We permaculture people practise an optimism in the doing - a discovery of connection and possibility in the systems we foster and nourish and sometimes create, in our gardens and compost bins, in growing, foraging, salvaging and stewarding. For us this often feels like a way we can bring healing to the world, and it is perhaps for many a spiritual practice. Sandor Katz's books on fermenting bring all this into the kitchen and into our bodies in a most inspiring way.
Wild Fermentation is a much-loved how-to introduction to preserving and transforming food with cultures of often wild-harvested and carefully tended micro-organisms, for the benefit of taste, health and economy. This is the book that was godparent to many a lovechild born of sauerkraut and kimchee, and really ushered in the creative revival of many traditional modes of food preservation and preparation. The Art of Fermentation, newly released, is a compendious masterwork that teaches both basic and advanced techniques of these kinds of 'live-culture' alchemy.
Sandor, as his readers know him, comes to us in a moment of history when many of us can easily grasp the interrelations in a personal-political-ecological kitchen. We are aware that industrial food is often stripped of nutrient, and that the medicines we are proffered can bring illness along with cure. We are concerned that the fossil fuel energy in agriculture, food transportation and processing contributes to a chaotic climate. We mourn a lack of seasonality and deliciousness. We feel our bodies developing ailments which nourishing, live food can heal. We challenge the dominance of huge corporations and seek to protect and strengthen our food security. We are relearning skills and Doing it Ourselves. Yet as locavore beings in a global culture, we love flavours and cuisines from around the world. Sandor's books weave all these strands together and offer something to do, that's fun, challenging and useful, and brings it all back home, to our communities and into our very bodies.
Chapters in The Art of Fermentation could be books in themselves, organised around the categories of interesting worldwide ferments of vegetables and fruit, tonic beverages, milk, grains and tubers, beers, beans, seeds and nuts, meat, fish and eggs, and growing mould cultures to 'culture' specific foods. "My objective with this book," he writes, "is to encourage a reclaiming of fermentation in our homes and in our communities, as a means of reclaiming food ... Rather than fermenting just grapes, barley, and soybeans, let's ferment acorns, turnips, sorghum, or whatever food surpluses we can access or create. The great global monoculture ferments are wonderful, indeed, but the practical thrust of localism must be learning to make the most of surpluses that make themselves, such as acorns, or are so well adapted that they practically grow themselves ..."
Thus we are taken on a tour of the world, to homes of deep tradition and sites of radical experimentation, and given inspiration for what we can create for ourselves with what we have easily on hand. It's the philosophy and practical information from Sandor that allows us to think, ahh, today we'll make a natural sparkling drink with dandelion, or use that stale loaf of bread to make a cake. Perhaps that swede could be pickled with sumac and a pod of mustard garlic seeds? Maybe try a borscht out of this parsnip? How about Fireweed Wine? We've got lots of this or that – here's what we could make; and it will be extraordinary. And of course there will always be sauerkraut. Sandor explains the processes in simple science with charismatic yet avuncular charm – opens up every possibility and draws intersecting spirals between the broadest community politics and our microscopic human microbiomes.
Sandor's work speaks to the interest in 're-wilding' as a tribute to the beauty and vivid diversity of what's been lost in human culture, in nature paved over, in sanitised foods and bodies. And he accomplishes all this in books of a most practical nature, enjoining us around the world to participate in a creative and exciting permacultural cuisine.