[Market-farming] Book Review: Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Cultured Foods

Alliums garlicgrower at earthlink.net
Thu Nov 20 17:19:44 EST 2003

Hi, Folks!

Now that the garlic is planted, I have time to review books again.  I 
retain copywrite and if you use the review in another publication, you must 
send me a copy of the publication it appears in, but otherwise, enjoy!

No one gets rich in either agriculture or book reviewing, but hey, at least 
it keeps me busy! ;-D


Wild Fermentation:  The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Cultured Foods 
by Sandor Ellix Katz, Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 
2003.  ISBN:  1-931498-23-7, $25.00.

One spring, not too long ago, I stepped into the cooler at Camphill Village 
Kimberton Hills and was blocked by a wall of green.  The entire cooler, 
floor to ceiling, was jammed with flawless heads of Bok Choi.   “I see you 
have a little bok choi problem,” I mentioned to the lead CSA grower in the 
main office.  He shrugged.  ‘We grow it, the CSA members don’t take it, the 
food bank doesn’t know what to do with it, it becomes compost.”

Most small growers have a bok choi problem – and a turnip, radish, beet, 
cabbage, kale, and insect-bitten fruit problem!  We grow it, the 
nutritionists encourage everyone to consume it, but on market day or during 
CSA pick-ups, somehow the brassicas remain alone, their stacks nearly 
untouched while everyone scrambles for the last tomato or watermelon.

We feel guilty – these hardy plants flourish in uncertain weather and 
nourished our ancestors in both New World and Old. We page through brining 
recipes in old Pennsylvania Dutch cookbooks, but the details are too 
sketchy to reproduce.  We read the “Pickles” section of preservation guides 
from Rodale and Farm Journal, but the “contraindications” lists scare us 
from even trying lactofermentation.

“Humans,” says Katz, “have been fermenting longer than we’ve been writing 
words or cultivating the soil.  Anyone can do it, anywhere, with the most 
basic tools.” And so Katz takes us gently by the hand and guides us through 
the world of fermentation: vegetable krauts and kimchis, sourdough breads 
and pancakes, miso and tempeh, yogurt and cheeses, and beers, wines, and 

The strength of this book is not in “completeness” (there are more 
comprehensive books on yogurt/cheese and beer/wine/mead) but in showing 
those of us who love food that we can transform our excess into storable, 
tasty and nutritious dishes to feed ourselves rather than our 
compost.  Katz deals upfront with our fears about food poisoning and 
“mistakes,” then explains each technique with humor, insight and the 
experience of a decade fermenting foods, then feeding them to his 
compatriots at Short Mountain Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Like compost making, fermentation is both art and science. One can buy 
starters (yeast for wine and bacteria for compost) to produce a “standard” 
product, but Katz, in his quest for unique flavors and ease of preparation, 
advocates going “wild” – creating the conditions for beneficial 
microorganisms to colonize, then grow in a desired medium.  His bright, 
informative essays on the importance of microbial biodiversity in our diet 
mirror what we have learned about compost. The difference (and the joy!) of 
fermentation is that this time, we’re using microbes to nourish us, rather 
than our plants and soil.

Katz’s desire to help others learn the craft of fermentation shines 
throughout this book.  While the techniques are straightforward and the 
equipment basic, he provides an appendix listing sources for starter 
cultures and equipment, endnote citations for each chapter, a bibliography 
for further reading and a website, 
<http://www.wildfermentation.com/>http://www.wildfermentation.com/ which 
answers fermentation questions and provides links to other fermentation 
sites and discussion lists on the Web.

Cultivate community, both microbial and human, by taking this book, a few 
food-grade plastic buckets, some sharp knives, salt, cabbage and your CSA’s 
membership to make sauerkraut.  Earn the eternal goodwill of your local 
farmer by buying up all of their turnips at the end of market day to make 
sauerruben.  Boldly make “country wine” from the plums the curculio found 
before you did. Fermentation is transformation; from perishable abundance 
to storable foodstuff that nourishes human and microorganism when they 
learn to work together.

Reviewed by Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John’s United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden
Phoenixville, PA

Dorene Pasekoff, Coordinator
St. John's United Church of Christ Organic Community Garden

A mission of
St. John's United Church of Christ, 315 Gay Street, Phoenixville, PA  19460 
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