiments is notable, as it offers us easy recipes to eschew all the supermarket products that replaced all the original fermented condiments a century ago.
All the fermenting basics such as sauerkraut, pickles, yogurt and kefir are well covered. But creative recipes for food and drink also abound. For instance, along with kombucha, kefir and kvass, there are flavorful combinations for other fermented beverages such as kanji and cultured cream soda. And being a lover of all things with nettles, I am looking forward to trying my hand at the recipe for nettle-lemon beer! The cultured fruit recipes help renew ways to savor fruits beyond the season, in ways more flavorful and healthful than jams and canning.
The sourdough section is exceptional. It is relatively short, but makes the whole process eminently clear and accessible. The no-knead sourdough recipe offers an easy way for busy households to have home baked bread again. And for those who don’t want to throw away their extra sourdough starter, there are a number of creative recipes for using the extra culture such as the biscuit top of a spinach and salmon pot pie.
There are many time-saving recommendations sprinkled throughout the book. The suggestion to have a basic brine on hand ready to ferment is incredibly useful. (I learned this earlier from her on-line course and found myself fermenting more vegetables quickly at the end of the day as a result.) She also offers numerous recipes for including fermented foods in meals.
Fermenting Foods is more than an excellent guide to culturing foods. It is also a wonderful introduction to traditional foods in general. Information about modern food choices (such as dairy and fats) is succinct and clear. And there are many uncomplicated recipes for including them into everyday meals.
The Idiot Guides are a trade book series geared to what is now called the do-it-yourself or DIY movement. Kudos go to them for including live cultured foods in the series, and for having Wardeh Harmon write the book. It is just another testimony to the number of people who want to learn how to prepare traditional foods in their homes again. And Harmon, a homesteading mother, is a skilled guide. Fermenting Foods is truly an exceptional reference, helping us “reskill” with the ancient traditions of our forebears in preserving all manner of food for our health and well being.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2012.